£50,000 appeal launched to create new memorial to Formula 1 hero Tom Pryce

Artist Nick Elphick
Artist Nick Elphick

A campaign has been launched to create a permanent memorial to Welsh Formula One star Tom Pryce in his “real home town” of Denbigh.

Supporters have been spurred on by the success of a pop-up exhibition at the town’s museum to commemorate the local hero who in four short years went from being a tractor mechanic to a glamorous and hugely talented grand prix driver with film star looks.

There is already a Tom Pryce mural celebrating his achievements in nearby Ruthin and a stretch of track at the Anglesey Circuit is named the Tom Pryce Straight in his honour.

The talented sculptor Nick Elphick is keen to make a life-size statue that would take pride of place in Denbigh town centre.

Car enthusiast Dave Jones, Mario Kreft and Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas with Tom Pryce's helmet
Car enthusiast Dave Jones, Mario Kreft and Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas with Tom Pryce’s helmet

Nick, from Llandudno, has already started making sketches to “capture the essence of the man” and to try and help attract funding, with the target set at £50,000 for the appeal.

The campaign is gaining momentum and among those who have expressed their backing for the idea is Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, the Welsh Government Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport.

Tom, or Maldwyn as he was known to his friends, was brought up in the small village of Nantglyn just outside Denbigh and he was a pupil of the former Frongoch School where the recent exhibition was staged.

After leaving school he became an apprentice at North Wales Agricultural Engineers in St Asaph.

But he always had a burning ambition to be a racing driver and he moved swiftly up the ranks, winning the Formula One Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in 1975.

He went on to start the British Grand Prix at Silverstone that year in pole position and led the field for two laps.

As part of the Shadow team, he enhanced his burgeoning reputation as a supremely skilled driver by coming third in the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix and repeating the feat a year later in Brazil.

According to his friends and his fans, he was on his way to becoming a Formula One great, a Lewis Hamilton on his day, and they are convinced he would have become world champion had he lived.

Artist Nick Elphick
Artist Nick Elphick

Tragically, he was killed in an accident during the South African Grand Prix in 1977, aged just 27.

He left behind a distraught widow Fenella, parents Jack and Gwyneth and a racing world in shock.

Nick Elphick, who also made the statue of HM Stanley outside the library in Denbigh, added: “What I want to do is try to articulate the actual history of the person and who he was, and I think it would be fantastic for Denbigh.

“I’d love to be involved with the project and I think I can do it justice. He was such a humble man but he had a smile that could light up a room.

“I’ve been doing some fast sculpting to try and capture his essence and I feel I have found a connection with him already.

“I’m going to use it to work from for my designs. I will do lots of studies of him and I’m hoping to do a good job showing who he was and make something powerful, as I feel he will bring such local pride. I’m also proud to be helping with this.”

Leading businessman Mario Kreft MBE, who lives in Denbigh, is one of the main drivers behind the campaign.

He said: “I was privileged to see Tom race and meet him on a couple of occasions. He was modest, clever and supremely gifted. There was an integrity about the way he behaved and the way he competed.

“I am hoping to galvanise the business community across Wales to support the fundraising campaign to erect a fitting memorial to a true Welsh hero who made a real mark on the international stage

“As well as celebrating Tom’s memory and his achievements, a statue can help inspire the young people of today and future generations to aspire to be the best they can be in whatever profession they choose as a career.

“Tom is a great role model because he came from an ordinary background and achieved extraordinary things not only through his wonderful talent but also his sheer dedication and hard work.”

One of Tom’s friends, Dave Jones, was given his beloved blue MGB GT sports car because the family knew he would cherish and look after it.

Dave, 62, said: “”I first met Maldwyn when he was a tractor mechanic at North Wales Agricultural Engineers and at the time he started to go out with my sister Judith who worked in the garage.

“Within four years he went from tractor mechanic to grand prix racing driver which is pretty meteoric, and particularly for a man with no money. Although his mum and dad helped as best they could, they were not rich.

“He succeeded with pure talent and he was racing against some big names like James Hunt and Jochen Mass.

“He was doing brilliantly well but sadly of course in the third grand prix of the year in 1977 he was tragically killed.

“Alan Jones took over Tom’s drive and he won the Austrian Grand Prix that year in the Shadow and he went on to be a world champion.

“Had Tom not been killed, for sure he would have won the Austrian Grand Prix and no doubt many more races. I’m certain Tom would have been a world champion.

“It’s without doubt time for Denbigh to reclaim Tom. As much as he loved Ruthin, Tom was very much more of a Denbigh lad I would say.

“When he was growing up his dad, Jack, was the village bobby in Nantglyn, and so whenever they went shopping when they came into Denbigh, and then eventually of course Jack came to work as a policeman in Denbigh, and they all lived as a family in Denbigh.

“The Denbigh Museum where the exhibition was held was originally the primary school which he attended.

“There is definitely a need for a permanent memorial now. It should have happened many years ago, and it’s got to happen. We can’t let this opportunity go.

“It’s so important for the memory of Tom, but equally for Denbigh because he was a famous son, and hopefully we will get backing from everybody.”

Among those who visited the Tom Pryce exhibition was Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas who described Tom’s rapid rise as an “incredible achievement”.

He said: “In a way a mythology grew around Tom. He’s not exactly the same as Hedd Wyn, we’re talking about something different here, but it’s the same kind of process where people created a Welsh hero because of his rapid success, and because of the disaster at the end as well.

“I think it’s very important that the memory of Tom lives on, especially in this area, but also that we’re able to emphasise the importance of role models and heroes like him.

“I would say that it would be very appropriate for there to be something, that there is a permanent memorial here in Denbigh.”

For details of how to donate to the fundraising appeal contact Dave Jones either by email at Davehjones55@aol.com or by ringing him on 07745 106899.