Richard Roett 1953-2002

Richard Roett 1953-2002

A consummate competitor, an inventive engineer, and a man of generous spirit, ‘Red Mout Ru’ is a fondly-remembered and much-missed character

Personalities that light up a room come along all-too-rarely in this life; one such was Richard ‘Red Mout Ru’ Roett. An unconventional character, who worked and played with equal enthusiasm, he was never less than fully-committed, whatever the endeavour. Even before he became known for his prowess behind the wheel, Roett had been an exceptional cyclist; he won a number of National titles – including victory in the Barbados Cycling Union’s first-ever road race at just 15 years of age – and went on to represent Barbados in the country’s first official team to attend an Olympic Games, at Mexico in 1968.

His motor sport career started in 1979, in an unusual choice of car, a Triumph Vitesse convertible; from its original livery of red with a black stripe, it graduated through black and red, green and black, then to white (by which time it had a hardtop), carrying the rainbow colours of Harris Paints, a loyal sponsor for many years. Initially, ‘Ru’ was part of ‘Team Heavy Foot’, which also included the likes of Hal Hunte, Mike McChlery, Freddie Mapp and Chris Alleyne, a group which captured many a team prize in Club events, while Ru himself was often a Group winner on special stages.

In 1983, Roett acquired a Starlet, switching between cars depending on event, and joined Team Toyota, where he continued his winning ways in the competitive late-1980s, scrapping with Michael Corbin, Simon Gillmore and Roger Skeete – among many other achievements, he won the Dobbie Douglas Trophy as overall fastest on the special stages in the June Rally in 1986 and ’89, claiming Group fastest in other years. He enjoyed successful relationships with navigators Geoff Goddard and Tyrone Moseley.

From standard car, the Starlet evolved into ‘Flo Glo’, a fully-modified racer that was as famous and revered as its driver. As fellow driver-mechanic Gillmore says: “Ru always put his heart and soul into everything, including the cars, be they Triumph Herald, Toyota Starlet or Celica GT4. He was a good mechanic and was never frightened to try his own ideas to make the cars go faster and handle better.”

Roett was a strong competitor, whatever the arena, and was right at the sharp end of the action when the Texaco International All-Stage Rally was launched in 1990; driving the Starlet, he won his class and finished third or fourth overall in five of the event’s first seven years – the first time with Hal Hunte as co-driver, thereafter with Brian Hurley.

In the same period, he also went circuit racing for the first time, starting at South Dakota in Guyana in November 1990, a race meeting that well demonstrated his generosity of spirit . . . the Bajan team also included Raymond Gill, whose Starlet lost its oil filter and lunched the engine, prompting Roett to lend Gill his Starlet for the handicap race. He’d gained valuable experience in Guyana, which he put to good use at Bushy Park, first in the Club’s Banks Super Sprint series, and subsequently when it reopened as a racetrack, a regular race-winner in battles with Sean Gill and Andrew Mallalieu. Turning his hand to all disciplines, he was also a front-runner in Acceleration Tests and Speed Events – he won outright at Diamond Corner in 1989.

But ‘Flo Glo’ came to a fiery end. In 1995, rather than a return to circuit racing in Guyana, he decided to tackle the Automel Tarmac All Stage Rally in Jamaica, his first competition in ‘JamTown’. Typically, he down-played his chances: “I went to Jamaica with one thing in mind and that was to start the rally and to finish the rally.” As it transpired, only six of the 18 starters finished a really tough event, and Roett and navigator Clive Howell emerged winners. Afterwards, Roett remembered: “The danger factor was higher than in Barbados. We were driving on mountainous terrain with drops on one side and stuff like that.”

He returned to defend his title in the 1996 Tecmarine All-Stage Tarmac Rally, with Tyrone Moseley navigating, but all did not go well; ‘Flo’ was destroyed by fire after a high-speed crash. The sad news of the car’s demise was met with shock in Barbados, the tributes led by Roett’s arch-rival that season, Mallalieu, who said: “Once the car was destroyed, the competition simply was not quite the same.” ‘Flo’s remains were repatriated from Jamaica, and a ceremony held at Roett’s Salters, St George, premises to bid his trusty steed farewell; ‘mourners’ included Dave Crawford and Gillmore, both of whom had worked on the car.

In 1997, Roett graduated to a Toyota Celica GT4, in which he was immediately competitive; with Hurley still co-driving, he finished fourth in both the Texaco and Jamaica’s Tecmarine International Rally that year, and won his Group in the Club’s Driver’s Championship in ’97 and ’98. His successes were recognised by sponsor Michelin, which used his endorsement in product advertising.

Although the stock of rally cars in Barbados was by now growing ever-more sophisticated, Roett continued to be a major player, often finishing in the top three in speed events and claiming another four top 10 finishes in the Texaco (all but the last with Jason Chandler as co-driver), culminating in fourth place in 2002, reunited with Hurley – the start number was rested in 2003 in Ru’s memory.

The keys to Roett’s competition career were enjoyment and a determination to do everything to the best of his ability. As Gillmore says: “He enjoyed competing whether he won or not . . . and loved to party after events. He lived every day like there was no tomorrow.” His like has rarely been seen in the 50-year history of the Barbados Rally Club, and his passing was felt by many.

To return to a common theme of this book, he also brought family to the table; wife Beverley was not only an important supporter of Roett’s own career, but she also served on the Club committee as Treasurer, something that Ru himself would not have found easy. As Club Vice-Chairman Barry Gale once described him: “Ru was always ‘outside the tent’ looking in, he was not an establishment person, and was not afraid to express his opinion. Which is one reason why it is so difficult each year for the committee to nominate the winner of the Richard Roett Memorial Trophy – to try and capture the spirit in which that was donated to the Club is very, very hard.”

His sudden death aged 49 from a heart attack, while working in the yard one Sunday morning in December 2002, shocked the motor sport community in Barbados and around the region; he had requested that his funeral should not be a mournful occasion, in line with which the dress code was casual and colourful, with many of his fellow-drivers in their overalls. He was laid to rest against the background of music from the Merrymen, his favourite group.

One of his closest friends, and former team-mates, was Roger Hill, who shared the eulogy that day with Sydney Corbin; he selected three quotations which he felt summed up the remarkable spirit of Richard Roett, one of which was: “I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

‘Ru’ is another to have passed his talents on to the next generation, son Cliff, who not only inherited his father’s talent for engineering, but also his inspiring attitude to life. On winning the Club’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2001, Cliff revealed that he would be moving up a Group for the following season, but added: “I just want to have some fun.” Now, where had everyone heard that before?


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