Phil ‘Turkish’ Milner takes us on the inside, to what it was really like to be involved in one of the heaviest and sometimes controversial wars in Banger racing history.
The Gladiators have become known to be one of the hardest hitting teams in National Banger Racing since the turn of the century. Their reluctancy to never give up and their attitude towards racing has won them many fans throughout the community.
One of the many pillars that continues to hold this dynasty together is ‘Turkish’ Phil Milner.
Being around the sport his whole life, ‘Turkish’ knew he wanted to race from a young age. He visited many tracks with his Dad and admitted that without him, he would have never realised his love for the sport.
“I first got into racing at a very young age. I had a good childhood and was taken to as many meetings as you could imagine. We did pretty much everywhere in the South East of England – we sometimes even did three meetings a weekend when you could do Arena Essex on the Sunday afternoon and then onto Wimbledon the same day. I was still in a pram back then.
“We lived in Ipswich, but we would travel everywhere. My Dad raced five meetings in his whole career – all just from builds in the garden with the help of a few mates. I laugh at that now as I’ve done five meetings in a week before,” chuckled Milner.
The Gladiator star then gave us an insight into his childhood heroes and who he used to look up to.
“My Dad was the one who got the sport in my blood, so I have to thank him for that. He gave me cars to jump in and play with in the garden when I was a young lad – already dreaming of my future in the sport.
“I was a huge East Anglian fan. I used to love watching Geoff Baker, Taffy Gillingham, Simon Reed and Willie Skoyles. I followed Bangers right through my teenage years, but my Dad had stopped going to as many meetings by then, so we mostly just went to Ipswich.”
After realising his dream to become a Banger star at a young age, Milner soon found himself behind the wheel, but it was not a debut to be remembered.
“My Sister started dating Dave Osborn who started to race with Triple C in the Rookie Bangers. That’s where my first opportunity to get behind the wheel came from. I raced the most rotten Ford Sierra ever in my first meeting at Great Yarmouth.
“I was only 18 and had two driving lessons on the road but thought I was ready and wanted to have a go. Needless to say, it was short lived. I did one lap in fourth gear, not second like you’re supposed to, and burnt the clutch out. I blew the flywheel to pieces on the infield. A bit of the flywheel hit a marshal, so in hindsight, maybe I wasn’t quite ready to race. We got back to the pits and left in quite a hurry!”
Despite the rather comical debut, ‘Turkish’ wasn’t going to give up that easily and soon found himself back in the saddle.
“My next time out went a lot better,” he admitted. “It was a rent-a-Rookie from Dale Rayner at Swaffham. He told me to keep away from the Hit Squad, but I didn’t and got run in. The car was broken, but he did offer me another go when he had a second-hand car that would go again. It was at Yarmouth’s Gala Night meeting – it was a great night! They did chained-pairs races and figure-of-eight races too.
“I got run in a treat but fixed it for the Destruction Derby. It became clear after that that I was hooked – even with some of the bad early experiences. My career has remained just as eventful since that night,” he laughed.
After starting his career racing by himself, ‘Turkish’ soon found himself in the famous Gladiator White.
“I’d seen the Gladiators race loads of times at Ipswich in my early teenage years,” he said. “I used to love watching them race, everyone always seemed to be against them, but they just didn’t quit. They always took a battering but always kept coming back for more.
“Dave Osborn (Whipper) was the first one of us to join. He knew Ian Smith and we often spoke with him whenever we were at Arena. ‘Whipper’ offered him a built Lada they could use for a Yarmouth team meeting and he joined the season after.
“He raced at Arena on Sunday’s and I used to race at Ipswich on Saturday night’s in the Rookies. I always raced in my own colours, but he once had a car left over and I wanted to do a Spedeweekend in a National Banger. I asked them if I could leave it painted in Gladiator colours and made my National Banger debut in the English Championship.
“In one race, I blitzed one of the Hempnal boys before I was jacked by ‘Tricky’ Richard Flockton. I loved it and we kept pulling the car out for more until ‘Whipper’ hit it with a Sledgehammer in the wrong place,” smiled ‘Turkish.’
It would be that meeting that saw him cement his place within the team and just one week later, he made his debut at Arena Essex – a track where the Gladiators had some of their finest ever moments, but equally some moments which have gone down in Banger history as being controversial to say the least.
“My debut at Arena was in a MK3 Ford Granada that was previously raced by Simon Smith. The season after, I mainly did the team meetings at Arena and the odd Non-Ford meeting too. We only had a truck and trailer out of ‘Whipper’s’ workshop when we first started, but we then started building the cars in ‘Smiffy’s’ (Ian Smith’s) yard.”
The Gladiators are probably most known for their fierce rivalries with other teams, most notably the Bad Company and the Cream Team.
“We’re definitely known for our brutal wars,” confirmed ‘Turkish.’ “For most of us, it’s all we know – it’s what we’ve done to keep racing alive. We all have different ranks and positions within the team and for some of us, racing just wasn’t something we thought of.
“For the likes of me, ‘Noddy’ (Lewis Price) and ‘old man Smiffy’ (Ian Smith), it was better for us to know we were going to a meeting to do what we did best. We loved causing carnage on the corners.
“Obviously, there were days where not everyone had a good meeting, and we often travelled somewhere, where we knew we were going to be outnumbered. But we took the bad days with the good and just kept producing the cars to race week-in and week-out.
“Wars are mainly won in the yard and in the pits. Any wally could just sit in a car getting smashed up, but it was the passion we had to keep getting cars on track, every race and every week when we used to race at Arena.”
It wasn’t just at the aforementioned Arena Essex Raceway where the Gladiators often found themselves with an enemy out on track, however. Wars would often follow the Essex-based team all over the width and breadth of Britain, with the Gladiators always up for the battle – whether they had five, 10 or 15 cars with them.
The war the Gladiators had with the Bad Company and Cream Team saw pretty much the same drivers face each other throughout the 10 plus years the rivalry lasted. The war often saw both sets of teams take home some well wrecked cars and often led to some controversial moments too.
“After our little rivalry with the Essex Boys, Team Lovely, Team Mush, and Team No-Mush, we were looking for our next battle,” grinned Milner. “Karl Douglas had always seemed to single out ‘old man Smiffy’ in the DD’s with some savage shots.
“Nathan Roberts was running away with the points at Arena, mostly using the same super-rapid MK3 Ford Granada at most meetings. It got to a Small-Van meeting and he turned up in a 2LTR Astra SRI Hatchback and was allowed to race and subsequently cleared up. ‘Old man Smiffy’ said, ‘That’s not on!’ and in a Ford Escort Van turned it around and stopped him head-on,” laughed ‘Turkish.’
“The war went from there. The next meeting ‘Noddy’ had just returned from Iraq and was buzzing to get back out there. He took out my diesel Vauxhall Astra Van from the week before and was told to turn it around or he’ll get slaughtered. ‘Noddy’ did just that and met one of them with a monster head on by the pit-gate and it just completely kicked-off – Arena style!
“Simon (Smith) took a monster T-Bone and needed Hospital treatment. It was the applauding to the crowd that was the real fuel on the fire. There was a team meeting the next day and the buzz was alive. We all went back to the yard to finish off the cars and when he was discharged from Hospital, he came to the yard and told us to finish building his car and that he’ll see us in the morning. That’s dedication and we all went and had a real good smash-up, and the war went on.”
The war had many memorable moments for us as fans as the two teams hammered each other from pillar to post. Milner admitted that every meeting he raced, there’s a memory of it.
“The Cream Team were booked in for the BBA World Cup in Scotland one year, so we also booked in and travelled the 12 hours up to Cowdenbeath. However, when we got there, we found them without any cars which they thought was hilarious, but the joke was on them.
“We raced and then drove the 12 hours back to pick up new cars from the yard and drive four hours to Aldershot where we did race against them. That was some dedication from us and showed everyone just how much it meant to us.
“Going back to the old days at Arena, we used to push cars out on to the track that didn’t run. ‘Noddy’ once took a car out on track without an engine in – now come on, how would any team beat us if we never had a care in the world? We were never going to lose! It used to be funny getting pushed around to the pit-bend where we were then spun out to just sit there and be battered.
“We even used to have games amongst ourselves on who would sit in their car the longest (back then, drivers were still allowed to climb out when they had had enough). This would frustrate the hell out of them. We lost so many battles out on track, but you can lose battles and still win a war. They probably used to think there was something wrong with us!”
‘Turkish’ continued by reminiscing about a meeting at Arena Essex where he had a Vauxhall Cavalier that was locked in reverse.
“The car would only go backwards,” he said. “So, I got pushed out on track and lined myself up. We outnumbered them and so they refused to race. Tony Woodroffe said to us we would get banned if we didn’t race. So, the boys that could, went around the track at walking speed. There’s so many more memories we have that still make us laugh to this day.”
The Gladiators rivalry with the Cream Team came to a halt in 2015 at the Arena Essex Head-to-Head team meeting. Both teams fielded an ‘A’ squad and a ‘B’ squad giving them both 16 cars each. The two teams both agreed to race each other in the heats rather than getting drawn against someone else.
‘Turkish’ admitted that they didn’t know that would happen but thought it was a good idea to do it for the fans.
“They had always tried to get us to do a head-to-head, but we never gave them the satisfaction, as they thought it would decide the winner of the war,” explained Milner. “Like I said, we lost a lot of battles on track, but we would never lose the war – we were adamant of that. By then, we didn’t meet each other as much as we used too, but the meeting was for charity, the fans wanted to see it and it would gave the afternoon more hype.
“It was a great day! We had a good battle with them and won by a few cars as well. We had a good team that day and only had two extra’s brought in. We brought in Callum White and one of the Hughes brothers. They drafted in a few people too.”
The rivalry with the Bad Company and Cream Team brought many memorable moments, but also, it’s fair share of controversy too.
“The war brought it’s fair share of injuries for both sides,” said ‘Turkish.’ Obviously, no one wants to see a driver get hurt, it was always a hard hitting affair and sometimes we admit, things went a bit too far. Tensions got very heated, but we’re not here to stir up the old negative history.
“I want to give the fans an insight as to what it was like to be to be in thick of the war – building the cars and giving the paying public some entertainment. We made many memories in the war that continues to bring smiles and laughter to us all.
“We still laugh with each other and remember the crazy things we did – the opposition probably have there’s too. The most important thing is that we’re all still here and we’ve all got a story a grandchild will hopefully love to hear in the future.”
The Gladiators have always been committed drivers. ‘Turkish’ recalls one week where they built 23 cars all out of one yard when they raced at Arena Essex on Sunday, Mildenhall the Saturday after (RDC vs PRI), Arena on the Sunday again and then Arena on the Monday for a team meeting. He admitted it was a crazy week with very little sleep for the whole team.
To be a Gladiator, you need to have no fear, be dedicated and have an entertainment value as well – probably, just as much as bravery and driving skill like any other Banger driver. One Gladiator driver that fits this character perfectly is ‘Noddy’ Lewis Price.
‘Turkish’ recalled some of his favourite memories of his Gladiator teammate. “Once, ‘Noddy’ raced without any batteries. He asked the marshals to check them and they said, ‘They’re gone, what do you want to do?’ So, he pulled his belts tight and gave them a thumbs up for the race to start.”
‘Noddy’ was also well known for racing with a figure of the children’s character, Noddy on the roof of his cars and would often climb out of his cars once the race had finished, take off his helmet and put on a fake nose and glasses.
Milner admits there was plenty more the Gladiator man had in his armoury.
“He had all sorts of stuff,” ‘Turkish told. “Newspapers, Water Guns – he once had a loudspeaker that he got from the Army and put that in his car for the PRI World Final one year. He unfortunately got hit in the driver’s door by Elliot Dobson – it was obviously an accident. ‘Noddy’ was lying on the bonnet of his car gasping for breath and the bloody speaker broke and was letting off a siren!”
Whilst no one wants to see anyone get hurt, ‘Noddy’ has remained an integral part of the Gladiator team and will continue to be so for years to come.
‘Turkish’ himself has been involved in some very heavy crashes in his 17-year career.
“There’s been a lot of bumps in my career so far,” smiled Milner. “One of my favourite hits was on Brendan Carton at a Wimbledon BWS (Banger World Series) round. A Granada sitting at the end of the straight – it was like Christmas came early! That night was really good, I was on-form the whole meeting and had a great time.
“Another that sticks in my mind was my rollover at a Mildenhall BWS round a couple of years ago. My teammates were actually worried about me, so it must have been quite a good one.
“There’s probably loads more that other people may recall. I’ve had a lot of good head-on’s in my time too – they’re not everyone’s cup of Tea – they certainly make your teeth rattle. Just ask some of the Cream Team…”
The Gladiators have sometimes ventured to mainland Europe too and enjoyed their fair share of success at the Warneton Speedway in Belgium.
Simon Smith, Phil Smith, Craig Oliver and Ian Smith have all been victorious over there, claiming many big titles. The Gladiators even won the European Team Championship once as well.
‘Turkish’ said: “Winning the European Team Championship was definitely a highlight for us. We’ve won several team meetings in our career, it’s what we’re good at. Having different roles within the team so some can race, and others can crash helps a lot as well.
“I’ve had some big hits over at Warneton, I used to love racing over there. The track’s something else and everyone seems to have the right attitude.
“Racing in Belgium used to be our holiday away from all the warring. We would all have an absolute blast from start to finish. We used to spend two nights there, get very drunk and smash the cars up. Then, we would return home and go back to warring the following week.”
The Gladiators are one of the best Banger teams to have graced the track this century and are quite possibly one of the longest serving teams still racing as well.
“It’s great if we’re thought of as being one of the greatest or formidable teams of the century,” beamed ‘Turkish.’ “I suppose it’s down to the miles we’ve put in, there’s probably not many places where we haven’t visited. We’ve raced all over the United Kingdom and further afield, mostly with the same mentality and the same perfect paint jobs.
“We build a car, smash it up, fix it, smash it up again and throw it away – just the way it should be. To my knowledge, I think we’re still one of the longest serving Banger teams in the country, but the team wouldn’t be nothing without the old general and main man, Ian Smith. He made it all possible for what we are today – the team is like a family rather than just a few mates that like smashing cars up.”
It’s easy to forget that for many Banger drivers, it’s their life, it’s all they know. Whether they crash, war or win, they are true entertainers. The Gladiators are all of this and much more.
By Jordan Hollands.