Motor racing: History has a re-run at Brooklands

Norman Fox recalls the first glory day on motor sport's grandest stage

Motor Racing people being what they are, there is always someone who anticipates the start, drops the clutch and gets ahead of the field while the rest are still thinking about it. When Brooklands held the world's first track races 90 years ago it was no different, except that the driver who got ahead of the rest did so by a week.

A week today Brooklands, the world's first purpose-built motor race circuit, will be celebrating the anniversary of its inaugural track meeting, but this weekend is really the true anniversary for it was on 28-29 June 1907 that one of the most remarkable achievements in motor sport's adventurous history occurred on the huge, banked Surrey circuit - before it was even officially open for competition.

In the early part of the century the amazingly rapid construction of Brooklands and its sheer size must have been far more impressive to the spectators than most of the races. The length and breadth of the track made the Mercedes, Napier and Daimler cars of the day appear to crawl even though they were capable of well over 100mph. Indeed, the crowd on the official first day of competition soon became bored and probably Brooklands was saved from being largely ignored only because of the captivating engineering spectacle of the place itself.

The idea and money for Brooklands (some pounds 250,000) came from Hugh Fortesque Locke-King, land-owner of most of Weybridge. His inspiration was born of frustration at Britain's slow development of the motor car, which had been made worse by low speed limits. He was particularly offended when, in 1902, Selwyn Francis Edge, Australian born but driving a British Napier, went to France and won the Gordon Bennet trophy for national teams. Britain could not host the event the following year because racing was banned, and so the 1903 race was held in Ireland.

Locke-King decided to build a huge testing track on his Surrey property. Two thousand workmen completed it in less than a year. The original outer circuit was nearly three miles long, 100 feet wide and in places precariously propped up by stilts in swampy ground. The River Way had to be bridged, subways dug and 30 acres of woodland felled. A test hill was built and finally some 30,000 seats were installed.

One enthusiast could not wait for the first official day of racing before trying out the new, spectacular track. Knowing that Brooklands was complete, Edge, who had done a lot to develop Napier cars and owned several, approached Locke-King and asked whether he could use Brooklands for an attempt to drive for 24 hours at over 60mph. Permission was granted and Edge announced his intentions. He was told by an eminent doctor that he would die of exhaustion, or at least become mad with boredom. Punch magazine suggested he was already.

He defied the warnings and booked the track for his sole use over two days. He chose a seven and three-quarter litre Sixty Napier and had two other Napier cars driven as back-up. Locke-King clearly felt that a world record would bring Brooklands good publicity, which was badly needed since there had been a great deal of local opposition to the project.

Edge decided to start driving at 6pm, believing that he would still be fresh as night fell. Later he drove with the modest illumination of the car's acetylene head lamps and the dozens of lanterns strung on the fir trees alongside the track. At 8.30pm he made his first stop having averaged 70mph.

The most exhausted people were the time-keepers, struggling to keep their records in the poor light. Edge himself remained ahead of schedule, thanks in part to being the first to use the new Rudge-Whitworth detachable wheels. One wheel change was recorded in 24 seconds. As for re-fuelling, that was kept to a minimum because special petrol tanks had been fitted with capacities of 50 gallons.

Damage to the wheels was caused by the breaking up of the track, which had not been given time to settle, so officials had to leap out after Edge had gone by to fill the holes with gravel. In later years Edge was accused of causing Brooklands' various surface problems by using the track before it was ready.

But in spite of the bumps and pot-holes his speed over the whole 24-hour period never dropped below 61 miles in 60 minutes, and that in spite of being drenched by hour upon hour of rain, which came through a smashed windscreen.

As the hours passed, visibility got worse but when he finally finished he had completed 1,581 miles, 1,310 yards at an average speed of 65.9mph. It was only 13 years since the world's first motor race, from Paris to Rouen, had been won at a stately 10.7mph.

The record stood for 17 years and completely over-shadowed the opening race day the following weekend when Edge competed but had to pull out of the main race, the Montagu Cup, ironically after only a few laps.

However, not only could he claim to be Brooklands' first record-breaker, one of his own Napier cars won the very first race in the opening programme, which was a curious occasion. As well as being a motoring enthusiast, Locke-King was a keen follower of horse racing. Having no guidelines for motor racing, he made the drivers wear jockey-style "smocks", making them identifiable by their colours, and all prize money was given in sovereigns. The official starter was a member of the Jockey Club and there were "Selling Plate" races.

In a way it was appropriate. Brooklands became a symbol of a sport in which even today millions of pounds are spent finding just that little more horse power.

MORE than 1,000 famous, rare or historic Italian cars and motorcycles will be on display and driven on the test hill at Brooklands on Sunday 6 July. Admission: pounds 6, children pounds 4, which includes the museum.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has been manufacturing high quali...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the fairest onl...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Production Planner is require...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen