Lost Racing Circuits By Simon Arron
Situated high on the moors above the Ribble Valley, the Beacon Fell View holiday park offers magnificent views across swathes of unspoilt Lancashire. Parts of the site offer clues that it was once a quarry – Tootle Heights, to be precise – but hidden below rows of caravans you’ll find faint traces of a bygone racing circuit.
Having been used for rally stages during the 1960s, the land was adapted as a sprint course in 1970 – known as Longridge, in deference to the market town a mile down the road – and subsequently upgraded for racing. Set in the quarry’s old basin, the lap measured 0.4 miles and was initially licensed for a maximum grid of only six cars (although this was eventually increased to 10 and, later, 12). It was as far removed as it is possible to be from the fast, flowing sweeps of Silverstone or the cosmopolitan magnetism of Brands Hatch, but it was friendly, fun and incredibly versatile. In addition to sprints and race meetings for cars, karts and motorcycles, the addition of a gravel loop enabled it to host rallycross – including, in 1976, a round of the mainstream British Championship. And despite its compact nature, it wasn’t uncommon to see F1 or F2 cars competing at the track in anything-goes Formula Libre events.
Longridge was inaugurated as a racing circuit in April 1973, but lasted only six short, sweet seasons. Plans for 1979 were fairly well advanced when news broke that the land was to be sold. The distinctive quarry wall that once lined the back straight now forms the backdrop to a row of static caravans. If you attended events in period, some of what remains will look familiar; if you didn’t, you’re unlikely to realise that motorsport could ever have taken place here.
Longridge might be one of the quirkiest former circuits on the UK mainland, but it is one of several hundred defunct locations that have hosted some form of motorsport over the past 120 or so years. Some are obvious – the Aintree circuit, home to the British Grand Prix five times between 1955 and 1962, remains largely intact, but hasn’t hosted a car race since 1964. A truncated version of the track remained active until 1982, at which point the Jockey Club intervened, because it was becoming too expensive to repair fences damaged by drivers who strayed onto the adjacent Grand National course. Car sprints and motorcycle races continued, however, and resumed in 2022 after a three-year break. Much of Crystal Palace remains intact, too, though nature has reclaimed the track’s fringes. Set in the park of the same name, it provided the sport with a London home from the early part of the 20th century – when sprints and motorcycle races took place – until 1972, although it lay dormant for several years in the wake of WW2. Its eventual demise was triggered by a combination of the cost of implementing safety upgrades – and a desire to expand other sports facilities within the park, something that never actually happened (and the once celebrated athletics stadium is now itself in a state of disrepair). Motor sport returned in 1997, however, with a short sprint on parts of the pre- and post-war versions of the track. It was just settling down as an annual staple when the pandemic struck…
Brooklands, which opened in 1907 as the UK’s first purpose-built circuit, was a major automotive and aviation hub until 1939. It was badly damaged during WW2 and racing never resumed, although sections of its fearsome circuit banking survive and today form part of a museum celebrating the site’s illustrious past. The venue is still used for competitive driving tests, too.
Many former venues have no such distinguishing landmarks and have become either unrecognisable, or else invisible. Located in suburban Wilmslow, Cheshire, Summerfields is nowadays a residential and retail development. There is nothing to indicate that this was once an RAF training camp, nor that its runways served briefly – in 1961 and 1962 – as a competitive sprint course. As with the surviving tracks at Castle Combe, Croft, Silverstone, Snetterton, Goodwood and Thruxton, the runways and perimeter roads of RAF Catterick were also turned over to motor racing. The first event took place in 1958 and the last on September 5 1961. There are conflicting reports as to why racing ceased; some say it’s because crowds used to gather by the edge of the adjacent A1, disrupting the flow of traffic as they paused to watch the action for free, others that a spinning Lotus 7 came through the perimeter hedge and finished up on the southbound carriageway. Either way, racing stopped.
Located between Peterhead and Fraserburgh, to the north of Aberdeen, Crimond was another former airfield adapted for racing purposes. Active from 1951-1958 (but revived briefly as a sprint course during the early 1960s), it will forever be notable as the venue at which Jim Clark – future double world champion, Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the sport’s all-time greats – made his race debut. Driving his close friend Ian Scott-Watson’s DKW Sonderklasse, he finished last (unsurprisingly, given that he was driving the only saloon in a field of far more potent sports cars), but his lap times were three seconds quicker than those of Scott-Watson, who had driven it in a more suitable event.
Crimond might long have lain in disuse, but its significance can never be erased.
The same applies to Gransden Lodge, another former airfield about 15 miles west of Cambridge. It was here, on June 15 1946, that the Cambridge University Automobile Club staged Britain’s first post-war race meeting (though there had been sprint events the previous year in Cockfosters, London and Filton, Bristol). One year later, a second meeting took place and was extensively reported by Motor Sport magazine, whose August 1947 issue described it as “altogether excellent” and “the sort of racing this country should have regularly, not merely once a year”.
Sadly, though, Gransden Lodge’s second race meeting would also be its last.