Kevin explores Brooklands: the world’s first racing circuit

F1 pictures

Brooklands, 2011

Brooklands, 2011

Guest writer Kevin Parrott visited Brooklands in Surrey to see what remains of the world’s first racing circuit.

Brooklands racetrack in Surrey is a long-dormant 2.75mile concrete oval.

Underneath the modern industrial estate, supermarkets and newly-built houses, there lays the remains of a track with a very special claim.

Brooklands was the worlds first purpose built motor sport venue. It opening in 1907, just a few years before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and long before the sound of engines echoed around Monza’s famous banking.

‘The Brickyard’ used a similar but slightly smaller oval design when it was completed two years later.

Britain’s love affair with motor sport was born here in Weybridge, Surrey. This was where the culture of competition and innovation, the relentless pursuit of speed, pushing of the boundaries of automotive technology took root.

As well as the technical strides being made here in the heat of competition, the attraction of the public to witness the spectacle also gained ground and motor sport was for the first time a sport for spectators.

Brooklands was built with this in mind. It had a capacity of around 280,000 – a huge number even by today’s standards.

The track hasn’t seen action since 1939 – 11 years before the modern world championship began. But its legacy is kept alive by a team of passionate enthusiasts of all things motor sport at the Brooklands Museum.

It is fitting therefore that in it’s current guise as a museum, that one of the immaculately preserved team sheds which housed team’s bespoke cars on the site of the track, currently holds an exhibition dedicated to Grand Prix.
I was shown around the exhibition by the friendly staff at Brooklands museum.

McLaren MP4/6, Brooklands, 2011

McLaren MP4/6, Brooklands, 2011

Amongst examples of many cars and aeroplanes (Brooklands had an illustrious second life in aviation) I find a 1991 McLaren MP4/6 show car, a 2001 Jordan EJ11 (ex Frentzen) a 1957 Cooper-Climax T43 and a 1961 Assegai Alfa Romeo F1. Suspended upside down from the ceiling of the shed was a 1994 Simtek.

I made my way out to the preserved section of the steeply banked track, which is an imposing and eerie presence.
Not crumbling and overgrown, it bears a resemblance with the banking at Monza which opened some 15 years later.

Over the years, this long-dormant monster has born witness to the breaking of many records and, sadly, more than a few bones as well.

The bravery of the racers of this first chapter in motor sport history, hurling aeroplane-engined cars around a speed bowl, is humbling.

As you can see from the aerial picture below, parts of the circuit have already been lost to property development. The owners recently started an initiative encouraging fans to buy a yard of the track to help preserve it:

Bill Boddy, a motor racing journalist and historian with a deep history of Brooklands, passed away last week. If you want to learn more about the circuit I strongly encourage you to seek out some of his books, including his 2006 work ??Brooklands Giants: Brave Men and their Great Cars??.

For more information on visiting Brooklands Museum visit their official website.

Aerial map of Brooklands

Pictures from Brooklands

This is a guest article by Kevin Parrott. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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50 comments on Kevin explores Brooklands: the world’s first racing circuit

  1. Grace said on 16th July 2011, 9:19

    I’d love to know the reasoning to why the Simtek is unbranded.

    Great story btw :)

  2. Darren said on 16th July 2011, 9:47

    I remember seeing a show a couple of years ago when they built a Scalextric track around Brooklands and raced 2 cars right around, even through the Industrial estate and houses. Looks like a great place to visit.

    • Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 16th July 2011, 10:35

      Yeah, that was ‘James May’s Toy Stories’. It was a great programme, although it deeply saddened me to see that parts of the track had been built over.

      • Richard said on 16th July 2011, 10:51

        I agree, I went there earlier this year and the overwhelming feeling I had while walking the banking was one of sadness, there is something particularly haunting about the sections where the concrete is abruptly interrupted by a solid metal fence.

        This photo shows how the finishing straight has been obliterated:

  3. a mclaren that still has marlbro logos! not something youll see too often

  4. Dan Thorn (@dan-thorn) said on 16th July 2011, 10:38

    When I think of Brooklands, I think of this:

    http://www.bluecol.co.uk/clients/www.bluecol.co.uk/assets/Image/history/John_Cobb_in_the_Napier-Railton_1935.jpg

    Great circuit with a great history. I’ll definitely have to visit there sometime – perhaps pair it with next years Festival of Speed, seeing as they’re quite close.

    Also, that Assegai 001 isn’t anything like the Assegai I know… ;)

    http://images.wikia.com/wipeout/images/6/6f/Assegai_3.png

  5. George (@george) said on 16th July 2011, 10:47

    Really eerie pictures. It’s quite sad that a circuit that was so famous it’s still part of the national consciousness today was allowed to fall into decline like that, just goes to show it can happen to anyone.

  6. Fixy (@fixy) said on 16th July 2011, 12:24

    So ovals were the first kind of circuit to develop! We now think of the Americas when we think of ovals, but it’s also true we Europeans had them as well (Brooklands, Monza).

  7. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 16th July 2011, 14:12

    Are those a couple kart tracks that I spy within, though?

    • matt90 said on 16th July 2011, 19:45

      Part of Mercedes-Benz world I believe. I believe they’re for driver training and test drives.

    • martin bell said on 16th July 2011, 22:41

      There used to be a Kart track there, the outline of which can be seen in the Google picture, towards the bottom end of the track.

  8. Burnout said on 16th July 2011, 14:19

    What’s that delta-wing aircraft standing north of the museum building? A Concorde?

  9. TheBrav3 said on 16th July 2011, 15:09

    I stood on the banking a couple of years ago. It was a genuinely scary thought when you stand on top of it look down and realise cars raced on what is almost a quater pipe. Thanks for bringing that and other good memorys back kevin.

    • spankythewondermonkey (@spankythewondermonkey) said on 19th July 2011, 16:30

      iirc, it hits about 35deg incline towards the top of the banking. certainly steep enough when clambering up it with camera gear. i photo’d a few historic events there and also drove part of the banked section. The Hill is a bit of a challenge for historics!

  10. Steve K said on 16th July 2011, 16:30

    The Millwaukee Mile- 1903

    • DeadManWoking said on 16th July 2011, 16:45

      Yes it’s the oldest continuously used racetrack in the world, an IndyCar race was won by Franchitti there last month. But it started as a horse racing track on which they raced cars, not a purpose-built motor racing track like Brooklands.

  11. BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th July 2011, 17:33

    Amazing to see, It would make a great place to get motorsport enthusiasts a dream home! Shame it has been partly built over.

  12. marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 16th July 2011, 17:37

    Wow, looks wicked! I’ve just moved out of Surrey, and I never knew this existed or I’d have loved to go and have a look. I presume this is what the Brooklands section at Silverstone is named after?

  13. Charlie said on 16th July 2011, 21:43

    I used to live in a house whose garden backed on to the back of part of the banking, with a small river (the Mole I think) in between the two. It was pretty imposing. Connaught Drive was the address. Awesome!

  14. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 16th July 2011, 22:05

    Admittedly I don’t know an awful lot about the heritage of this track but it’s never nice to hear about tracks falling in to disrepair. It is bizarre to imagine a track interrupted by a series of buildings and walls..

    I remember seeing a fairly recent (perhaps 2008?) McLaren suspended upside down from the ceiling at the National Science Museum, London.

  15. bpacman (@bpacman) said on 16th July 2011, 22:28

    I visited Brooklands earlier this year too and had a great day out. The museum staff allowed us to sit in the MP4/6 (I’m only 5″ 10 but still quite a tight fit!), try out the old McLaren simulator and offered to move guard rails etc. all to allow for better photographs.

    Also, next to the Brooklands museum is Mercedes-Benz World which features some great exhibits like Lewis Hamilton’s 2007 McLaren, last year’s Force India, the previous Safety Car and, best of all, last year’s Mercedes F1 car seperated into thousands of different components suspended from the ceiling (my picture here: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/D8VCcTVuPAjeNqw6AEriAUR64L2L6w87iv82ELX6rf0?feat=directlink, a bit more on it from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/12698820).

    Highly recommended for day out!

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