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. martin bell said on 16th July 2011, 22:51

    I used to live very close to Brooklands and would suggest that any motor racing fan should pay a visit. It’s a wonderfully evocative place, alive with the ghosts of the past that really gets under your skin. I would also recommend a visit to the Brooklands Society photo archive to get a feel for what racing was like there.

  2. AJB said on 16th July 2011, 23:51

    It’s weird to think that Indianapolis would look something like this if it hadn’t been bought by Tony Hulman after WW2 – both tracks were built in the what was the countryside but became the suburbs. The frustrating thing about Brooklands is that there’s a massive golf course next door and nobody thought to build a Tesco on that instead. It’s a bit sad really, they used to build Valiant nuclear bombers there, but now it’s a supermarket and a skid pan for businessmen to play with their Mercedes. Still, at least the museum is still there, (although if I’m honest the F1 exhibition has nothing on the pre-war stuff they have)
    It’s also weird to think that the demise of Brooklands brought about racing on airfields that in turn leads to Cooper, Lotus, McLaren, Williams… So if Brooklands continued then maybe the UK wouldn’t have become so dominant in F1?

  3. Remco H. said on 17th July 2011, 7:12

    Are there some more pics of the Jordan 1/8 models right behind the EJ11?!

  4. batador said on 17th July 2011, 14:21

    This is to show that no matter what people say, the first tracks were ovals and oval racing is a form of racing

  5. jake butler said on 17th July 2011, 19:15

    i live right next to the track and visit it regularly. It really isnt looked after in parts as it should be. if anyone wants to meet up there for a walk round please get in touch.
    Is a great day out! Even bumped into tiff needell…

  6. bernification said on 18th July 2011, 2:53

    I took a couple of Polish friends (recent F1 converts thanks to Kubica) to Brooklands. I explained that Brooklands was similar to Monza, after one of them spotted the banking on the tv footage of the race.

    To be honest, I felt like I was showing them round an aircraft grave. Very little of the circuit exists, and that that does has been built on by Mercedes. I just couldn’t imagine Italians letting an English manufacturer build on the home of Italian motorsport. Or Germans either. There were some fantasticaly preserved exhibits, but there was definately the overawing feeling that everything there would never work again. Non of the aircraft. Very few (if any) of the cars or bikes. It was a dreadful sight.
    I know they are terribly underfunded, and the staff work incredibly hard, but once these things are gone, they are gone for ever. But the ballet will recieve great funding from the lottery, to sunsidise people who can well afford to go and see it.
    I trawled through footage of pre F1 era races, the sites aviation history alone gives it a national heritage that should secure funding, I find it hard to fathom that we can’t look after somewhere of such significance.

    • martin bell said on 19th July 2011, 8:38

      I felt a bit like that the first time I visited, but please persist!! It’s not true that very little of the circuit exists, in fact most of it still exists. The finishing straight has been built over, and a section of the members banking filled in, although plans are afoot to move the wartime hanger which sits on the finishing straight to re instate the section within the museum grounds. The members banking is the section that museum has access to, which ends where Hennebique bridge used to be, site of the famous ‘bump’, which was removed before it fell down in the sixties. The railway straight is in tact, as is most of the Byfleet banking, save for two places where the banking was removed by the MOD to allow larger planes land there post war. The problem is that the various remaining sections are owned by many of the different companies that operate from within the track, most notably Royal Mail who have a large depot there, so access is difficult. Sections of the infield tracks are also now accesible thanks to Daimler Chrysler. Whatever we might think about Mercedes Benz World, it is their money that has preserved the site, allowed the museum to expand and has drawn many more people to Brooklands. Huge credit is due to the small bunch of people, of whom the late Bill Boddy was a founder member, who formed the Brooklands Society for the sole purpose of saving what what left. That this should have been done with public money is beyond doubt, but you should understand that the local council who own parts of the site have been hugely supportive. Many of the smaller aircraft do run, and the motoring exhibits are often brought out and used, you just need to be there on the right days!! Sorry for the rant, but I’m a Brooklands nut, and feel that more people should understand it’s place in the history of motorsport in this country.

    • bpacman (@bpacman) said on 20th July 2011, 19:31

      I do agree that the museum is a little run down – especially compared to the wonderfully maintained Beaulieu Motor Museum in the New Forest. On the flip side, this does mean that the staff are a little more willing to allow you to interact with the exhbits – I can’t imagine many museums letting a 4-year old (and a 24-year old!) sit in their 20-year old McLaren!

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