Abandoned British Motor Racing Venues

Here at Scrap Car Comparison, we’re used to seeing cars come and go, making their final journey to the scrap pile. We even sometimes catch a glimpse of cars that have more exciting histories than just being used to trundle to Tesco and back. A highlight of these are cars that have enjoyed a competitive life, being put through their paces on racing tracks around the country and sometimes the World. But did you know that it’s not just the cars that can meet an untimely end? 

Here in Britain alone, there is a large, and sadly growing, number of motor racing circuits that are no longer in operation for one reason or another. While some are still visible or have been preserved, others are slowly being reclaimed by the land in which they sit. Let us take you on a journey not only around the country but also back in time…

But before we do that, if your car is looking like it would fit right in with the overgrown surroundings of a number of the circuits listed below, or perhaps it’s about as reliable as cars that would have raced back in their heydays, then scrapping your car with Scrap Car Comparison could present you with a great opportunity to get something shiny and new. With collection agents all around the country no-one is too far away from us, and we can even come and collect your car absolutely free of charge. Get started today to see just how much your car could be worth, and you could find yourself behind the wheel of a newer, more comfortable car and embarking on a road trip to search for all of these little nuggets of British motorsport history.

Brooklands: 1907-1939

Racing has been a part of motoring culture since the invention of the car. As soon as two cars were built, human nature took over and people wanted to see which could go faster. The earliest races started on public roads, but in 1907 the world’s first purpose-built racing venue was opened: Brooklands. It was built as a way to provide a location for high speed testing of British automobiles, with a blanket speed limit of just 20mph in place across the entire UK road network at the time. Before long it was hosting races, and just eleven days after it was opened it hosted the world’s first 24-hour race. 

Capable of hosting over 280,000 spectators (130,000 more than Silverstone can today), it inspired the creation of the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway in America. It wasn’t until 1931 that another circuit – Donington Park – appeared in Britain, ending Brooklands’ 24-year monopoly. World War II brought an end to racing at Brooklands, and bomb damage resulted in the circuit being sold for use as an aircraft factory. Today, while part of the circuit is retained as Mercedes-Benz World, the remainder has been engulfed by the growing Surrey town of Weybridge, with industrial estates and residential developments being built across the former circuit.

Rockingham Motor Speedway: 2001 – 2018

From the oldest circuit in the World to one of Britain’s newest. Rockingham Motor Speedway was in fact the first banked oval to be built in Britain since Brooklands, with that style of circuit favoured more across the pond while most British circuits were built either around old airfields or through parkland. The plan was to build a circuit of this type to entice American racing series across to the UK, which worked… for a couple of years. Opened in 2001, the American CART series held two races at the circuit, but moved to Brands Hatch in 2003. Oval racing gradually disappeared from the circuit, with the infield courses being favoured in later years.

Built on the site of a British Steel works on the outskirts of Corby, the circuit never had the allure of the more historic circuits in the country, and it entered administration in 2016, just 15 years after it opened. The circuit also suffered from regularly feeling empty. Built to hold over 50,000 spectators,  safety concerns surrounding the grandstands meant four of the five were out-of-bounds in the final few years, creating rather depressing photos of empty grandstands, even if there were tens of thousands of fans in attendance. The track held its final motorsport event in 2018, and is now a vehicle storage facility.

Arena Essex Raceway: 1978 – 2018

While Rockingham suffered from a lack of UK-based interest in large banked oval racing, there is a massive short oval scene in Britain, with stock cars, sprint cars, speedway and banger racing regularly happening at venues up and down the country. Arena Essex was built on the site of an old cement works overspill site by a local racing driver, and the quarter-mile circuit held its first meeting in May 1978. Such was the success of the circuit that it became the home of the National Banger World Final between 1980 up until its closure.

Dwindling attendances and poor weather led owners to close the venue in 2018, ending 40 years of motorsport at the site. A huge turnout of bangers appeared for the stadium’s final meeting which meant that the story ended on a high before demolition began in 2020.

Crystal Palace: 1927 – 1974 (parts of circuits used for sprint racing between 2010 & 2019)

Most people hear the words Crystal Palace and immediately think of a Premier League football club, but the name actually dates back to the mid-1800s. The original Crystal Palace building was relocated from Hyde Park in 1851 to its location atop Sydenham Hill, and the surrounding parkland became a regular pleasure spot for Victorians. As the park evolved, it became the home of the FA Cup Final for 20 years, before the existing paths were used for a motorcycle race in 1927 around a 1-mile course. The circuit was doubled in size in the winter of 1936 and cars began racing the following year, which also saw the first ever televised broadcast of motorsport.

The circuit would go on to host non-championship Formula One races, as well as Formula Two, Formula Three and the British Saloon Car Championship. It was also used as a filming location for The Italian Job in 1969, where Michael Caine and co. test their Mini Coopers and infamously blow off more than just the doors. The circuit finally closed in 1974 and further developments mean any full scale motorsport return is highly unlikely. The Sevenoaks & District Motor Club have held sprints on a course comprising pieces of the old circuit, while the 2013 film Rush, based on the story of James Hunt, used the location to recreate scenes from Hunt’s early days of racing.

Longridge: 1973 – 1978

While most circuits were built around airfields or through parks, Longridge, near Preston, may well have been the only motor racing circuit ever built within the confines of an old quarry. The roads around the quarry were used, but only a very small circuit was able to be put together, measuring in at only 0.43 miles. As a result, races could only contain a maximum of 10 starters.

The site was sold on, in somewhat controversial circumstances with none of the organising clubs informed, in 1978, and today it is a Holiday Park overlooking Dilworth Upper Reservoir.

Aintree: 1954 – 1964 (Club Circuit still in use)

Including Aintree on this list could be seen by some as incorrect. The shorter club circuit, situated entirely within the Grand National racecourse, is still used today, but the full Grand Prix circuit has been out of action since 1964. Built in 1954 as the ‘Goodwood of the North’, the Grand Prix circuit crossed the racecourse at the Melling and Anchor crossings, running on the stretch of tarmac in front of the main Racecourse grandstands.

Aintree was the site of five British Grands Prix, including Stirling Moss’s first home win in 1955. The 1957 Grand Prix was also given the title of European Grand Prix, the biggest event of the year, and 150,000 spectators were in attendance to see Moss win once again, taking his Vanwall to victory and in the process scoring the first ever win for a British car.

Davidstow: 1952 – 1955

As with many circuits across the country, Davidstow was born out of an old World War II airfield. On this occasion it was RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, one of the lesser used airfields of the Coastal Command. Closed at the end of World War II, the airfield became Davidstow Circuit and held its first race meeting in 1952. While only 44 races were ever held at the circuit, it did host three races run to Formula One regulations, and in 1954 John Coombs took his Lotus MkVIII to victory – the first ever Formula One victory for the marque seven years before Innes Ireland would score the team’s first win in the World Championship. 

The final ever meeting at Davidstow looked set to be a real barnstormer as Peter Collins – one of the leading racing drivers of the era – entered two cars for the meeting, including a Maserati 250F. Unfortunately just three days before the event Collins opted to race at Crystal Palace instead. Collins’ withdrawal was followed by fellow stars Tony Rolt and Ken Tyrrell, and only six cars took the start for the final race in the short, but sweet, life of Davidstow Circuit. Today the circuit is back operating as an airfield run by Davidstow Flying Club, while nearby is the Davidstow Airfield & Cornwall at War Museum.

Ibsley: 1951 – 1955

Davidstow was not the only former airfield circuit to enjoy a brief life as a motor circuit in the early 1950s, with Ibsley in Hampshire also getting in on the act. Originally housing Hurricanes and Spitfires in World War II (and being the location for the 1942 film “The First of the Few”), the airfield was converted to a race circuit after the war and held its first race in 1951. Its first meeting in that year was for motorcycles, while cars joined some four months later. The circuit could only hold races on Saturdays, as the proximity to the Church of St Martin meant that the engine noise would disturb churchgoers on Sundays.

A number of star names competed at Ibsley in its four active years, including being the scene of John Surtees’ first ever race on a motorcycle. He would later go on to become the only person to become World Champion on both two and four wheels. Roy Salvadori set the fastest lap ever around the circuit in its final year, lapping his Maserati 250F at 88mph, having beaten fellow star of the era Archie Scott-Brown in a hugely exciting battle.  If you were to look at the circuit from above today, it’d be impossible to know it’s there without being told, for it is now landscaped lakes and gravel pits. A small section of runway exists to the south, and the control tower stands derelict and alone overlooking one of the lakes.

Birmingham: 1986 – 1990

The jewel of the Formula 1 season is its annual trip to the principality of Monaco. The glitz and glamour is known the world over, as is the extreme pressure the drivers put themselves under to get the most out of their cars around the tight confines. In the 1980s, Britain wanted a slice of the action, and decided to hold its own street race. Instead of the glitz of Monaco however, were the more humble surroundings of Central Birmingham

Utilising two sides of the A4540 dual-carriageway ring road, the circuit went up and down slip rounds, all the way around roundabouts and up narrow streets. It was a roaring success and a number of future F1 stars competed in the F3000 races, while many touring car fans remember the BTCC encounters fondly. While the circuit is hardly ‘abandoned’ or ‘lost’, it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see racing of its type in Britain again. Even when the street circuit racing of Formula E came to London it was confined to parks or roads around the ExCeL centre in London, rather than traditional public roads.

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