Mankind has always been fascinated by speed, constantly looking for a new way to go faster. Motor sport has always pushed the speed boundaries of the motor car, making it a popular spectator sport and family day out.
The roots of motor sport can be traced back to the 1890s. The very first organised motor car races took place on the roads between French towns. These races soon evolved into long distance races between cities such as Paris to Vienna. Technical progression saw cars get faster and faster but there was little provision for safety. As the races passed through towns and villages there were often collisions involving the viewing public.
Due to the danger associated with races on public roads, they have always been illegal on mainland Britain. However, hill climbs and speed events were allowed on closed roads.
In order to promote motor racing and the British motor industry, wealthy industrialist Hugh Locke-King constructed the massive Brooklands circuit on private land in Surrey. Racing began in 1908 and, just like horse-racing events, bookies took bets on the drivers. Protected seating was available for 5,000 with standing room for up to a quarter of a million spectators. However, early race meetings only attracted crowds of around 5,000 earning the slogan ‘The right crowd with no crowding’.
For many years Brooklands was the only motor sport venue in mainland Britain and many enthusiasts flocked to meetings in the Isle of Man and Ireland where road racing was permitted. From 1907 the Isle of Man was the venue for the annual TT motorcycle races, with riders risking their lives on the island’s demanding roads. In 1933 a second purpose built road-racing circuit was finally built at Donington Park near Derby.
At the end of World War II motor racing gripped the public’s imagination. Harsh petrol rationing limited private motoring, but motor sport provided an exciting outlet for a population that had suffered years of conflict. Brooklands and Donington did not survive the war years but new race tracks such as Silverstone, Goodwood and Snetterton were built on old military airfields.
In 1948 the first Grand Prix of Great Britain was held at Silverstone in Northamptonshire watched by a crowd of over 100,000. Goodwood in Sussex also prospered with attendances in excess of 50,000.
In these early post-war days driver safety was limited to straw bales and oil drums. The viewing public stood behind simple wooden fences.
Motor racing events became a popular day out for the whole family, complete with picnic hampers! Meanwhile, motor sport magazines and books hit the market, capitalising on motor racing and rallying fans.
In recent years Britain has seen a full and varied calendar of motor sport in Britain. Rallying, sprints, hill climbs, saloon car racing and stock car events are all popular days out. Even unusual events such as caravan and lorry racing at Silverstone have been organised.
Worldwide following of the Formula One Grand Prix series has also seen the rise of competition on an international scale and brought motor sport to our television screens.
Today, clothing, books, toys, games and car accessories are produced for the enthusiastic market. The human love affair with automobiles and speed is here to stay.
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