Rumblings, April 1971

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Donington Park.—By 1939 the circuit of Donington Park, on the estate of Mr. J. G. Shields just south of Derby, had become the best motor-racing circuit in Britain, though by European standards it was a bit small and “acrobatic”. Commandeered by the Army for use as a military vehicle depot for the 1939-45 war, the circuit became overgrown and damaged, and it was many years after the cessation of hostilities that the Army eventually moved out, by which time Rolls-Royce had moved in with two large storage factories and various “squatter” firms had set up depots and storage yards in the area surrounded by the circuit, though the rest of the 800-acre park was kept free of debris. Over the years the idea of racing returning to Donington has arisen on a number of occasions but never came to anything, and the string of circuits across the centre of England, made up by Snetterton, Mallory Park and Oulton Park, dissuaded most of the ideas for reopening Donington.

Recently the entire circuit, the land inside the circuit and a 300-ft. deep strip of land outside the perimeter of the circuit was bought by Bernard Wheatcroft, the owner of a large commercial building concern in Leicester. Wheatcroft has been making a collection of single-seater Grand Prix cars over the last ten years, having over 30 cars already, and his aim has been to build a museum concentrating on Grand Prix cars and single-seaters and the history connected with racing, as distinct from other museums that deal with the evolution of the automobile with racing as a small sideline.

Having grown up as a spectator at Donington in the early thirties when the track first opened, and living only a few miles away from Donington Park, it was only natural that Wheatcroft should buy the place when it came on the market recently. The first intention is to build his racing-car museum on the edge of the circuit near the Coppice Farm corner, and then review the situation with regard to the rest of the circuit, the new owner’s feelings being that it should return to racing eventually. A visit to the circuit with Mr. Wheatcroft showed us that the base of the old circuit is still sound, though badly overgrown in places, and all around are many tons of scrap and rubble that will take a lot of clearing. However, in the confines of the 300 acres bought by him is much interesting land that could easily provide for rally special stages, autocross, rallycross, motorcycle grass track racing and scrambles, trials and even a mild speed hill-climb on the leg of the circuit up the hill from the old so-called “Hairpin Bend” to McLeans Corner, while a 1/4-mile sprint course could easily be laid out on the old Manufacturer’s circuit.

Wheatcroft hopes to have his new museum buildings open by mid-summer and, as his own firm will be doing the construction work, there should be no delays. Many private individuals and firms have promised him the permanent loan of interesting single-seaters once the museum buildings are completed, which should bring the number of exhibits up to 50 and doubtless more will follow once this unique collection is on view. While there will be many old and historic cars for people to see there will also be some of the latest Grand Prix cars on show, such as a 4-w-d Lotus and March 701, for those followers of modern Grand Prix racing who cannot contrive to get into the pits or paddock at race meetings.