The BARC in 1975: still Britain's biggest motor club

On January 1st, 1974, Britain’s oldest and biggest motor-racing club moved into the breezy atmosphere of their new headquarters at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire. The British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) are under a mile away from the A303 and accommodated in the top half of the former aircraft control tower (it is still operational for light ‘planes). This was no simple move of existing staff to a fresh home. The Club HQ had suffered more than the usual internal politicking that is the inevitable result of strong personalities pursuing a sporting enthusiasm, fervently believed in. A new general manager took the helm at Thruxton, virtually unaided because he was so worried that there might not be permanent jobs for any staff recruited. The manager’s name was Sidney Offord, who had started his new job exactly a year earlier. To find out more about his attitudes, and the fortunes of the Club, we paid them both a visit at Thruxton recently.

Motor Sport readers will be well aware of the BARC’s history but for those. like the author, who need an outline to place the present Club in perspective. we will go back to the roots. Originally the present Club sprang from the formation of the Cycle Car Club of 1912, becoming the Junior Car Club two years later.

The establishment of Brooklands circuit in 1907 led to the counterpart Brooklands Auto Racing Club, inaugurated December 12th, 1906, a designation that lasted until 1946. Then 1,275 Brooklands Automobile Racing Club members found that the legendary banked track was not to revert to motor sporting use. Thus the assets and members became part of the British Automobile Racing Club. itself the successor of the JCC, putting a new meaning to the historic initials BARC. By 1947 the BARC had entered a vigorous post-war life with road racing in Jersey and the September 18th opening of glorious Goodwood. The closure of the latter racing track for public events—it is still extensively used for testing—hit the Club hard in 1966. Showing plenty of resource at this potentially mortal blow. the BARC were finally able to boast another motor racing home circuit in 1968, when Thruxton was re-opened for cars on March 17th.

Although plagued by severe planning and residential objections, Thruxton did provide a South of England alternative track at which the popularity of Formula Two could be established. Unfortunately track usage is restricted to a ludicrous 12 days of public race meetings per year; one of those days is for motorcyclists and another is lost in official practice for Formula Two. Last year the circuit reached a nadir with no F2 at all, and the only Internationals were those for F5000; this season F2 is back (held the day before this issue is dated, on Easter Monday), and there is an International round of the RAC Touring Car series (May 11 th), plus two F5000 dates. From his lonely start at Thruxton Mr. Offord has built a nucleus of four full-time aides. Assistant General Manager is John Wickham, a former BARC employee who was picked by Team Surtees for his organisational competence before Offord became General Manager. Wickham was committed to Surtees for a season, but returned to the BARC last year. Wickham has the kind of quiet politeness that is refreshing amidst the shouts of “gimme”, while retaining the determination needed to cope With the demands of competitors, the RAC, and liaise with the circuit/spectator side of the BARC’s affairs. This brings us naturally to Richard Speakman who manages Thruxton itself. Thruxton (BARC) Ltd. is the name of the company that leases the track from a private family property business, and it is the affairs of this company and the welfare of the track that concern Speakman. Not content with just that headache, Richard Speakman also manages a racing Camaro (Stuart Graham’s car from last season) for former Jaguar E-type star Tony Shaw to drive. Looking after the accounts is the recently-joined Peter Brewer. The needs of Press and promotion are undertaken by another fresh recruit, former Hot Car journalist, Mark Cole: total HQ staff number 14.

Motor Club membership claims fall into the category often occupied by spectator attendances, horsepower or top speed figures. Apparently a large membership is a lure towards more applications (as far from the “right crowd and no crowding” as it is possible to be ?) and everyone does their level best to bluff the opposition blind with statistics. I found it of interest that a random selection of dates and membership reflect the pattern very accurately. In 1949 the BARC had approximately 2,000 members, by 1961 the enormous surge in motoring interest had swept the total up to 16,000. The recent low point for the BARC was 1973 when membership dropped to 7,000, while last year ended with membership at 8,000: BRSCC membership is quoted at 7.500. It seems that the badge-carrying, non-competing members are fading into the past. Most of today’s members are paying the new BARC rates of £6 p.a. (plus £1 joining fee and £2 each options for centre or racing membership) because it is essential if one is to race in events organised by BARC. One great improvement to come from the fresh staff is the totally revised BARC News, which is now an attractive monthly publication that any racing enthusiast should enjoy.

Naturally the BARC have looked very closely at costs and one large membership cost increase was found to be vital: those from overseas will now pay £3 p.a. more (total £5 p.a.) primarily because of the postage increases, which inevitably hit active motor clubs straight in the membership kitty. Favourite off-track activities for members include the annual dinner/dance, and a range of BARC discounts that currently range from local hotel rates to British Air Ferries travel and 10% cheaper Hawke racing cars.