When Brands was hatched

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Motor Sport couldn’t help but delve into a new book by Chas Parker on the history of the Kent circuit. Here we present an extract from the 1950s, when the grass track was paved over, Druids corner was added and the cars started racing clockwise

1950

* Victory in the first-ever car race at the circuit on April 16 went to Don Parker, driving a JAP-engined Parker Special.

* Stirling Moss won all five of his races at the June 25 meeting.

* On Bank Holiday Monday, August 7, George Wicken took his Cooper Mk4 JAP to victory at the Daily Telegraph International 500cc meeting – but only just. He spluttered across the finish line in the 35-lap final out of petrol. Betty Bolster, wife of commentator John, became the first woman to start and finish a race at Brands, driving a 1910 Standard in the Edwardian event.

* Twenty-One Today was sung over the loudspeakers for Stirling Moss, whose birthday it was at the September 17 meeting. Moss won his heat but came second to JBS driver Alf Bottoms in the final of the Open Challenge event.

* Bottoms dominated the October 14 meeting as well, winning the Championship of the Meeting race driving the JAP-engined JBS he had designed and built with his brother and father. The same car won the ladies’ race, driven by Elizabeth Store.

* On November 5, the Mid-Kent Car Club tried running sports cars at the circuit. A five-lap scratch race was won by Guy Gale in a Healey Silverstone. As an experiment, running clockwise was also tried and proved popular.

1951

* In February, the Aston Martin Owners’ Club hired the circuit to test 1.5-litre sports cars in preparation for the forthcoming season’s long-distance races. They practised pitstops and giving trackside signals, as well as running into dusk with headlights on.

* On April 8, the Half-Litre Club’s opening meeting of the year drew a large crowd. Eric Brandon in a Cooper-Norton equalled the lap record of 67.67mph, which was jointly held by Alf Bottoms and Stirling Moss, and defeated Bottoms in the Championship of the Meeting event.

* At the April 21 event, four 500 drivers broke the lap record – Eric Brandon, Alan Brown, Don Parker and Bob Gerard became joint lap record holders at 68.44mph.

* In May, the first-ever Grand Prix car appeared at the track – a 1908 Itala driven by Bob Hewitt, which averaged 49.18mph during a demonstration of Edwardian racing cars.

* The Daily Telegraph sponsored three International meetings during the season. At the first on Whit Saturday, May 12, motorbike rider Don Gray, in his first outing in a Cooper-JAP, beat the established stars in their Norton-powered cars, while Harry Schell set a new lap record at 59.00sec (69.23mph).

* Gray also won the second Daily Telegraph Trophy on June 23 but the very wet Bank Holiday event on August 6 was won by ‘Big Bill’ Whitehouse in his Cooper-Norton. It was a popular victory and Whitehouse did a lap of honour accompanied by “a symphony of motor horns”. The Half-Litre Club had ploughed up part of the grass verges to form a ‘safety barrier’ (the forerunner of today’s run-off areas). These helped to prevent accidents, even though many cars slid off the track in the slippery conditions, and eventually the meeting had to be abandoned due to torrential rain and a flooded track.

* The August meeting was significant as an early motor sport broadcast by the BBC, with John Bolster providing the commentary for radio as well as the track’s public address system.

1952

* The International London Trophy on Easter Monday, April 14, provided a win for George Wicken – the ‘Flying Milkman’ – in his brand new Cooper Mk6 Norton in front of a large crowd.

* On May 18, Norman and Don Gray finished first and second in the Senior race, both driving Cooper-JAPs.

* On June 22, Les Leston set a new outright lap record of 50.6sec (71.15mph) in a Cooper Mk6 Norton. Leston emerged the victor of the Senior Race after a titanic duel with Paul Emery in his Emeryson-Norton.

* The highlight of the year was the Daily Telegraph Trophy on Bank Holiday Monday, August 4. The largest Brands Hatch crowd to date saw veteran racer Don Parker take the £250 prize in his Kieft-Norton after Stirling Moss’s similar car broke a conrod. Moss had the consolation of setting a new lap record at 50.4sec (71.41mph).

* Parker won again in September and October. At the latter meeting, he jointly lowered the lap record to 49.2sec (73.17mph) with Les Leston in his Norton-powered Leston Special.

1953

* Don Parker won the national F3 championship for the second year in succession. On Easter Monday, April 6, he won both major races and followed this in May with three wins from three. He lost out to Les Leston in the Coronation Trophy at the end of May, but beat both him and Stuart Lewis-Evans in front of a record 50,000 crowd on Bank Holiday Monday, August 3, to win the Daily Telegraph International Trophy.

* At the final meeting of the year on October 4, Parker set a new lap record of 48.4sec (74.38mph) on his way to victory in the Senior Final.

* The Brands Hatch Racing & Social Club held its first function in the Pavilion on Saturday October 17.

1954

* At the Easter Monday meeting on April 19, an 11-race programme was held at the newly extended track. Stuart Lewis-Evans took two wins in his Cooper and set a new lap record at 62.4sec (71.54mph). Peter Gammon won the first-ever competitive sports car race at the track in a Lotus Mk6.

* Gammon went on to win the Performance Cars Trophy that year, a championship for 1600cc sports cars, despite strong opposition from the Lotus Mk8 of Colin Chapman and the Lister of Archie Scott Brown. Unfortunately Gammon crashed at the August Bank Holiday meeting, and this accident was to curtail his motor racing career.

* Don Parker was disqualified from the May 1 meeting for 500cc cars after a small amount of nitromethane was discovered in his fuel. Parker went on to win the June 7 and July 4 events, however.

* Jim Russell won the top 500cc race of the year, the fifth running of the Daily Telegraph International Trophy on Bank Holiday Monday, August 2, in front of a 40,000 crowd. Don Beauman, driving a 2-litre F2 Connaught A-type in the Formule Libre race, took the lap record to 60.6sec (73.42mph).

* On September 5, a ‘benefit’ meeting was held with no prize money awarded and all profits going towards future circuit improvements. John Hall announced plans for another extension to the circuit, to increase its length to 2.5 miles.

* The inaugural Christmas Trophy, held on Boxing Day, was won by Ivor Bueb in his Cooper Mk8 Norton, ahead of Les Leston’s similarly powered Cooper Mk9.

1955

* The opening meeting of the season was held on April 11 in glorious sunshine. The 500cc runners competed in four heats, the first five from each going forward into the main final. There was a subsidiary final for the second five in each heat and a consolation race for the also-rans. Jim Russell won the main final in a Cooper.

* Ivor Bueb won a thrilling 1500cc sports car race in his Cooper-Climax at the May 1 meeting, beating Les Leston’s Connaught on a streaming wet track.

* A grandstand, at that time the only permanent one at a British circuit, was erected in time for the Bank Holiday meeting on August 1. It had been purchased from the defunct Northolt pony-trotting course.

* On October 9, Bueb broke the new outright circuit record which had recently been set by motorbike racer John Surtees with a time of 59.8sec (74.65mph).

* During the Boxing Day event, Tony Brooks ran demonstration laps in his F1 Connaught B-type, fresh from his win in the Syracuse Grand Prix. Don Parker won the 500cc event in his Kieft-Norton after Russell crashed in practice and broke a rib.

1956

* Public race meetings were organised by clubs other than the BRSCC. The 750 Motor Club joined with Club Lotus on June 10 for a mixed meeting which included, for the first time, saloon cars.

* The Bank Holiday International on August 6, which was blighted by storms and torrential rain, included the first race at the circuit for the new 1500cc Formula 2 category. Five works teams were entered and Roy Salvadori won in a Cooper T41 Climax. Over 140 cars and drivers took part in the meeting, driving everything from the latest Grand Prix Connaught to a 1911 Renault. Mike Hawthorn won his first-ever race at the track in a Lotus-Climax.

* On a warm and sunny October 14, Brands Hatch hosted its first Formula 1 race – a non-championship event to which the BRSCC attracted none of the European teams, but a strong entry from Connaught. Stuart Lewis-Evans made his F1 debut for the team and took pole position. He slipped to fifth at the start but eventually finished second behind team leader Archie Scott Brown, with Salvadori third in Gilby Engineering’s Maserati 250F ahead of Les Leston and Jack Fairman in the other Connaughts. Scott Brown set a new lap record at 59.0sec (75.66mph).

* The Boxing Day meeting was cancelled due to the petrol rationing brought about by the Suez crisis.

Brands Hatch
The definitive history of Britain’s best-loved motor racing circuit
Chas Parker. Haynes, ISBN 978 1 84425 334 0, £30

You don’t link sentiment and Bernie Ecclestone readily, but in his foreword to this work he calls Brands “one of those magical places”. He raced ’bikes there when it was just grass, and even tried to buy it – in 1949, aged 19. I had no idea that cycle racing began here in 1928 – one of many nuggets in this biography of many people’s favourite track. Featuring interviews with dozens of people who raced or worked there, particularly John Webb who ran the track for four decades, Parker’s research is extensive, and he separates decades with ‘bullet point’ facts and some great photos. Wisely avoiding race reports, he concentrates on the dramas and deals which accompanied the track’s rise to “the world’s busiest race circuit”, the loss of the Grand Prix and the rocky road to today’s stability. Contributors talk frankly – John Webb’s line about the number of fatalities made me blink – giving a sense of authority to a highly readable and impressive history. GC

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