Use of Redundant Airfields for Motor Sport
The following is an extract from the motor sport bulletin published by the Royal Automobile Club’s Competitions Department early in July :
“In anticipation that casual use of redundant airfields for motor and motor-cycle racing could not be continued indefinitely, the Royal Automobile Club commenced negotiations with the Air Ministry in 1946 with the object of regularising the position before an official ban became a possibility.
“Whereas, at the end of the war Ministries were prepared to view applicants for the use of airfields with sympathy, remembering that it had been Service requirements which had deprived motorists of Brooklands and Donington Park both for sport and testing purposes, it was correctly foreseen by the R.A.C. that this state of affairs could only be a temporary one.
“Change of general conditions, the pressing of the claims of agriculture and landowners, observance of the convenience and legal rights of local residents; such difficulties alone threatened to approach the point where it became almost impossible to make an airfield available to a casual applicant such as a motor club, whilst any taxpayer had the right to ask why a profit-making event should be organised on Government-owned roadways for which only a nominal rental was being charged.
“Facing this situation, the R.A.C. asked the Air Ministry to state terms on which suitable airfields could be made permanently available for motoring sport, and expert drivers examined a large number of prospective airfield courses before Silverstone, near Towcester, was selected as the best compromise with which to test long-term use of airfields for motor-racing.
“Whilst these negotiations were proceeding the R.A.C. did its best to encourage the Air Ministry to release various airfields for casual use by motoring clubs, but a condition of the terms upon which Silverstone was obtained was that in future no other airfields would be released except on a fixed-term lease to a body of adequate standing, controlled only by the R.A.C., and in order to obtain proper representation of the sport throughout Great Britain. On this basis various negotiations are still open in respect of Scotland and the North of England, and take on increasing importance as no effective advance has been made in efforts to free Donington Park. [What of Lulsgate., for the West of England. – Ed.]
“The R.A.C. reluctantly decided that it was itself not able to accept the responsibility for more than one airfield until at least the success of such a circuit could be proven over a reasonable period.
“Subsequent experience has shown that airfields, where by the very nature of the layout no facilities already exist, demand the expenditure of very large sums of money to obtain a minimum standard of spectator safety and amenities and adequate control of a meeting to which the paying public is to be admitted. (Can we have figures in respect of the Silverstono Grand Prix of 1948 and this year’s British Grand Prix, please? – Ed.)
“The burden of informing motor clubs that they would in longer be permitted casual use of an airfield by the Air Ministry was placed upon the R.A.C. and, in general, clubs have appreciated and honoured this decision, which was conveyed to all interested parties in a circular letter dated August 9th, 1948.
“In pursuance of the above-mentioned policy of encouraging the sport whilst negotiating with the Air Ministry as to general policy, the R.A.C. backed an application for use of Dunholme Lodge airfield jointly by the British Motor-Cycle Racing Club and the Lincoln and District Motor-cycle and Light Car Club. Even after the Air Ministry had imposed its general ban, the R.A.C. continued this sponsorship on the basis that the above-mentioned clubs had made commitments in good faith, with the result that the Air Ministry granted an exception and these clubs were able to stage a motor-cycle race meeting last October, which produced an excellent sum for R.A.F. charities.
“It now appears that this assistance given by the R.A.C. has produced the quite unexpected repercussion that in letters to the press and in the B.M.C.R.C. club magazine both clubs have launched an attack upon the R.A.C. for not permitting a further Dunholme meeting in 1949.
“The Secretary of the Lincoln and District Motor Cycle and Light Car Club writes in the Nottingham Guardian of April 22nd to say:
” . . .. the Air Ministry welcomed our application for Dunholme in 1948 and the R.A.C. raised no objection to our direct negotiations . . This year the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund officials raised the matter with the Air Ministry (the R.A.C. having again verbally intimated their willingness for direct approach), who referred it automatically to the R.A.C. This latter body . . . has flatly refused to permit Dunholme to be used . .
“Similar statements were made in the April issue of the B.M.C.R.C journal; ignoring the fact that use of Dunholme was only obtained in 1948 with the help of the R.A.C., that, apart from the R.A.C. circular on the subject of airfields sent to all clubs in August 1948, Mr. C. A. Lewis, secretary of the B.M.C.R.C. was written to as follows by the R.A.C. Competitions Department Manager, on November 17th. 1948:
‘On the subject of Dunholme Airfield for 1949 … the date that was allocated to you as a special arrangement in 1948 was the outcome of a special concession by the Ministry on the distinct understanding that no further applications would be considered.’
“On January 11th, 1949, the Air Ministry wrote to Mr. Lewis to say: ‘ … the Department is unable to make an exception in this case and accede to your request for the use of Dunhohne Lodge on October 8th next.’
“The misleading statements now made by both clubs suggest that either they expect the R.A.C. to break its contract with the Air Ministry, in order that they may possibly gain a temporary benefit to the detriment of motoring sport as a whole, or the actual facts of the situation have been misunderstood to a serious extent.
“Whichever supposition is correct, the R.A.C. must deplore the position which has arisen as being prejudicial to the good standing of the Sport. In order, however, that an opportunity shall exist for benefiting the charities connected with the Dunholme promotion the date of October 8th has been made available at Silverstone if the above-mentioned clubs wish to avail themselves of it to promote a meeting there” [One presumes on the same basis as would have applied at Dunholme? – Ed.]