Real Road Racing in Britain?
Charles Fothergill had a leading article in the News Chronicle of July 7th under the heading “Open the Roads to Car-Racers.” In it he put forward sound arguments for closing suitable roads in this country for at least one annual motor race. A motor-cycle contemporary of ours publicised this subject a considerable time ago and went so far as to request from its readers details of roads which might constitute suitable circuits without undue inconvenience to those in the neighbourhood.
Unfortunately, Parliament has not seen fit to pass an Act allowing public roads to be closed for this purpose and we see no point in looking for a possible circuit until such an Act is passed. Indeed, it is perfectly obvious that Fothergill’s two main points, that it is time we came into line with other countries in this respect and that it should be easy to find at least a small triangular circuit, are unassailable. For several years most of our seaside resorts have welcomed motoring competitions, but have, alas, very little private road to offer, if we except Scarborough’s motor-cycle circuit. 100,000 or more visitors are not to be sneezed at and Fothergill says he has never heard a grumble in the I.O.M. from people “locked up” during T.T. week (we heard a minor grumble there once on the part of a visitor-hiker, but even this was not a serious complaint). Fothergill rounds his article off nicely by reminding his readers that Welsh and Scottish villages now stay up at night to see Rally cars go through, that the Duke of Edinburgh is President of the A.A. and the B.R.D.C., and that next year, Coronation Year, is the time for a real road race in this Island.
This worthwhile newspaper publicity on behalf of motor racing was increased in value because, on the same page, Stanley Baron replied to Fothergill—Baron’s reply was so weak that it merely strengthened Charles’ arguments. You might not expect us to read Baron, the News Chronicle’s cycling correspondent, but there you would be wrong. We like his well-written reminders that there are still a few unspoiled places in England and his “factual” rather than “guide-book” accounts of such places. But in his reply to Fothergill’s gallant plea he falls sadly from grace—we suspect because he was instructed by his Chief to write a stunt-reply to his colleague’s leader, when really he has no interest at all in the matter.
Baron commences by trying to convince as that, on the days near to a motor race at Spa, “every clanjandering speed-crazy lunatic in Belgium has been whooping it up, on and around the Ardennes route,”and that “For days before and afterwards the lovely valleys become a nightmare of noise, congestion and waste paper, with the chance of death or injury at the elbow of everyone concerned.”
We can only say that we spent three hours watching the traffic flowing into and through Spa on the evening before this year’s G.P. d’Europe and remarked on how steadily everyone drove—the English drivers really slowly, few excessively fast. And that returning to Liege aerodrome immediately after the race we were irked by the slow speed—about twice as fast as a Silverstone traffic stream—of the homeward-bound traffic along the wide roads, everyone keeping station and resolutely refusing to make even two lines of traffic.
Baron tries to believe that races would have to be held “reasonably near big cities,” with resultant congestion and vast inconvenience. This is such a silly argument when you consider the hundreds of miles spectators are prepared to travel to see a full-scale motor race. A remote road circuit in the region of Salisbury Plain, the South Downs, even in Scotland, would draw big crowds and need inconvenience few people, while bringing stimulating trade to hotels, shops and garages many miles distant. However, in case we are ever permitted a race in such a setting, pedal-pusher Stanley paints for our edification the grim picture of a French lady in childbirth at Le Mans who had to be immediately removed to hospital but whose ambulance was delayed by the crowds. But he carefully omits to say whether or not this mother died as a result. Obviously Baron, skilled journalist though he may be, was hard-pressed to answer the logic of colleague Charles when he pedalled up this macabre story. If it makes any sense at all it means that our football matches, regattas, the Derby, our Lord Mayor’s Show, in fact, all our big public functions should cease and that we can no longer crown our Sovereigns–for, somewhere, doctor, ambulance or fire-engine may be impeded in the resultant traffic congestion. Really, Stanley!
Having thought up these ingenious arguments against an annual race over a small closed triangle of remote public roads, Baron resorts to the popular tricks of his trade–visions of irate farmers whose crops have been trampled, the adverse effect of “the scream and the roar of racing engines” on millions of townspeople who rightly value and need the peace of the countryside (as if one race, duration perhaps three hours, would fill the whole of England with sound!) and, getting well into his stride, of enthusiasts coming away from Silverstone “eyes set, faces tense, cutting in and out of the traffic line, accelerating with a snarl, braking with a scream.” Really, Baron, if you go on developing your new-found talents Nat. Gubbins may soon be looking for a job . . . ! Incidentally, we notice that you devote not a single word to the long-distance cycle racing which goes on over single unclosed public roads, and in one of which, we note from a report in the same issue, 30 riders crashed in a distance of 25 miles! And were presumably avoided by other road users.
Baron is certainly no match for Fothergill. No doubt he will console himself by laying the blame on whoever made him write something he obviously never wanted to write, and express sentiments in which clearly he does not truly believe. It may help him to vent some of his spleen on the proof-reader who let both him and Fothergill write of this year’s European Grand Prix as if it has yet to be run, whereas this race was settled in favour of Ascari and Ferrari over a fortnight before! The proof-reader has let Baron down, too, in letting go something which proves that he has no real knowledge of the subject in listing some of our outstanding drivers he quotes Stirling Moss, Reg Parnell and Mike Cooper. There is no such driver as Mike Cooper. If Mike Couper was intended, valued member of the B.R.D.C. though he is, we feel sure he would be the last to rate himself with Moss, for it is now over a dozen years since he raced Talbots so rapidly at Brooklands. Probably Mike Hawthorn was the “hellcat hero,” to use Baron’s own expression, who was in mind — but perhaps a bicycling journalist should he forgiven for scrambling racing-motorists’ names.
Daily newspaper support of motor-racing, either in cash or in kind, is to be commended and this leader of Charles Fothergill’s is therefore very welcome.
Give thanks to him for his timely publicity on behalf of a true road race in England. And let us join with him in hoping this may become a reality with the inception, next year, of a Coronation Grand Prix.
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