This month, the Cheshire road-racing circuit Of Oulton Park celebrates its 25th Anniversary of car and motorcycle racing. Those 25 years have seen some of the greatest drivers and riders of the World competing at the parkland track, a track that was opened in 1953 after a bunch of local enthusiasts decided that the people from the north west deserved a racing venue to encourage and satiate their enthusiasm.
When racing started there with a trial meeting on August 8th, 1953, there were no spectators present to see Tony Rolt win the main Formula Two race, but since that opening day, thousands of spectators have flocked to Oulton Park to witness some of the finest road racing this country has ever seen.
The initial layout of the circuit was only one and a half miles long, but in 1954 it was lengthened to just over two miles with a loop to Island Bend. Barely a year elapsed before the circuit grew to its 2.761 miles, a length which was used until the early months of 1975 when the present 1.654-mile track layout was introduced. Oulton hosted big meetings almost from the beginning and in only its second year of existence the British Empire Trophy and the Daily Dispatch, Gold Cup were held within the confines of what has once been an enclosed park that -surrounded a country mansion.
The Empire Trophy was won by Alan Brown’s Cooper-Bristol, while the Gold Cup was won by Stirling Moss, who was to become the most successful of all the great drivers who raced at Oulton. Moss in fact won the Gold Cup no fewer than five times, the first time, in 1954, in a Mastrati 250F, again with a 250F in 1955 and then with a Cooper T45 in (1959), Rob Walker’s Lotus 18 the following year and, finally, the four-wheel-drive Ferguson P99 in 1961, the first victory for a four-wheel-drive car in a Formula One race.
A whole galaxy of stars raced at Oulton through the years and, although some of them hay long since Passed on, their driving Performances will long be remembered by the many people who witnessed their efforts. Drivers like Archie Scott-Brown Immediately spring to mind. The courageous Scot twice won the British Empire Trophy and his tragic death in 1958 had some deep felt repercussions amongst those who had admired his style behind the wheel of his Lister-Jaguar at Oulton. Another Oulton favourite was Jim Clark, who provided much excitement With his classic driving both in Formula One Lotus cars and in saloons, especially the Mk. I Ford Cortina, which he invariably three-wheeled around the vast majority of the circuit. Clark won a lot of victories at the Cheshire circuit, including two Gold Cup races.
Yet another Scot, Jackie Stewart, won the Gold Cup in 1968 at the wheel of Ken Tyrrell’s Matra-Ford MS10, while two other World Champions, Jack Brabham and John Surtees both won the Gold Cup on more than one occasion, the pair of them sharing the distinction of winning the trophy in cars bearing their own names. Another -Gold Cup winner, Roy Salvadori, is probably better known by Oulton followers for ending upside down in the lake in his 3.8 Jaguar in 1962, although he wasn’t the only driver to manage such a feat; amongst others, a certain James Hunt did almost exactly the same thing when he was racing in Formula Fords! Local man Brian Redman was very popular with the crowd for many years, winning a host of events in both sports cars and single-seaters, while another local driver, Derek Walker, has the honour of having scored the most wins at the circuit, in both Clubmans sports cars and special saloons. But drivers aside for the moment, and back to the circuit itself.
As the track attracted the large events year after year, so the circuit was gradually improved, and the pits that stand today were built up in the winter of 1960. Some of the improvements to the track, however, meant that a lot of the trees that lined the circuit had to be felled, and although Chilton is hardly devoid of scenic majesty nowadays, it has little of the charm it had many years ago. The Avenue, for instance, was literally a tree-lined avenue. The biggest changes were rung in 1972 though, when Armco barriers were erected all around the circuit to satisfy the whims of the FIA, so that the Gold Cup could be run for Formula One cars in April. It was ironic then that that particular race should turn out to be the last one to be run for drivers who were regularly competing in Formula One machinery in Grand Prix racing. Since 1972, the Gold Cup has well and truly gone down in value and these days it is held as a round of the “premier British Single-seater Championship” — this year, for the Aurora AFX series contenders,
The biggest change came in 1975, when the loop from Cascades to hill top was made void by a link road from Cascades to just before the old braking area for Knicker Brook. There was a rumour that the long circuit would still be used for the bigger meetings. but up until now this hasn’t been the case, although motorcyclists have several proper; full-length runs each season.
When you consider some of the Superb racing that has gone on in the past 25 years at OuIton, it becomes difficult to understand why there won’t be any real celebrations in August, just a nonChampionship zoo kilometres Formula Three race on the fifth, to mark the anniversary. But then maybe Oulton will be able to celebrate in 1979 with some big meetings once again….?
Next year, however, will be the first in the circuit’s history without Rex Foster, the track’s Managing Director, because Rex will be taking a well earned retirement and will be replaced by ex IIRM chief ‘Fin Parnell. Foster has done a splendid job over the years, the takeover by Grovewood Securities in 1964 not affecting him or the circuit’s plans in the least.
So what does the future hold in store for the Cheshire parkland circuit? Recent rumours that a housing estate could be built in the grounds were quashed by Rex Foster when we spoke to him recently. In fact, he sternly expressed that a definite interest had been shown by many influential, to re-open the full circuit, possibly in the next year or so. This is indeed marvellous news if it comes true. Foster added that because of the track’s almost ideal geographical position -in terms of cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Chester and the various motorway networks that surround them he fully expects to draw big crowds should the circuit be granted the big meetings that he hopes for. Only the big meetings could have the use of the full circuit in the beginning anyway, because there is still a lack of marshals to man the full loop properly. The change over to permanent use of the long circuit would have to be a gradual one.
Undoubtedly, British motor racing enthusiasts would love to sec Oulton l’ark restored to its former glorious self; maybe a petition signed by all those who feel the same way would speed up the vitally necessary and much needed operation?
Airfield circuits are; in comparison, dull, flat a featureless, and street racing, in Britt certainly, looks to be totally out of the questi for a long time to come. We would be glad hear of anybody’s efforts to get Oulton back it’s 2.761-mile length because not only would be a step in the right direction for Oulton Pa but hopefully for British International, Natiot and Club racing in general. – M.C.S.