Reversal of fortune — Paul Lawrence reports on how and why the HSCC has grown in stature
Almost a decade ago the Historic Sports Car Club was in trouble. Its financial position was parlous and race meetings were regularly losing money. Change was needed, and needed urgently, if the club was to survive much longer. Chairman Nick Overall asked Grahame White to come on board.
“I didn’t intend to get as involved as I have,” says White with typically quiet understatement. Initially he declined Overall’s request but subsequently gave in, little realising that he was about to become totally immersed in rebuilding the club.
Overall knew just what he was doing, however, as White’s pedigree was impressive. He’d been competitions manager with the BARC and sales boss at Chevron, bringing a thorough knowledge of the sport.
“The first priority was to sort out the finances,” says White. “Then we needed to build up the officials team, then run more professional events and encourage members old and new to race.”
Things didn’t change overnight, but in the intervening decade the club’s makeover has been startling. Today it is a key organiser of historic racing in the UK, has more than 500 members racing regularly, returns a sensible profit and is organising three of the biggest events on the calendar. Not bad for an organisation with just three fulltime employees, supported by an army of volunteer officials.
“The club is very, very successful,” says its new chairman Chris Sharples, quickly finding his feet following Overall’s retirement earlier this year. “That success can be judged in many ways. In terms of membership, 2004 was the best ever year for the club. We had over 500 people with racing membership last year, which was well up on ’03 and the numbers are moving well in ’05. All of our race meetings last year returned a profit for the club and grid sizes are again up in ’05.”
White, who despite his initial reluctance to get involved now holds the post of chief executive, adds: “Everything we do is for the members. They like to enjoy good, clean racing and we like to keep it fun.”
Sharples, who campaigns a Palliser in Historic FF1600, is on exactly the same mission. “The spirit in the club is terrific,” he says. “One of the things the racers enjoy is a high standard of driving. OK, people are bound to have the odd incident, but driving discipline in the club is pretty damned good.”
This summer the HSCC is at the helm of three high-profile events — the Brands Hatch Superprix, the Silverstone Classic and the Oulton Park Gold Cup — with a combined total of 1500 entries. White and Sharples are determined to ensure that the club’s racers continue to be able to tackle major venues alongside high-profile guest races.
“The big challenge for the future is continuing to ensure that we can race on really nice circuits,” says Sharples. “You definitely see from our members a preference to race on the GP circuit at Brands, the international circuit at Silverstone, Donington and so on.”
Balancing the needs of racing members while running events that deliver a promotable package for the circuits is undoubtedly one of the club’s challenges. “We need to put on a really good show, so that the transaction we have with the circuit owners is not simply one of us renting the track,” says Sharples. “At a couple of our meetings we provide a basis by which the circuit organisers have a better chance of delivering a good gate than is the case for a lot of club meetings.”
Next year the club will celebrate its 40th anniversary, but there are definitely no signs of an impending mid-life crisis. Quite the opposite, in fact.