CAPT. CAMPBELL on
The future of the Speedway
(Capt. Malcolm Campbell is the holder of the World’s Car Speed Records fe r 5 miles and 5 kilometres.)
New Track Need.
SOMF, weeks ago, when a certain newspaper announced that I was interested in the projected plans for the world’s super-speedway, which it is hoped to construct on the marshlands of the Wash, a friend said to me, “Why on earth bother about a new speed-way ?
There won’t be any need for them in a few years’ time. We have learnt all we can about the motor car, and now we had better confine our future experiments to the air.”
This is a totally wrong point of view. It is perfectly true that we have probably reached something very near the pinnacle of economic perfection in motor cars, but that is no reason why the speed-way of the future is going to be unnecessary.
New speedways are, in fact, most necessary to-day. Tracks such as Brooklands are out of date for some purposes and will be even more antiquated in a few years to come. It is impossible to do much more than 140 miles an hour on Brooklands and this speed is becoming tame to the blasé young men who want to think in terms of 200 m.p.h. upwards. The natural speedways, such as Daytona, Verneuk
Pan and Pendine Sands all suffer from peculiar and, in most cases, irremediable efficiencies. Vast stretches of sand, such as one gets at Daytona are of course the ideal surface for motor racing, but they are only ideal so long as the sand surface remains in perfect condition. How can you maintain that level of perfection when the tide flows over your track twice a day ? Moreover, Daytona is the sort of place which can only be used for a few days during the whole year. Wind and tide are again to blame for this. I have waited for days at Daytona hoping for an opportunity to use the track. Then, when at last wind, tide and light were just right, there was only an hour or
so left in which the attempt could be made. The greater part of this time was taken up by inspecting the surface, planting the flags and making sure that the track was free of spectators. The result was that I was left with only a few minutes in which to do my run. The run out was accomplished quite easily, but on the return trip I found that the tide had flowed more quickly than was anticipated. I finished in the sea. This might very easily have had the most serious consequences and wrecked my car altogether ; this happened on 19th February, 1928, when I set up the then world’s record for a mile of 206.95 m.p.h.
Another drawback to both Daytona and Pendine is that neither of these tracks is long enough. Daytona is only about 10f miles long in the straight and Pendine is only 6. These stretches were all very well for the type of attempt one was making some years ago, but they are useless for the attempts on the new speed records which will inevitably be made during the next few years. Someone is going to do 300 miles an hour before long. I hope I may be the man. In any case whoever does it, it is my opinion that these high speed attempts should be made on a desert stretch.
The case with regard to Verneuk Pan is different. Verneuk Pan is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, with a rise of one inch only. An oval track with a lap of 60 to 70 miles could be laid out here and the turn would be imperceptible. But there are many obstacles. In the first place, the heat is so terrific that a mid-day temperaattire of 100° Fahr. is the usual thing in the summer months. The unusual thing is a fall of rain. There had been no rain for five years before I arrived there. Then again, the altitude is so great and the atmospheric
conditions so abnormal that a very considerable percentage of one’s engine power is lost. There is no doubt about it that a speed obtained with, say, a 1,000 horsepower engine on. the Pan would be increased if the same car were run on sand at sea level.
The surface, too, is by no means ideal. It is composed of hard, sun-baked mud, criss-crossed by innumerable cracks, many of them so wide as definitely to affect one’s speed. This mud reposes on an elastic bed of eighteen inches of spongy, crumbling shale, which acts like a cushion. The surface is littered with thousands of small cobbly ironstones. I had to employ hundreds of” boys” to sweep these stones off my track. Many of them were rolled into the mud by the rollers. They remained there while I made my attempt but next day they had been forced out of their springy bed and were lying about on the surface as usual. These circumstances all combine to rule out the Pan from becoming one of the great permanent all-weather speedways of the world in the future : unless ample funds were forthcoming to prepare this track, when it should prove an excellent course, but then it would not be a permanent one.
I would emphasise the phrase ” permanent all-weather speedways” because those are the tracks which the motor industry and the public alike will demand in the future.
It is very possible, as I have said, that we have almost reached the pinnacle of economic perfection in the motor car to-day, but that only applies to the family car. A great deal of research has yet to be done and .a great many improvements can yet be effected in commercial vehicles, sporting cars and engine design.
Speedways are necessary for the experiments which will lead to these improvements. Not only that but there is a growing public demand for speedways for the use of the private individual. The racing motorist is no longer their only customer.
That is why I am inclined to think that the proposed new speedway on the Wash will fulfil the great and essential need. The proposal briefly is, for the reclamation and embankment of a mile wide strip of saltings lying between Gibraltar Point, near Skegness and Clay Hole by the mouth of Boston Harbour. This area would provide a track 15 miles long in a straight line with a turn of a mile at either end. The area involved is the most easily reclamable land in Britain. It consists of hard, high dry saltings, so far above sea level that only the highest spring tides flow over it. There is no soft mud anywhere and the creeks and runnels which intercept it, can quite easily be filled in for the purposes of the track. There will, moreover, be little or no erosion by the sea, as the
sea wall will still be protected by a fringe of saltings at considerable width. The ground to be embanked is practically dead level to an inch.
I do not propose to go into the finance of the scheme or its possible revenue, because those matters are best left to the promoters, but from a racing point of view I do say that a track of this description is one of the greatest needs of the present day. It will be permanent, usable for practically nine months of the year, central for Britain and the Continent alike, and available for any purpose from the testing of private cars over a mile to attempts on the world’s speed record over any distance up to ten miles. Private car-owners would, for a small fee, have the thrill of trying their cars on the finest surface in the world, and they could, if they wished, compete for the “Certificate of Merit” which the authorities of the track will grant. The race governing authority, let it be added, will be composed of representatives of all the principal
motoring organizations and, in its way, will be as supreme in authority and prestige as the Jockey Club.
This track, if properly constructed and properly run, will make England the Mecca of the world’s motorists. It will bring trade and visitors alike to this country, it will give our manufacturers unique opportunities for testing and improving their cars, it will provide the British public with a new playground, and finally it will give British motorists that which they have never had—the perfect speedway.
If I may seem to have penned a panegyric in praise of this new project, I can only say that as one who has finished up in the sea at Daytona, when I least expected it, who has seen good sportsmen go through the fence and over the top at Brooklands, and who has spent weary days and nights, searching the world from Denmark to the Sahara for the perfect track, it may be allowed, perhaps, that I speak without prejudice and with some experience.