It is something of a chicken or egg puzzle. I refer to the fact that the CARkeys website has put a motoring cat among the publicity pigeons by posing the question: where was the first British motor race?
Bexhill-on-Sea has claimed this distinction when holding its commemorative speed trials, classing these as races because two cars competed together along the seafront. But now an article by Ross Finlay on the aforesaid motoring website has reminded us that Scotland had a motor race in September 1901, as part of Glasgow’s mammoth International Exhibition in the Kelvingrove Park, which brought almost seven million visitors.
The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (later to become the RAC) staged a motoring event on the day that the show closed, and this it did on a banked 440-yard cycle race track built for the exhibition on the Glasgow University’s sports ground at Gilmorehill, overlooking Kelvingrove Park.
The automobile contests were held on September 7, with enthusiastic support from Alec Govan, MD of the Argyll Car Company. After a concours and driving tests, the races began. Slow, but races nevertheless, with a pair of cars running together, over events of 20 laps and five laps. Officials of the Scottish Automobile Club marshalled. Two Locomobile steam cars contested the long race first, and then Moffat Ford’s Decauville petrol car lapped at 29mph in the shover event, being only just beaten by a Locomobile. The Decauville’s speed detered other petrol cars from taking it on, until a Century tricar took the challenge, only to retire. Low-key, but it was surely Britain’s first motor race meeting.
Odd then that at the ACGBI-run speed trials at Bexhill in 1902 there were signs proclaiming it to be the ‘Birthplace of British Motor Racing’, a claim repeated when a commemorative event was run a few years ago.
Today, Glasgow University’s Kelvin Building stands on the site of the old race course grandstand, while lecture rooms and laboratories now cover the location of what seems to have been Britain’s first car race track.