ON SOME FACTORS AFFECTING THE FUTURE
MOTOR-RACING is not exactly in a bad way, but the future is not without its precarious tinge. Formula Grand Prix racing may well go down at any time, like a pricked blister, on account of political or other situations, while our own racing is, even now, not attracting as good attendances as it is desirable it should.
The Junior Car Club, in spite of its title, is one of our most important Clubs, particularly on the race-organising side. Consequently, the Editorials that appear in the ” J.C.C. Gazette” assume rather more importance than proverbial straws in the wind. If you read the editorial in the October issue of the ” Gazette ” you will agree that we should, right here and now, devote sonic serious thought to the future. For the J .C.C. says that on account of the poor ” gates” for the Imperial Trophy and 200 Miles Races, it is likely to be faced with. a big deficit at the end of the year. Furthermore, it states that, while there is as yet no possibility of the Club having to contemplate dropping its big fixtures in the future, it does feel that, unless the British Calendar contains considerably fewer races from now on, the time may well dawn when Clubs organising races for the sake Of the sport alone will be unable to compete with track proprietors and those concerns which promote races with the payment of dividends as their object. In this connection the demise in the number of prize donors is another factor against the normal race-promoting club.
As we see it, whether races are reduced in number or not, it is vitally necessary to endeavour to increase public interest in Motor-racing. Not Only is -a good ” gate ” essential if the heavy costs of race promotion are to be met, as the J.C.C. has clearly emphasised, but the building of new racing-cars is largely dependent upon the interest shown in racing contests by Mr., Mrs., Miss and Master J. Citizen, who are the normal users of British utility motor-cars. We can well believe that other British manufacturers besides Alta, Austin, Riley and M.G. would support racing, if crowds the size of those which watch motor-cycle speedway finals or cup-tie matches or which await the landing of trans-Continental girl-pilots, and so on, were assured at every classic motor race. Unhappily, whatever may be the state of affairs at .Nurburg, Monza and Le Mans, this is not. the position in this country. Brooklands does not nowadays command the black-packed mass of humanity that once crowded the Hill and jostled in the Paddock. Harrv Edwards has, we believe, not fully realised his dream of attracting all sporting London to his
Crystal Palace meetings. At practice periods the mere handful of onlookers present at this road-circuit situated within ten miles of the greatest city iii the world is really pathetic. Donington alone reaped a substantial profit, on the occasion of the great Grand Prix last year, but not before Fred Craner had gambled with a considerable sum as starting money for the German teams. I do not know whether a .first-class motor-race costs more, or less, to stage than a big football or speedway match, taking all expenditure into consideration, but I do know that before a first-class Motor-race can be run a considerable sum has to be spent in prize and starting money and I know there is never any hope of attracting a crowd half the size of that which flocks, jostles and stampedes to repay the promotion of other sporting contests. Fully aware that motorracing requires a fairly high degree Of intelligence and some engineering knowledge for its full appreciation and that, in consequence, ” :gates ” thereat will never assume the proportions of those at ” popular ” sports—or so it is this country—race promoters and organisers-are tempted to charge big admission prices. That is probably a vital mistake. It costs 10/to get yourself and a car into Brooklands. It costs 5/6 to take self and motor into the Crystal Palace. And it absorbed 7/6 to see the recent Dollington G.P. With fuel or fare charges tacked on, this is a lot of money to a lot of us. Moreover, extra chargesare made at all three courses for admission to special points of vantage and/or protection. Lesson No. 1 in increasing race-popularity must study be an all round reduction of admission charges. Even then, what chance has the ordinary working-class man or office fellow of getting to a race which starts at Donington at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, Or in comfort to an event starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday at ‘Wey bridge ? The Palace scores here, and already the different quality of the crowd is noticeable. And it is quite an intelligent crowd, too, which has made Percy Maclure its hero (the youth on the fifth-hand motor-bike doesn’t contemplate fitting a blower) and which has been known to clap Arthur Dobson even when he was not
in the lead. But for other venues the solution seems to be to follow in the footsteps of the wise men of Wetherby and Prescott and to hold events on Sundays. Had the lioningtOn G.P. been contested on October 23rd instead of October 22nd we should have been able to gauge very effectively the present peak race attendance Of the Great British Public. So far as amenities go, there is not much to grumble about, details apart. The new all-concrete Grandstand on the Campbell circuit commands a fine view of all of Brooklands (though it costs 5/extra to
use it). The public enclosure at the Palace is quite a reasonable place from which to see quite a lot of the racing. And Itonington has admirably placed enclosures ; also, you can haze right round the circuit. As to what kind of racing will best attract the public, here we are on Csplosive groiutd. Motor-racing should be staged first and foremost to improve the breed of cars, and not purely as a public spectacle. Races must continue to be governed by an International Formula and individual rules to the attainment of this end, not decided in advance by drawing names from the promoter’s hat. Some years ago, when I used to say that I did not care if not a single spectator arrived
at a motor-race, so long as the racing was of value to technical progress and good sport for the drivers, I was severely taken to task by those who sought to bring really big ” gates ” to our races. Now that I am ready to admit that better gates are desperately needed to ensure the future health of our racing, by providing the capital to meet prize, starting-money and Organising expenses, I am similarly taken to task by those folk who fear that increased public support may reduce International contests to the level of a staged spectacle on a par with a cindertrack -scuffle. So I must make it quite clear that I wish racing to go on as it is, and only crave .greater ” gates ” because such revenue is very necessary to the continued health of racing in a country in which the ordinary man and woman at present Shows no interest whatsoever in the sport. Naturally, certain forms of racing must appeal more than others to a public which cannot be expected to at once appreciate the finer points Of technical engineering, pit-work, handicapping and driving skill. Grand Prix racing obviously appeals on account of prodigious speed, sound and sliding. But it is virtually monopolised by two teams of identical nationality, so that I i-litre racing might draw larger crowds, especially as the British E.R.A. is recognised to lead the world in this sphere, and if, as is rumoured, Mercedes-Benz and AutoUnion are joining E.R.A., Alta, AlfaRomeo and Maserati in this field. Short races, attended by book-makers, are probably more fun for the non-technical race-goer, but if racing is to continue to improve the breed and to provide ‘a legitimate contest between racing-car constructors, full-duration races over courses abounding in long straights and difficult bends are essential. In this connection, a very interesting article by John Glassey appeared in the October number of “Hearsay,” organ of the E.R.A. Club, in which the author argued that mixing politics with sport is another of those fashions that have drifted in from the Continent and that Government subsidy of national teams has made racing something of a farce, by obliterating normal competition under a financial barrage. Glassey considers, in fact, that a British Government subsidy would make modern motor-racing more of an International political arena than ever, and stifle the sporting side. He seeks a return to individual competition between drivers. Unfortunately, individual competition doesn’t do very much to encourage new designs and general improvement of the breed. What so many people seem to miss in this respect is that if the British Government ever could be induced to subsidise motor-racing the subsidy need not take the form of a direct grant to a firm to build a G.P. team. If the Government put up some big prize money and paid generous starting money to entrants Of British cars, you would find, all the independents rolling up and w(,uld, in addition, have some hope of inducing those fine old British firms which have raced in the past to design racing-cars
once again. A £10,000 prize would stir lots of people up a whole lot. You cannot expect Lord Nuffield, Lord Austin, or Capt. Black to give away thousands of pounds to make a picnic for small production firms to whom racing would constitute excellent advertisement.
suppose you cannot expect our Government to set as much store on the acquisition of national prestige by a G.P. victory at Nurburg. Montlhery or Monza as do the Dictator States—though it did subsidise the construction of Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes for a time. But you might expect the Government to put up money which would induce a lot of concerns to experiment with racingcar design and construction and to meet in inter-make contests, as Bentley, Vauxhall and Sunbeam, along with scores of other marques, used to meet, before G.P. racing again became a contest between nations. The E.R.A. Club has suggested that the S.M.M.T. should make a grant to E.R.A. Ltd., in return for which the E.R.A. technicians would assist the Industry with its problems. Apart from the fact that the introduction of the marketable Raymond Mays sports-car complicates the issue, I would far rather see the S.M.M.T. give some substantial prize money to British race organisers— on the grounds that it is not sense to subsidise a firm to build racing-cars with which to test lessons for the Industry if there is an imminent danger of there being no races for which these cars can be entered. All of which is taking us rather away from the subject of gate-growth, albeit if manufacturers started competing freely against one another in racing, racing would at once become more enthralling to the ordinary spectator than it is when one nation is supreme against teams of other nations, or when the same independents compete against one another week-end after week end. And if more spectators were induced to watch racing, more manufacturers would seek to race cars for them
to watch, discuss and buy. Which is such a pleasant thought. Do not imagine that I am belittling the grant paid to Bourne by those enthusiasts of the E.R.A. Club—I believe about £125, to date. That is not a lot of money, but it can assist in transporting the equipe to a Continental race or in entering an extra car for a race. In that way the grant helps British racing prestige abroad and would do so much more if every man and woman who pretends to be an enthusiast would join this Club—a reduced annual subscription, by the way, operates until the end of the year. But assistance for one concern of British racing-car constructors is not going to solve the problem of increasing race attendances—which is the way to ensure a really healthy future for the sport. In this connection the younger generation must not be overlooked. The J.C.C. deserves praise for inviting, through Sir Malcolm Campbell, schoolboys and school girls to the 200 Mile Race free of charge— though the response was disappointing. The B.R.D.C. deserves credit with doing rather better with their scheme for inviting scout troops free to see their September Brooklands meeting. They are now instituting a great Soapbox Derby, which may interest some youngsters in racing permanently, though I should enthuse more if the soapboxes had to be power-driven. But there is lots to be said for endeavouring to make the members of the younger generation race-minded at the correctly receptive age—for in the boys we have future racedrivers, car constructors, engineers, promoters and spectators who will pay good money for the admission of themselves and their women-folk, while the girls will decorate the pits, drive in isolated instances and sometimes assist a presumably good-looking young man to a racing wheel he would not otherwise attain. So I am glad the Amalgamated Press and Temple Press Ltd. had really good children’s books on racing for sale at Xmas. (” Modern Boy’s Book of Racing Cars,” and “Power and Speed.”) Of course, such education doesn’t take root every time. I suppose we were all keen on toy trains as youngsters, yet how many of us know anything about railways now, or care ? Albeit many great racing men have been crazy over model railways and my good friend Jim Burner takes a keen interest in both the model and full-size variety. The Society papers are showing more interest in racing—only this year “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic” had an excellent photographic section devoted to the technical side of the game—but dailypaper motoring correspondents could do more for us. If I have tacked Society and daily papers onto children’s papers it is because many members of the upper and lower classes have an outlook similar to that of children. It is, incidentally, stupid to argue that the Society papers circulate amongst moneyed people who need no educating in this matter— thousands of folk who go ridin’, h.untin’, shootin’ and fishin’ have never once gone
to a motor race. I feel sure that if George Monkhouse would give his inimitable commentary on his greatest of great motor-racing films at some of our public schools during this present winter, nothing but good could result. Motor-racing might well be taught in the lecture halls of Eton, and when a youngster wants to go places, remember he usually drags a parent along with him, to pay a way in. There seems no good reason why the present generation should not get the requisite kick out of racing provided their education is completed—at present we are told so often that fast motoring is nothing like so strenuous as tennis, football or boxing. When that argument crops up, we wonder how the amateur sportsman would feel after driving three hours in an open, screenless sports-car, or after driving the mileage in a day that lots of us do, often in comic cars, as a matter of course, although we are “so unfit because we never exercise.” If the public could be made to realise what a man-size job drivers like Seaman, Caracciola, Brauchitsch and the rest do in completing a G.P. race, and if they could see such contests for a small admission charge at a course they could reach in less than half-a-day at something far below present fares, ” gates ” would. experience an abnormal, yet healthy, growth. Problems would naturally arise. The Superintendent of Brooklands has told me that after a Sunday pushbicycle meeting at the Track more fencing is found smashed down in the enclosures than after the best-attended car or motorcycle meetings. Certain genuine enthusiasts would probably moan because of the difference in admission charges at various vantage points. But over and above everything, big gates would do racing in this country a world of good and would give drivers whose chief interest in the game is driving the expanded heroworship which actors, film-stars and politicians receive, and which they, as participants in a useful as well as an essentially modern undertaking, equally deserve. I can see only one way to attract the man-in-the-street, given lower admission charges, good entries and scratch races, and that is by newspaper support. Just imagine a big daily paper giving Percy Bradley or Harry Edwards or Capt. Phillips or Fred Craner £10,000 or so to spend, as The Daily Mail, for instance, has given to air-race organisers in the past. You should get entries from every big Continental team, because starting money and award money would be unstinted. The admission charges could be quarter normal rates, because the Track proprietors could afford to take a chance. And, in return for the bonus, the newspaper concerned would want publicity, and would very effectively write up all aspects of the race in a manner which Mr. J. Citizen and Mrs. Citizen and offspring would appreciate. The resultant gates should be astonishing. After that lots of those who had thus come to attend their first motor-race would want another dose, and so track proprietors could retain the low admission charges and go on offering a certain
amount of starting money. And the bigger the crowds, the better write-up would racing get in the daily Press. And the greater the number of persons reading of racing the more incentive Lord Nuffield, Lord Austin, Mr. Singer, Mr. Talbot, Mr. Standard, Mr. Triumph and Mr. Rover and the rest of our Mr. Manufacturers would have to figure in this motor-racing game. Drivers would rank in the public eye as every bit the equal of those who have become national and even world heroes by hitting balls, batting balls, kicking balls, teeing balls, acting before a camera, and speaking in the House. One big grant from a big newspaper would do all this. Need we take off these rose-coloured spectacles ?