Wimbledon Stadium has closed its doors for the last time, marking the end of oval racing in the capital. Motor Sport was there to witness the end of an era
photographers Lyndon McNeil & Chris Haddon
It hosted greyhound racing and speedway from 1928 and stock cars arrived on September 29 1962, but the final weekend of March 2017 heralded the end of an era. Wimbledon Stadium is no more.
Its passing marks the end of regular motor sport – and, indeed, dog racing – in the London area. Where once there were many multi-purpose stadia dotted around the capital, none now survives. The Battersea Park Formula E track has been and gone, though the category might in future return at a different location, but for now the city is left only with an annual sprint that incorporates remnants of the old Crystal Palace circuit.
Fondly known as The Grand Old Lady, Wimbledon will be redeveloped to accommodate a new football stadium and 600 homes, erasing forever the sounds, sights and smells of oval racing in the capital.
The images on the following pages were taken by Motor Sport’s photographer Lyndon McNeil, who attended several events with fellow photographer Chris Haddon during Wimbledon’s final season to chronicle its demise and capture the characters for whom noise, close racing and carnage were a Sunday evening staple.
The attraction? “We wanted to capture the seamy side of motor sport, the unglamorous part that you don’t often see,” he says. “And there was obviously a heightened sense of it being the end of era as well.
“The stadium was really accommodating and let us wander around the events completely unimpeded from pit to paddock and spectator areas. It couldn’t have been more different to modern circuits with their media centres and press passes.”
McNeil was also given access to parts of the circuit that had laid dormant for decades. “We spoke to the caretaker and he opened all the doors to the inside of the stadium, much of which had been closed off years ago.
“We went into the old canteen that hadn’t been used for 20 years. It was actually very eerie, you could almost imagine the ghosts of old cars from the ’60s and ’70s out on the circuit. In one of the offices there was a half-empty bottle of whisky sitting on a desk untouched for years. Drivers’ licences were still on the table where they had been left decades ago. It was like the Mary Celeste.”
During the events McNeil photographed competitors and spectators alike. “They came from all over – banger boys from the Fens, stock cars from Aldershot or Scotland. Some of the spectators had been coming since the 1960s. The strange thing is that outside London there is still a lively banger racing scene, but they are no longer welcome in the capital. At the last meeting it seemed ironic that there were quite a few new Wimbledon residents in their brogues – they had probably campaigned for the stadium closure because of the noise and looked completely out of place.”
“To some the demise of Wimbledon might appear to be short-sighted decision. However, those involved with Wimbledon were remarkably matter-of-fact that this day was inevitable. Times have changed and motor sports of this ilk, regardless of popularity, just don’t fit in with the changing demographic of urban areas.”
Featuring superstox, 1300 stock cars and national hot rods, the final meeting was a riot of nostalgia, fire cannons, special awards and battered fence posts – “A fantastic occasion for all the wrong reasons,” as one of the commentary team put it.
Wimbledon Stadium closed not with a whimper, but a bang.