Tales from Donington

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Hearing that Tom Wheatcroft had written his autobiography, and having known him as a keen collector of historic racing cars from being taken to see the start of his now legendary Donington Grand Prix Collection, when his first finds were scattered in all manner of places, and having dealt enthusiastically with the races at the famous circuit year after year in MotorSport when I was its Editor, including my impressions of the Germans racing there, and having written a book about the pre-war racing at Donington Park, I looked forward very much to Tom’s own account of it all.

And Thunder in the Park (ISBN 9542860 5 7, Live Wire, £20) is of enormous interest. I did not know before of the long war service Tom had, I discovered why the Donington museum was arranged as it is, and learned about Tom’s honest opinion of his friends and others.

His early purchases of the older single-seater racing cars, some of the prices asked in marked contrast to the enormous values now placed on them, are described. The book then provides such an absorbing story of how Tom bought the Park and created the present race circuit there, his memories relating to this, the cars he has played with there including having a life-threatening accident, the personalities who made Donington world-famous, the crashes, how later irreplaceable exhibits for the museum were discovered — it’s all there, as a normal review may have explained. I would not have missed it even in exchange for a Maserati 250F of my own. It’s a wonderful tale of almost rags to great success and a sizeable fortune, which Tom so modestly accepts and enjoys. I felt that I wanted a little bit more of how he achieved this, having seen the extensive housing estates he built and his luxury hotel and motel, my appetite for this element of the tale being stirred by a picture of his 1938 Bedford truck among those of racing drivers, the races and the very celebrated racing personages whom Tom knew.

A great book, and one which stands out among more ordinary motor books and which is so very competitively priced.

I found only one mistake; Jenks’s adventure on Christmas Day of illegally driving an F2 Lotus on the roads around Hampshire did not end in the ditch, needing a transporter to retrieve it. I should know, because it was during our midday lunch for the children, which was at the pudding-and-pulling-crackers stage, when the ‘phone rang to say that DSJ was in trouble. To my wife’s consternation, off I rushed, to tow the Lotus, which had broken a halfshaft, back from beyond Basingstoke to Hartley Whitney.

That apart, a ‘superb read,’ as they say, which this genuinely is.

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