On the road with Simon Arron

Christmas presence

Mallory Park, December 26: where else would you rather be in the immediate slipstream of unwrapping gifts?

It is old news – but ever baffling – that some people rush out before dawn to commence queuing for the Boxing Day sales, when they could sit at home with a quart of sherry and achieve much the same result at the click of a mouse. There were clear signs of a changing world, though, en route to the 41st Plum Pudding meeting at Mallory Park. In Brixton there seemed to be some form of refuse collection taking place – and in Hinckley a bloke was jet-washing his Vauxhall Zafira in the pitch dark.

Then again, it might just be me that’s weird, setting off at 5.30 in pursuit of a £5 fry-up from motor racing’s most charismatic café. On the neighbouring table, a couple of marshals chatted very loudly about which of their colleagues were idiots, and why, which seemed a bit odd as the whole place was a tapestry of fire-resistant orange…

Entries were a little down this time, so much so that all solo bikes were pitched together to create a two-wheeled Formula Libre cocktail reminiscent of bygone car clubbies, wherein F5000 Lolas would compete against FF1600 cars and suchlike. That didn’t dilute the spectacle on a greasy track surface that was reluctant to dry despite a piercing breeze, but one rider had to be lectured in the wake of a race-stopping accident. It wasn’t just the fact he’d overtaken a rival under the red flag, more that he’d been spotted doing it while pulling a wheelie…

Only five sidecars materialised, but that was enough to produce one of several close finishes on this compact jewel of a circuit (timekeepers couldn’t separate riders Phil Crowe and Lee Wilson in the second solo event). Father and son Tom and Thomas Quaye (MRE Suzuki) ran away with the opening race for three-wheelers, but then spun onto wet grass after tripping over a backmarker at the first chicane. They rejoined just ahead of a tight duel for second – and next time around the top three all slithered off at the same spot, Quaye & Quaye recovering briskly enough to defeat Ralph Remnant and Guy Pawsey (Lumley Kawasaki) by just four tenths.

Cars were categorised simply as sports or saloons and the usual qualifying system (first postal entry received takes pole) guaranteed plenty of passing as Triumph GT6 went wheel to wheel with Mallock U2 and Rover SD1 tussled with Ford Focus and various flavours of Honda. Joe Spencer (Locost), David Porter (Radical), Andy Thompson (Seat Toledo) and Stuart Lines (VW Scirocco) took one victory apiece.

The event drew a decent crowd, I didn’t end up requiring medical treatment for the first time in three Mallory meetings and the short daylight hours meant I was back home in ample time to do a spot of on-line sale browsing armed with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Perfect.

London's labours lost?

Wimbledon, December 13: the fight is on to save the capital’s last surviving short oval​

Walthamstow. Wembley. White City. New Cross. West Ham. Harringay. Familiar names, linked not just by location but by the fact they were all home to stock car tracks that are long since defunct. There are similar tales across the UK – I still feel aggrieved that Manchester’s White City, one of my favourite boyhood haunts, is buried beneath shops – and there is now a serious risk that Wimbledon, London’s last motor sport stadium just about standing, could suffer the same fate as those above.

On December 10 Merton Council approved planning permission for AFC Wimbledon to build an 11,000-capacity football ground in Plough Lane, SW19, on the site of the current stock car and greyhound track – and that would mark the end of short-oval racing
within the M25.

Three days later I popped along to watch a multi-formula race meeting – bangers, 1300 stock rods, rookie rods, superstox – and soak up the grubby charm that has long been the venue’s staple. The stadium is dilapidated – one side has been out of bounds to the public for some years – and crowds have dwindled, but every race is introduced with irrepressible enthusiasm (“There’s a £20 bonus for the highest-placed yellow-grade driver at the end of this one!”) and kids still yell shrill support for their favourites. Cheesy music is a given – although there should be no excuse, in any circumstance, ever, for playing Wombling Merry Christmas – and the racing is as robust as its pioneers intended. Only 18 banger drivers booked an entry ahead of the event, but about 40 turned up…

To my mind the £14 admission charge was money well spent and I left with the hope that such Sunday evening pursuits will be preserved for many winters to come. There is an on-line petition to save the venue – easily found, and with more than 10,000 signatories at the time of writing – but one suspects the odds are stacked in favour of the proposed new tenant. 

It’s a convoluted tale, this. The original Wimbledon FC vacated its own home (at the other end of Plough Lane) in 1991, because legislation obliged it to find a more modern, all-seater stadium, and the site was sold for housing. The team initially moved a few miles to ground-share with Crystal Palace, but later relocated to Milton Keynes (eventually becoming MK Dons) and disillusioned fans decided to form a new team of their own in a more convenient location (well, Kingston). AFC Wimbledon’s subsequent rise from the base of soccer’s pyramid to the Football League has been one of the most uplifting sports stories of recent times and, as a keen fan of local football (I was born six miles from Old Trafford, so support Altrincham), I understand the club’s desire to return to its original home borough.

But does London really need another stadium dedicated to football when relatively few exist for alternative pursuits?

SA cup winner

Stradbroke, December 9: reunited with a racing obscurity, 32 years on…

Do you know what this is?” Looking vaguely familiar, for reasons I couldn’t quite place, my inquisitor pulled a small trophy from a supermarket bag and I studied it for clues. None came forth.

The occasion was a meeting of the Suffolk-based Fressingfield Oily Rag Club, a group of car enthusiasts that organises regular events fuelled by a common passion and good humour. In this instance, Nigel Roebuck and
I had been invited to chat about our careers, share a few paddock anecdotes and answer questions from a knowledgeable, 200-strong audience. The organisation was slick, the welcome most warm – and once formal proceedings had concluded we hung around
to discuss further matters. This one, though, had me stumped.

The cup in question turned out to be the Simon Arron Trophy, which I’d handed to the gentleman before me – Jim Utting – after he won the inaugural road saloon race (rule one: no trailers) at Snetterton during the summer of 1983. The event was so named simply because I’d supported organiser Tim Dodwell’s initiative with regular stories in Motoring News. Taken from the podium, as I waited to hand out gongs, the shot above shows Utting’s Ford Capri defending from Dodwell’s VW Scirocco – a car Tim races to this day (and which also featured in our December 2015 issue).

The trophy was awarded only once and is far too obscure to qualify even as a racing footnote, but it’s quite nice to know it still exists.