Matters of moment, October 1986

The Birmingham Super Prix

It was the cruellest misfortune which turned the Birmingham Super Prix into a well-publicised shambles. After fifteen years of trying to organise the first road race on mainland Britain, the organisers deserved better luck.

The mass media had a field day over “the washout”. What was not said was that Britain’s other round of the F3000 Championship, the International Trophy at Silverstone in April, ran to a similar scenario: torrential rain, an accident and the race abandoned at about half distance. The difference is that the International Trophy had not caught the imagination of the general public, nor had it generated so much media attention. On the day of the Birmingham race, The Times had four separate articles about it, including its main leader.

The organisers did not deserve such conditions, then neither did the people of Birmingham. Everywhere one went one saw signs that the whole city was determined to make the occasion a memorable one. There were bands of every description, tap dancers, jugglers, clowns, a man in a gorilla suit on a unicycle, puppeteers, all the elements of a carnival. Pubs stayed open all day and, wonders of wonders at a race meeting, you could wander into local shops and buy food at uninflated prices.

There was a whole-hearted attempt to capture the atmosphere of the days when, in Continental towns, the streets would be closed and the annual race become the centre of a local festival. The sport went to the people and built up broad-based popular appeal while in Britain the sport was effectively isolated to those who were able to get to Brooklands. It was not until after WW2, when disused airfields dotted around Britain, were eagerly pressed into service as racing circuits, that the sport went out to the people.

The importance of the Birmingham race, and the reason why it must continue, is that it has the potential to attract spectators who might not otherwise attend a race meeting. If only a fraction of newcomers are excited by what they see, it is to the overall benefit of the sport.

The organisers must not, however, become too carried away by their own publicity. Predictions of 150,000 spectators, which were given wide coverage, must have deterred some people from even attempting the journey. The organisers should also stop talking about a possible Birmingham F1 Grand Prix. For one thing, the track and organisation has not yet proved it is capable of staging such a race, but more importantly still, Birmingham should never be allowed to stage one.

The revenue from the British Grand Prix has allowed Brands Hatch and Silverstone to operate as year-round facilities to the benefit of British motor racing. That revenue is too precious to lose to a city which does not sustain racing on a day to day basis. A round of the F3000 Championship is exactly right for Birmingham: it’s spectacular, competitive, and it allows British enthusiasts see a round of an important championship which, for financial reasons, has had to be dropped from the schedules of Donington and Thruxton.

On the other hand, talk of other towns staging road races should remain just that, talk. Birmingham has worked hard and well to get its race. Its effect would be diluted by rivals hanging on to its coat tails. A plethora of copies would not only devalue the original but our hunch is that they would detract from the permanent circuits and that would be disastrous.

There were problems with the first running of this race. The programme was too crowded to accommodate many hiccups so blockages by accidents (predictable) and rain (not unknown on a Bank Holiday) threw everything into disarray and a lot of drivers went home without racing. Still, no doubt lessons have been learned.

Reports indicate that the enthusiasm of the organisers, the sponsor, Halfords, and the Birmingham City Council remains undimmed after an unfortunate inaugural event. We hope so, and we hope we can look forward to the race becoming a permanent, important, event in the calendar. We wish them better luck next year. They deserve it.