The Right Crowd

Current comparisons between Brooklands and road-racing give rise to the question of how the popularity of the track compared with that of artificial road courses elsewhere in England. Obviously, more spectators would watch real road racing on the Continent — up to 300,000 at a German Grand Prix at the old Nürburgring — but how did Brooklands compare with other British circuits?

Figures are difficult to obtain, but the biggest attendance at pre-war Donington Park is quoted at 12,000-15,000 by the time of the 1937 Empire Trophy race (won by Mays’ 1100cc ERA), rising to 30,000 for that year’s TT. The arrival of the German Grand Prix teams in October produced a crowd of between 38,000 and 40,000, and so fabulous was the racing which resulted that a claimed 60,000 came to watch Nuvolari’s Auto-Union win the 1938 Donington GP.

How does this compare with Brooklands? It seems that at the very first meeting in 1907, before the Track was properly organised, 13,600 spectators turned up in 500 cars and horse-drawn carriages. The 1921 200-Mile Race, aimed at “economy” motorists at a time when the country was recovering from the war, attracted 6630 onlookers. But in later years the Bank Holiday meetings would bring 30,000 and more people, and presumably for the big long-distance events this figure would have been substantially exceeded.

It is only natural that post-war race attendance figures have soared, with increased television publicity and growing interest in all forms of motoring — from a desire to own a vintage car to wanting to get into racing with a 500cc car at all costs. So it can be readily understood how the British Grand Prix at Silverstone rakes in more than 100,000, and this year’s Birmingham Superprix 120,000 people over two days.

However, when the enormous post-war improvement in transport facilities of all kinds is taken into account, together with the fact that Birmingham’s circuit is in the very centre of a great industrial complex, perhaps old Brooklands was not quite as isolated as some would like us to believe. WB