Like so many of the country’s race circuits, the origins of the track at Croft spring from the conflict and demands of World War II. With prime agricultural land just a few miles from the North Sea and hence the Continent, the government requisitioned 160 acres to build an airfield to house the Canadian 419 (Moose) Bomber Squadron.
After the cessation of violence the airfield slipped into gradual disrepair until motorsport enthusiast Bruce Ropner bought half the airfield at auction in 1962 with a dream of bringing racing to the north-east of Britain. Eighteen months later his hopes became reality when he was granted permission to build his own race track and on the August Bank Holiday in 1964, a crowd estimated at 50,000 flocked to watch Robin Smith and his Lotus Cortina christen the new circuit with victory in the Daily Mirror Trophy.
The circuit’s early days were charmingly ramshackle.
The first 1.64-mile circuit had a converted lorry as a ‘control tower’. Things later progressed to the luxury of a double-decker bus which remains at the track to this day. Croft bred several homegrown favourites in its early years. Sportscar racer Tony Dean started out in an F3 Lotus 31 and returned over the years in more exotic machinery — Porsches, Ferraris, Brabhams, Mclarens and the odd Chevron. By 1970, Carlos Pace was winning the Guards F3 International Trophy, with rising star James Hunt in the running 12 months later. But Croft increasingly lost out to the big two of Brands Hatch and Silverstone and as the decade ended, club racing was all that was left to support it.
Motorbikes played a part in Croft’s survival, Damon Hill and Barry Sheene making frequent appearances, but in the 1980s the circuit switched its attention to rallycross. Three years ago, the circuit owners took the decision to renovate the facilities and £1.5million later Croft is back.
Thanks to all at Croft (01325721815) for their help.