If Silverstone loses the British Grand Prix, it will be a huge blow to the venue. But we are unlikely to lose the circuit itself.
The same cannot be said for other British tracks: Snetterton, Oulton Park, Cadwell Park and Brands Hatch are all up for grabs. There are monied enthusiasts in the running, of course, but do they possess the financial clout of a supermarket chain or a mainstream builder?
Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who don’t like motorsport and wouldn’t miss a wink of sleep if racing in this country stopped for good. They are perfectly entitled to their opinion, of course. But so are we. And we have tended to be more proactive, which is why motorsport has flourished in this country despite the naysayers. We must not, however, let our guard down, for 99 years of history can be stopped with the stroke of a pen.
That is the threat our oldest motorsport venue is currently faced with. Shelsley Walsh’s lease is up for renewal in March, and the next 99 years will cost the Midland Automobile Club £1.5 million. MAC is a famously go-ahead organisation with a proud history. But it is famous for organising competitive car events, not for dealing with hard-nosed land agents who — shock, horror — couldn’t give a fig about motorsport.
In MAC’s corner, however, is businessman David Grace, the five-time British hillclimb champion who made a good fist of running Rockingham before falling victim to internal politics. He rightly talks positively about Shelsley’s future. And there is a lot (potentially) to be positive about. The new lease will free up the venue to be used for corporate days, something which the old one did not. It also demands that its buildings — the crumbling but impressive courthouse and the (can soon be) working watermill — be repaired. These could provide a museum, a conference centre, an educational facility, could free up the site for all-year use and generate revenue in a rural area — all things that ring Parliament’s bell when it comes to handing out grants. But governmental cogs turn slowly, and for the above to happen, people — MAC members in particular — are going to have to put hands in pockets, not sit on them.
More than £200,000 has been raised in the first six weeks of the programme, but there is still a long way to go. What’s more, there are only two more competitive weekends left this season for prospective donors to fall in love again with this atmospheric venue — to be touched by its ghosts, if you will. True, it will take more than rattling buckets to make up the shortfall, but we need to be seen to be helping ourselves before we can expect outside agencies to step in. So visit www.shelsleytrust.co.uk and make a donation. Or you could sponsor a square yard of the hill — to you, £125 (see p4).