Down but not out: club racing bounces back

Club Racing News

With crowds to be allowed back from May, club racing could finally start to recover from Covid – but the future is uncertain for some

Caterhams at Brands Hatch during the British Racing & Sports Car Club September 2020 meeting

British club racing looks to get back on its feet in 2021, but will all circuits recover?

Simon Arron

To many who live for motorsport it must have seemed the day might never come; the day when life returned to normality. Of course big business motor racing was always going to find its way around travel bans, local, regional and national lockdowns, and fly around the world leaving its troubles (and spectators) behind. But what about those of us down here in the cheap seats, those who crave only a fun weekend’s uncomplicated club racing, either behind the wheel, standing on a bank or with a socket set in hand? Well, and at last, the news is good.

“At last things are actually looking really good”

It comes from Ben Taylor, Chief Executive of the British Automobile Racing Club which not only runs events at circuits it owns like Thruxton, Pembrey and Croft, but also and uniquely for such a club, events for its championships at circuits all over the UK. Few therefore are better positioned to update the beleaguered race fan on the situation as it stands.

“At last things are actually looking really good,” he says. “It seems there is a huge pent up demand to go racing and clubs are already reporting strong demand and full grids.” BARC is currently scheduled to run no fewer than 26 race meetings in 2021, which is on a par with 2019 when no one had heard of Covid.

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It could have been even more were it not for the reality gap between what is allowed, and what is financially viable. “Legally we would be allowed to start having race meetings in England from March 29th and others may do so, but the fact is that with overnight stays not strictly allowed and no B&Bs or campsites open until April 12th, we’ve decided not to ask our members to make that call.”

Spectators will have to wait longer, even than that. “As things stand we will be able to welcome spectators back from May 17th, up to 50 per cent of venue capacity or 4000 people, whichever figure is lower. One of many things we learned fast last year was how to provide the public with a Covid-secure environment and we’re proud of all we’ve done.”

“There is a balance to strike: on the one hand we’re there to keep people safe, not behave like the military police, on the other whatever we do has not only to comply with regulations, it’s got to pass the sniff test too. I believe people will remember how companies behaved during Covid and I think the corporate reputations of those that were slack or cut corners will suffer. Throughout it all, BARC really has done its best to look after our customers, competitions, officials and suppliers.”

2020 Silverstone Allcomers race

Norman Lackford Radical leads the Rover Vitesse of Brian Sale

Simon Arron

So how big has the hit been? “Big,” says Taylor reaching the balance sheet. ‘Turnover last year was down 50 per cent.’ Horrendous though that is, it’s actually slightly less than I expected. But after June 21st, if vaccine-resistant variants can be kept beyond our shores, all existing rules should be relaxed or removed and things should return to something close to normal, at least in England.

Sadly the situation in Wales is nothing like as promising. The Welsh lockdowns hit venues like Pembrey and Anglesey far harder, resulting in them hosting no race meetings at all in 2020 and with no clear picture of when restrictions will lift, the situation is currently dire.

“If we compare Thruxton and Croft on the one hand to Pembrey on the other we can see we don’t want to drop off the radar. Thruxton is already flat out with testing and private hire, Croft is filling up fast, but although we can open Pembrey for professional testing, without the race meetings it’s difficult to know what the year looks like.” He also points out that the decision to cancel the 2021 Royal Welsh Show, which usually takes place at the end of July, has already been made, “so we’ll take all we can get from this season, but I say so more in hope than expectation.”

I have always regarded motor sport as one of the more Covid friendly pursuits, because social distancing in pits and paddocks is easily achieved. Most British club circuits have large grass banks on which spectators can stand with sensible gaps between them and grandstands where individual seats can be roped off.

And now we know the competitors are raring to get back to racing, it only remains to be seen if the spectators will follow them, and my guess is that they will. There’s nothing like being denied something you enjoy for a year for making you realise how much you have missed it, and I think we miss racing in all its forms more than most. I for one won’t hesitate: in the stands or behind the wheel, one way or another when proper motorsport starts up again, I’ll be there.