Donington Park: The Pioneers – extract 3

Car Culture

This extract from ‘Donington Park: The Pioneers’ focuses on the “greatest British race ever held”

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1938 Donington Park GP

It was easily the greatest British race ever held. It was started by HRH the Duke of Kent, and attended by Reichsleiter Adolf Huhnlein, leader of motor sport in Germany, Bayer-Ehrenberg, the President of the German ONS (equivalent to our RAC) and a crowd of enthusiastic spectators estimated at 60,000. 

“It is difficult to believe that we had just seen Nuvolari screaming towards us at 160 mph” – Bill Boddy

Members of the German Embassy drove up from London in open Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars. Mercedes-Benz sent their Grosvenor Road engineering staff up by special coach, and a coachload of the RAF also attended. Lots of aircraft brought visitors, including a wartime 504K Avro. And Donington had room for all of us and all our cars, in comfort

The 1938 Grand Prix was indeed a monumental occasion and it sealed Donington’s reputation as a world class road racing venue. In just six seasons of car racing, the circuit had expanded at a phenomenal rate, exceeding even the highest expectations of Fred Craner, JG and the enthusiastic membership of the Derby and District Motor Club. 

Nuvolari 1938 Donington Nuvolari on the way to victory

Buy Donington Park: The Pioneers in the Motor Sport shop

“The most comprehensive, deeply researched and generously illustrated history of any circuit I’ve seen, amplified by elegant graphics” Motor Sport

This book tells the remarkable story of how two pioneers, Fred Craner and John Gillies Shields, backed by members of the Derby and District Motor Club, created Britain’s first road racing circuit in 1931 and developed it at an astonishing rate, culminating in the world famous “Silver Arrows” Grands Prix of 1937 and 1938.

It tells how the army took over Donington Park in 1939 and the many failed attempts to bring racing back after they left in 1956; and it tells how Tom Wheatcroft racing finally relaunched the circuit in 1977 and how his son echoed his achievement in recent times. The story is brought up to date with the takeover of circuit operations by Jonathan Palmer’s MSV organisation.  

Author John Bailie said: “Donington Park is a very special place, and some very special people played their part in its creation and rapid development. It is the only active circuit in the UK with such a long history and unique heritage. My aim was to write and design a book that is a suitable tribute not just to the early pioneers who created it but also to those who saved it and revitalised it in recent times” 

This isn’t a book just about motor racing. It’s about people. It’s about the pioneers who created Britain’s first permanent true road racing circuit…firstly for motor cycles in 1931 and then also for cars from 1933. 

It’s about the phenomenal success and dramatic progress that saw the circuit expand from loose-surfaced tracks created for horse-drawn carriages to hosting four pre-war Grands Prix, the first in 1935, the final two the “Silver Arrows” Grands Prix of 1937 and 1938. It’s about how the Army took over during the war years and the many attempts that came very close to bringing racing back in the 1960s with innovative, state-of-the-art facilities…and it describes the Tom Wheatcroft era from 1977, son Kevin’s revival of the track in 2010 and the New Vision of MSV’s first full season in 2018. 

Researched, written and designed by John Bailie, the book includes many new photographs plus documents, maps and diagrams, unique then-and-now images, illustrations by the author, personal anecdotes and memories, together with extracts from on-the-spot race reports by Bill Boddy MBE, founding editor of Motor Sport magazine. 

There are two hardcover editions: the Standard Edition, and the Special Anniversary Limited Edition of 85 copies with silver cover and silver edging, signed by Kevin Wheatcroft and the author, individually numbered and presented in a special slip case.


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