The Complete History of Grand Prix Motor Racing by Adriano Cimarosti
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Auto Racing Comes of Age
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The 1903 Paris-Bordeaux race marked the end of the classic city to city races when a number of drivers and spectators were either killed or injured. Questions were raised regarding whether the race should be stopped and the French Government decided the matter for everybody concerned. The race was halted forthwith and all the racing cars taken possession of by the authorities. Special trains were secured and the cars were dragged to the railway station behind horses and returned to Paris; not even the motors were allowed to be restarted.

Buy at Art.comIn England racing on public roads was illegal and British drivers had to resort to racing in Ireland or on the continent. The 1902 Gordon Bennett Race having been won by the British Napier team, albeit in the hands of an Australian, Selwyn Francis Edge should have meant that the 1903 edition of the race would be held in England. Instead the race was run on the Athy Circuit in Ireland.

The British motor industry suffered as a consequence. In response to this dilemma a group of wealthy enthusiasts led by Hugh F. Locke-King planned a race track to be built on his property in Surrey. Experienced race driver and car dealer, 29 year old Charles Jarrott suggested a very large high speed track. Selwyn Edge, whose London based Motor Power Company held the agency for Napier cars, was keen that the cars should be visible to the spectators for as much of the circuit as possible. The conclusion was that the track would have to be banked, 100 feet wide and nearly 30 feet high in places. For nine months over seven hundred men worked almost around the clock for seven days a week, the only breaks being on Saturday and Sunday nights. The river Wey was diverted, small holders were re-housed, thirty acres of woodland were felled and 350,000 cubic yards of earth was moved! Seven miles of rail track was laid and 200,000 tons of gravel and cement were brought in and cast to become the race track.

On Monday June 17th 1907 the track was officially opened with an informal lunch party in the clubhouse for the various motor and horse racing leading lights of the time, with many of the press in attendance. A long procession of road and racing cars left the clubhouse for an initial tour of the track headed by Ethel Locke-King in her Itala after which one make groups of cars went out to be followed by the sight of a Darracq which ran high up the banking achieving a top speed of about 90 mph! While just over the fence on the public roads of England the speed limit was 20 mph. Handicap races were held which became as much a social event as an automobile race. In fact the races were organized more like horse races as drivers had to wear certain colors instead of having numbers on their cars. Bookmakers would organize wagers and yet Brooklands did have some fantastic racing and served as a site for many speed record attempts.


There is a lot of difference in making a book at Brooklands and making a book at an ordinary race meeting, in as much as at the latter place one finds nearly everyone present has a fancy and some knowledge of what, in his or her opinion, is likely to win.

At Brooklands no one outside a few of the sharps who have had their stop-watches at work during a few days before the meeting knows who has an outstanding chance, and these particular gentlemen make very few mistakes.

Many of your readers will recollect the difficulty I had in persuading the Brooklands authorities that it was to their advantage to alter their regulations so as to permit of my making a book in the Paddock. The change has had the effect of enabling one to back a driver to win a hundred pounds or so, whereas in the old days a note was a lot.

The volume of business in comparison with the horse race meetings is very small indeed, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that any of the leading bookmakers in the Silver Ring at Kempton or Hurst Park would take more over one race than all the bookmakers at Brooklands would take over one event there.

F. T. "Long Tom" Harris - Legendary Bookmaker

In spite of the lower number of punters, Long Tom would become a fixture on race day at Brooklands.

Racing in Europe continued on closed public roads but these were not profitable as it was impossible to charge any entrance fee, besides the races were very dangerous do to lack of crowd control. The situation was much the same in the America. More and more states were enacting laws that prohibited the use of highways for racing purposes. Four Indianapolis businessmen pooled their resources and built a two and a half mile oval, originally of crushed stone and asphalt but subsequently resurfaced with brick.

The 500-mile sweepstakes, as it was referred to saw the grandstands packed with an estimated 90,000 enthusiasts for its inaugural race in 1911. People were excited by the amount of money at stake (the winner’s share would be $10,000, an impressive sum in an era when the great Ty Cobb, baseball’s highest-paid player, made $10,000 a season). According to news articles of the day you could even bet on how many drivers might not see the end of the day. A day when drivers wore cloth or leather helmets and had no seat belts.!

Board Track Racing

The 1920s saw the advent of shorter specially built circuits throughout Europe. In 1922 the Italian Grand Prix was held at one of these new tracks, the Autodromo Monza. Work began on May 15th with completion date set for August 15th: 3,500 workers, 200 wagons, 30 lorries, and a narrow gauge railway 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) long with 2 locomotives and 80 cars were employed. The autodrome was completed in the record time of 110 days. The circuit conceived by Alfredo Rosselli included a high-speed loop with a total length of 4.5 kilometers (2.79 mi) featuring two banked curves on an embankment rising 2.6 meters (8.5 ft) above surrounding terrain. The road and speed tracks intersected on two levels with an underpass in the Serraglio zone. For its inaugural race 100,000 spectators poured through its gates. The event became a Fiat parade when many of the other manufactures pulled out with Bordino winning over Nazzaro.

1925 saw a number of new road racing circuits being built throughout Europe including Miramas, near Marseilles and Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Back in 1907 the Kaiserlicher Automobilclub (KAC) association devised a fee-financed circuit, as both a motor-sport venue and a testing track for the motor industry. Known by its initials, the AVUS (Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungs Strasse) circuit was delayed due to a lack of finances and official authorizations with construction not commencing until the spring of 1913. Work was halted during WWI and was not completed until 1921. The track was composed of two two-lane roads each 9.78 km (6.08 miles) separated by an 8 meter (26 ft) grass median strip. At the south end was a chicane while at the north end was a wide-radius loop later rebuilt with a 43 degree banking. In comparison the banking at Daytona International Speedway never exceeds 31 degrees! With a vertical concrete retaining wall at the top of the banking this was definitely a corner that would separate the men from the boys. The circuit was open to the public at a charge of ten Marks but it's doubtful if the actual banking was accessible. On 11 July 1926 the track played host to the first international German Grand Prix for sports cars. The race was won by a then unknown Mercedes-Benz car salesman by the name of Rudolf Caracciola.

No longer used for regular motor racing the Brooklands Museum remains a popular attraction and special events venue. One of the drivers who won at Brooklands in the 1930s was Freddie March, the 9th Duke of Richmond, who went on to create his own racing circuit next to the Goodwood estate on the Sussex Downs in 1948. The Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed draw motorsports enthusiasts from around the world.

Thankfully modern Formula 1 is now a much safer sport due to improvements to tracks and cars, you can still wager on your favorite drivers with the best bookies for Formula 1 betting, an area targeted by Formula 1 owners, Liberty Media for future growth.

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