The History of the Sport in the UK
Good Friday, April 16th 1954, and the occasion of the first Stock Car meeting to be held in Britain.
At this time Speedway racing was well established and had come a long way from the dirt track days of 1928. They had a national organisation, a fairly large following and it's meetings were regularly reported in the press.
The pre-meeting publicity made five column headlines in the national press with 'Crazy Car Racing for Britain'. However it received a cool reception in the speedway press when one writer stated - 'the stock car circus - I refuse to call it motor racing - is claimed to be a wonderful spectacle.'!
The promoter of the event was a former speedway rider, John 'Digger' Pugh who had first witnessed the sport in America and the chosen venue was in South East London, just off the Old Kent Road, at New Cross Stadium. The publicity, both good and bad, had whetted the appetite of the general public and a large crowd ( recorded as 26,000) attended that first meeting. Thousands more were locked outside and the police later admitted 'that it had been virtually impossible to control the chaos'.
Prior to the event, trials were arranged for the new drivers - these came from many and varied backgrounds. Local driver 'Mad' Freddie Parsons from just down the road in Peckham was joined by a Cambridge undergraduate, Ed Bradley. There was also one formidable lady driver, 29 year old Tanya Crouch from Heathfield in East Sussex.
Quite a few speedway riders became drivers but because of the bad feeling, usually under assumed names. One driver became the first to be 'sponsored' - 'Oily' Wells from Ilford had an advertisement on his car for a North London garage.
Following the success of this first meeting the sport turned out not to be the predicted 'seven day wonder' and spread through out Britain. Early in 1955 it was estimated that over 2000 stock car tracks were under construction.
Belle Vue had opened as a zoo in 1846 and developed over the years to become a pleasure park with a boating lake, an extensive funfair, and a large hall that staged the circus, brass band contests and wrestling. The speedway stadium was one of the first to be constructed in 1928 and was one of the few that had run continuously since that date, even through the war years.
On June 16th 1954 Belle Vue staged its first meeting under the guiding hand of Johnnie Hoskins - the fifth meeting to be held in Britain. All the cars had a 'B' in front of their numbers as there was no national numbering scheme at this time.
Early in 1955 attempts were made to organise and control the sport and on January 18th a meeting took place between fourteen London promoters to try and draw up some rules and regulations.
'Up North' the Northern Stock Car Racing Company was attempting to do the same. The drivers were also coming together, a drivers association was formed in London on the 12th February and the northern drivers met in Halifax on the 14th to form the Northern Stock Car Drivers Association.
The Speedway World Championships were a long-established event, enjoying considerable prestige even though the 'world' was more 'national' in those days.
In June 1955 an ambitious promoter at Harringay announced that they were to run a 'World Championship' competition run over three weeks with four heats, two semi-finals and a final - all taking place of course at Harringay! The event was billed as the Two Thousand Guineas Championship and was open to every driver in the country. Not surprisingly well over 200 drivers applied for the 80 places in the qualifying rounds,
(the two thousand guineas apparently referred to the total prize money to be paid out - the heat winners received £25, the final winner, Mac Macdonnell, received £350)
Seeing the success of this meeting, Belle Vue's Johnnie Hoskins went ahead and organised a one race 'World Championship' on August 31st which was won by Jerry Woltowicz from Vic Ferriday and Steve Storm (the assumed name of Coventry speedway rider, Charlie New)
Two interesting names racing that night were Mr Wolf Harrison and Mr Mike Parker!
The stock car 'craze' faded during the year and a large number of tracks including Harringay closed. Only a handful of tracks persevered and so Belle Vue continued to stage the Championship.
The Final was staged like an ordinary meeting with three qualifying heats and a consolation race.
In 1958 the Stock Car Racing Board of Control was formed and it was decided that the 'World Championship' should be recognised throughout the sport and that qualifying rounds should be staged at each track and the final moved around the tracks in rotation.
Belle Vue accepted this with good grace and for this were allowed to stage the final for the next two years. Other 'premier' tracks then staged the event - 1960 Coventry, 1961 West Ham, Belle Vue once again in 1962 before Harringay once again joined them by staging the Final in 1963.
With only a few tracks staging meetings in the early 60's a large number of lower grade drivers had difficulty in getting a race booking. It was then that a new promoter appeared on the scene - Mike Parker.
He realised that their was a need for more tracks and he opened his first track at Nelson, Lancashire. Running usually on the same night as Coventry, the field was devoid of the 'star drivers' but because of this, they were full of action.
Over the next few years other MPP tracks were constructed all over the country from Crayford in Kent to Edinburgh and Newcastle. His flagship stadium became White City in Manchester and he was awarded his first World Final in 1976. This race was won by Stuart Bamforth who later went on to purchase and promote at the Belle Vue Stadium and at Odsal Stadium, Bradford.
This was the golden era of racing - lots of meetings, television coverage and companies queuing to promote their products by sponsoring a meeting, or a series of meetings.
Unfortunately whilst some tracks were profitable, other users of the stadiums were not doing quite so well and with the growth of 'out of town shopping' property developers made approaches to the owners of the stadiums with offers that sadly they could not refuse.
The closing of these stadiums, the increased cost of competitive racing and travelling, along with problems of noise and the many race stoppages due to stringent 'health and Safety' issues caused a decline in attendance and drivers prepared to race. Cheaper formula such as 'Hot Stox' were developed and of course Banger Racing in many forms still takes place.
F1 continues but now sadly with less tracks and consequently many less meetings.