It always fascinates me how some venues endure so long in the memory, even without much tangible motoring legacy, while others are all too soon forgotten. Some entire regions, in fact, have had their huge roles in English motor sport history diminished to the point of non-existence.
For me, prime of these in the UK is Merseyside. The British Grand Prix was held at Aintree racecourse five times, of course, and etched its place in history by hosting some of the most memorably patriotic results, such as Moss winning there in 1955 and then the maestro and Brooks taking the English-built Vanwall to a win there in 1957. Yet the full Grand Prix circuit was only operational for a decade, billowing crowds of 150,000 soon just a memory and remodelling of the race track sadly wiping out much of the old circuit.
But Merseyside was about far more than the Aintree Grands Prix. In the earliest days of the 20th Century, Southport was the venue for street races and speed trials, the 1903 causing a stir when SF Edge entered attractive Napier employee Dorothy Levitt and, ye gads, the filly – not only a woman, but one who worked for a living! – only went and won her class in the Gladiator.
Neither should we forget that RAF Woodvale was just down the road. That’s another name that is probably largely forgotten, but in 1965, this site was one those few – after Blackbushe of course – to pioneer drag racing in the UK.
After Aintree, though, the jewel in the region’s crown is Southport Beach, the stretch of wide golden sands that, with kink, runs seven miles from Formby to Southport. Southport Motor Club started racing on them in 1926 (great Pathé archive here) and it was regarded with nearly the same reverence as Brooklands.
The crowning glory for Southport Beach came 90 years ago, however, when, on 16 March 1926 Henry Segrave – while mostly airborne according to contemporary reports – piloted his V12 Sunbeam Tiger ‘Ladybird’ from Ainsdale to Southport at a fraction over 152mph to set a new Land Speed Record. It didn’t last long before Parry-Thomas bettered in Babs, little more than a month in fact, but the beauty of records is that even after they are bettered, the fact that they were set remains immortal.
A decade ago there was a small celebration to mark the 80th anniversary of the record, but this year local enthusiasts are really going to town. A festival organised by the indefatigable Aintree Circuit Club will feature a re-enactment with the very car in which Segrave set that benchmark, now owned by tycoon VJ Mallya. It will be the centrepiece of what is expected to be the biggest gathering of Sunbeams for half a century.
Other activities on 16 and 19 March include displays, parades a concours and demos both on the sands and in the town, all free for the public to attend, so there are no excuses. And there are also plenty of opportunities to bring along a classic or help out.
It’s true that for every Pendine and Daytona Beach and Lake Eyre, there is a Southport and it is equally true that plenty of you by now will be sagely nodding your heads and thinking that, actually, you are very well aware of Southport and its place in motoring history and you don’t need some young whippersnapper, and a bloody southerner at that, telling you about it. Next month: how to suck eggs for Grandmothers part 2.
However, it is precisely events such as this re-enactment and, in particular, the attendance and subsequent coverage it gets that ensures that these things, places and achievements are never forgotten.
So, help to keep the flame alive by going along in a couple of weeks’ time. Hope to see you there.