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Crash, bang, wallop... it’s just another day at Grimley
11:19am Monday 20th August 2012 in Mike Pryce
IT’S a venue that Lewis Hamilton has so far managed to steer well clear of, which is surprising since it’s probably Worcestershire’s only permanent motorsport circuit, not counting a few farmers’ fields or old aerodromes. But should the McLaren ace ever venture anywhere near Grimley Raceway he will be assured of a very warm welcome – not to mention a very rough ride.
Because that’s just what the drivers who charge around the old gravel pit oval alongside the main Worcester to Holt Heath road do.
They bash, crash and buffet the opposition out of the way – and they’ve been at it for 50 years, so their skill is pretty sharp by now.
In 2012, the location better known as Grimley Stock Car Track celebrates its half century and a full programme of races is being spread across the summer, culminating in a champion track decider on Sunday, October 21, when the various classes will be decided and the meeting will close with a Grimley Unlimited Open.
Get ready for the starting gun, it should be fun.
A five-minute chat with Andy Holford, who first drove at Grimley on his 17th birthday and is now 44, set the scene: “When you’re out there you try to kill everyone else on the track, but as soon as the race finishes you all get together in the pits and help each other put their cars back together – just so you can do it all again.”
“Kill”, of course, was not meant to be taken literally and despite the high impact of the sport, serious injuries are thankfully rare.
“In all my years racing at Grimley, the air ambulance has been called a few times,” said Andy. “But it’s always just been precautionary and those drivers who have been airlifted away have been found to have only relatively minor injuries. The sport has strict safety standards and they work.”
While collisions have knocked him out a few times, he’s never so much as broken a bone, despite some fairly dramatic shunts.
Stock car racing – which can probably be described as grass roots motor sport without the grass – has its own roots in Prohibition America, when moonshiners modified their cars to outrun police on narrow, winding country roads.
It wasn’t long before a rough and ready track sport emerged. Sort of bumper cars at full throttle and quite unlike anything the more mainstream motorsport circles had seen. It was all very American.
Bash, crash and pretty loud.
It arrived in England in 1954 when the very first meeting on British soil took place at New Cross Stadium, London, on Good Friday, April 16. It caused a sensation and was an early slice of the rock ’n’ roll culture we were importing from the USA.
Understandably, things took a little time to reach Worcestershire.
Eight years in fact, when in 1962 the newly formed Grimley Stock Car Club built an oval track on the former site of gravel extraction north of Hallow on the A443, known locally as “Grimley Gravel Pits”.
An oval dirt track was marked out using RSJ girders and steel cables to provide a safety fence and race meetings were held mainly on bank holidays featuring contact races using largely unmodified saloon cars.
As popularity for the sport increased, cars were strengthened and some purpose built ‘stock cars’ appeared. This led to three classes being formed: bangers, under- 1600cc and over-1600cc stock cars.
Andy Holford’s father Mike was an early stalwart of the Grimley track and it was only natural his son climbed into the driver’s seat as soon as he could.
“We weren’t allowed to race until we were 17 and I was there on my 17th birthday,” he said. “How did I do? I honestly can’t remember.
During the 1970s, Grimley became even more popular, with driver numbers reaching more than 100 in the banger class alone and spectators struggling to find a good viewing point. Despite dust clouds from the dry track, the racing was fierce until the water bowser was called in and turned the circuit into a muddy ice rink, much to the amusement of the watching crowds.
The 1980s saw the track improved with the erection of the Armco motorway barrier-type fence and the removal of the ‘tumps’ which carried electricity pylons across the track, allowing better viewing.
Renamed Grimley Raceway, the Formula 1 stock cars were phased out and the Formula 2 specification upgraded to a more national standard. A new ‘ministox’ formula was added, based on the Mini but considerably reinforced. They formed a cheap option for 10 to 16- year-olds to get into motorsport and were also run as an adult category.
Probably the greatest improvement to Grimley Raceway came in the 1990s, when the track was resurfaced with tarmac. The problems with dust were resolved, the racing faster, and wet days no longer a mud bath. Further categories were introduced, including non-contact classes for the first time and, as short circuit racing grew nationally, standard construction rules were adopted, allowing drivers from other clubs to compete.
Today, Grimley Raceway is recognised nationally, attracting drivers from all over the country in more than 10 formulas. But the basics of the sport remain the same.
Most of the cars are home-built, there are no factory teams and everyone mucks in to help their mates out and get them to the start line for the next race.
“Do you know, I still run the stock car I originally built back in 1988,” said Andy. “We take it home, stick it back together and send it out again.”
A competitive approach of which Mr Hamilton would be proud.