A lot has been said about Long Marston Airfield's
chequered history as a motor sporting venue. Some good, some bad.
But how many drag racing fans know that the airfield was first
used for two lane quarter mile sprinting in the late fifties (1959)
long before drag racing had found its way to England in the years
Organised by the Cheltenham Motor Club, officials
ran there events on exactly the same runway and in the same direction
as today's present layout but with old wooden army World War Two
barges for crowd protection. Now with this in mind the question
has to be asked, is Long Marston Airfield England's first motorsporting
The historian's say yes. The late Allan Herridge
would probably have said yes too. In 1959 the young hot rodder,
driving what probably amounted to being the country's first dragster,
a V8 Chrysler front engined rail, went to the Cheltenham Sprint
in an effort to try and become the Fastest Timed Driver of the
Years later Long Marston played host to motorcycle
road racing, stage rallying and rallycross. Even Grass Track Jalopy
Racing, as it was known then, held oval races on land adjacent
to the airfield's control tower which today forms part of the
The first true commercial drag race meet took
place in September 1972, and was run as a round of the Castrol/RAC
Drag Racing Championships in conjunction with the National Drag
Racing Club and Top Fuel racer Clive Skilton. That first event,
run on today's Sunday Market runway, was a rough and sometimes
torturous affair, especially for the bike riders who, at the second
event in 1974, declared the surface unusable even though Clive
Skilton ran 208 mph in 7.23 seconds in his ex-Kurl & Olson
Top Fuel car.
A further event for the Castrol Championship was
staged in June 1974, but after a disastrous meeting held on a
crumbling surface all indications for the future of the sport
at the Midlands venue looked bleak until the local enthusiasts
One year old, members of the Midland Drag Racing
Association proved to the land owner that there was indeed a future
for the sport and that they were the ones to carry this forward.
In September 1974, the MDRA put on an eighth mile street meet
for club members. This time MDRA officials decided to use the
original fifties runway, but in the reverse direction. So the
startline now becomes today's shutdown area. Fifty cars and motorcycles
turned up that day with officials calling the meet a success.
After much debate in 1975, drag racing continued
at the track, with one event staged for the benefit of local television
producers ATV. Billed as the Castrol Dragster Challenge the event,
for invited racers, was run in the afternoon and was a combined
event with the stars of the Rallycross world, who were also given
their own television show by ATV.
Although video recorders were still very much
in their infancy ATV, soon to become Central TV, decided before
copies could be made, to wipe the tapes clean. As far as I know
only the sound track remains on audio and is the exclusive property
of the writer of this article.
After several years under the control of the Midland's
racers and the rapidly decreasing venues for the sport, as a prelude
to their 10th anniversary year the National Drag Racing Club announced
that negotiations between club officials and the owners of the
airfield had been finalised to turn the existing eighth mile racing
strip into a purpose built raceway.
With freshly laid tarmac, Armco barriers and improved
facilities for spectators, the runway's official opening was conducted
in a special champagne burnout by Top Fuel star Dennis Priddle
who later in the event posted the tracks first 200 mph run.
For a further ten year the raceway staged several
notable international and national events. The most notable being
the Transatlantic Drag Bike Races, American Car Nationals and
the Bulldog Bash, all helping to put Long Marston Raceway on the
international map of world drag racing.
Further developments continued in 1989 with the
laying of a new 66 ft. wide track built to NHRA specifications
and a change of name to Avon Park Raceway. Blacktop Promotions
were the controlling organisers of drag racing leaving the newly
formed National Drag racing Association and the British Drag Racing
Association to organise the events. A new state-of-the-art Chrondek
Timing System was installed, new grandstand's were erected and
new Pro and Sportsman pits were re-laid. Approved by the NHRA's
Carl Olson and Bernie Partridge, Avon Park attracted some big
names in the sport together with several major European nitro
and drag bike championships.
With controlling promoters Blacktop forced into
liquidation midway through the 1990 season and the BNDRA entering
into there own championship series at Avon park and North Weald
in the proceeding years along with the APIRA, picking up the pieces
in 1994 were the Goodguys UK, promoters of VW and drag racing
shows. A fresh incentive in new American style razzamatazz events
saw crowds flooding back with the Volksfest and the popular Sportsman
Shootouts finding new homes at Avon Park.
The Bulldog Bash continued to attract the big
name bands and record crowds, but further development was just
around the corner with the construction of a nine meter high noise
wall. The entire pit complex was also moved to the south side
of the raceway at the request of the local council. New sound
insulation banks and instant top end scoreboards for the display
of elapsed times and terminal speeds were later added.
With the passing of the Goodguys, new and existing
organisers Obsession Motorsports took up the promoting challenge
with the 1997 Summer Slam event - the forerunner to today's Super
Series. The rest, as they say, is history.
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