Formula One Stock Cars are the original UK Stock Car formula. The cars were first seen on British soil at New Cross Stadium, South East London on Good Friday, 16th April 1954. A 26,000 sell-out crowd saw this first meeting. As many as 20,000 more were locked out of the packed venue.
The sport came to Britain via France. During 1952 and 1953 big old pre-war American cars, with V8 engines and specially built tough bumpers, were a popular attraction at the Buffalo Stadium in Paris. Loosely based on the American NASCAR cars of the period, the small oval tracks which they were to race on in France meant that contact was inevitable and, as the events were principally staged as a money-making spectator attraction, encouraged. French Stock Car drivers could push and shove their opponents! Stadium racing in France stopped after a few years, but the sport took hold in Britain, largely due to the efforts of John Bolster, a journalist, TV commentator and established member of the motor sport old-school who had seen the cars race in Paris. John played a big part in the four New Cross meetings of 1954 promoted by Digger Pugh before he, and the motot sport "establishment", lost interest in the sport.
Stock Car Racing was featured at many venues around Britain during the 1950's. Drivers were drawn from many backgrounds, even established circuit racers took to the oval tracks. Some took up a nomadic life touring the country racing at a different track each night of the week, sharing in the prosperity of the sport. In the first year, 1954, more than 35 tracks staged over 130 meetings. After three New Cross dates came Bradford (Odsal) on Wednesday 26th May 1954 with a crowd of 38,000. Plush Harringay Stadium opened for Stock Cars on 5th June and the famous Belle Vue (Hyde Road) speedway track in Manchester saw its first Stock Car meeting on 16th June. It was a period of intense rivalry between promoters who were keen to reap the financial rewards of this popular new attraction. The V8 powered monster cars made an impressive sight at small oval tracks of around a quarter of a mile in town and country. The tracks were often shared with motorcycle speedway teams or built within greyhound racing tracks. Metal posts with suspended wire fences were erected around the track to keep the cars away from the spectators, but none the less the enthusiastic crowds could get close to the action. The cars were still based around American road cars which gave them a "saloon" look. Only in later years did purpose built "specials" start to appear.
The formative years saw turbulent times for the sport. With so much money involved allegations of dodgy dealings by promoters were made. Some stadium owners withdrew their tracks in 1955 rather than be associated with underhand activity. The year 1956 saw the unification of all drivers, who were already members of regional organisations, into a national British Stock Car Drivers Association (BSCDA), a powerful union which remains to this day. In 1958 the promoters formed the Stock Car Racing Board of Control (later to be known as BriSCA) and they published a national fixture list. Significantly for the future development of the sport, the drivers and promoters struck a deal in July 1958 which ensured that only registered BSCDA drivers would be allowed to race on the tracks of the new Board of Control. Promoters, drivers and advisors worked together to get the sport organised. The World Final, first staged in 1955, became an established annual event. In 1959 the now familiar grading system was introduced. To this day the world champion has a gold roof, the points champion a silver, "star" men have a red roof, then the next best a blue, then yellow and then a white roof on the cars of the novice drivers who start at the front of the grid. Unlike other motor sports the best Stock Car drivers start at the back of the grid, guaranteeing an exciting spectacle as they charge through the field.
By the start of the 1960's, the sport was organised in a way not dissimilar to that which we see today. Control was now very much centralised around the two organisations of promoters and drivers. Politics became a feature of the sport, complete with committee meetings, demands for changes to the pay structure and threats of strike action! Even the promoters fell out amongst themselves, resulting in a major split in the Stock Car Racing establishment in 1961. But still the racing went on.
The first twenty years of Stock Car Racing saw the V8 powered cars race at venues all around Britain. The sports popularity ebbed and flowed. In the south the cars were featured at tracks such as Harringay, West Ham, Walthamstow, New Cross, Crayford, Lydden, Staines, Aldershot, Swindon, Ringwood, Eastbourne, Brafield (Northampton), Brands Hatch, Bristol, Rayleigh, Oxford and Reading. During the period, some of the old "dirt" tracks were tarmaced, with Ringwood, Brafield and Harringay leading the way in the early 1960's. Further north, Belle Vue, White City Manchester, Coventry, Long Eaton, Nelson, Rochdale, Bradford, Sheffield, Aycliffe and Leicester were just some of the tracks to stage racing, as well as the "circuits" of Cadwell Park and Snetterton. The cars carried the prefix of Senior or Formula One from the early 60's to distiguish them from the other forms of oval motor sport which had started.
The 1970's are recognised by many fans as the golden age for Formula One Stock Car Racing. Crowds travelled long distances to follow their favourite drivers. Fan clubs were common. Drivers reached celebrity status. Hundreds of drivers took part watched by thousands of spectators. The sport was riding the crest of a popular wave. In 1974 the big cars had two meetings at the famous Wembley Stadium. In 1975 some drivers broke away from the BSCDA/BriSCA alliance to form a new organistion, SCOTA, for drivers who wanted to have more meetings in the south of England on non-BriSCA tracks. In 1977 SCOTA formed an alliance with the Dutch NACO organisation leading to truly European competition. SCOTA even held their 1977 World Final at the Baarlo track in The Netherlands. In 1978 BriSCA took over the partnership with NACO. The sport was on a roll and fans could even follow the fortunes of their favourite drivers in the Daily Mirror.
By the start of the 1980's, BriSCA Formula One Stock Cars were well established in the Midlands and North of England. Most of the southern tracks had gone and driver interest in SCOTA had dropped away, gone was the unlimited V8 from the south. The best Formula One action was to be seen on the tracks around the large towns and cities in the north west and the centre of the country. Tracks such as Belle Vue, Coventry, Bradford, Long Eaton and Northampton became the cornerstone of the BriSCA empire. However, towards the end of the decade the sport lost its way somewhat. The great Belle Vue track, a true showcase for the sport, was lost to developers in 1987. A lot of the big name "celebrity" drivers retired. And whereas cars had been fairly basic self-built machines up to now, some drivers started to spend lots of money on race winners which ultimately squeezed out the hobby driver. Fans started to lose interest. Drivers became reluctant to use their cars in contact and spectator attendance dropped. This trend continued through the early 1990's.
And so to the sport today. Things have moved on. Drivers and fans are returning to the sport. It has clearly changed from "bang-and-crash" to "speed-and-nudge", but the occasional roll-over and big hit still captivate the casual spectator. The cars which started out as souped-up American saloons have developed into one of the most advanced motor racing machines anywhere. The sport is high tech. Car presentation is second to none with professional sign written bodywork. Speeds are high. Car weight has dropped from two tons in 1954 to 1,400 kilograms today. The current weight limit is strictly enforced with track side scales used at every meeting. Track surfaces are still some shale and some tarmac. Many drivers use the same car on both surfaces, but those with greater resources have two cars, one for shale and one for tarmac. The sport is, once more, becoming a national formula. The number of meetings in a year have been reduced to help spread thin resources more fully. In 1996 Formula One Stock Cars, under the BriSCA banner, raced at Wimbledon Stadium for the first time, putting an end to a 35 year old promoters split. In 1999 the Belle Vue name appeared on the fixture list once more, this time with racing taking place at the Greyhound Stadium. In the first year of the 21st century, Formula One Stock Cars raced on the shale of Coventry, Belle Vue, Swindon, Sheffield, Stoke, Skegness and Kings Lynn and on the tarmac of Wimbledon, Northampton, Hednesford, Birmingham, Arena Essex, Buxton and Swaffham. A few drivers even got to race indoors at the Birmingham NEC staged Autosport Show. The drivers who take part in Formula One Stock Car Racing are serious about their racing. Some are semi-professional. Lots of young drivers take part, many the sons of the "pioneer" drivers of the early days. Sponsorship is now mandatory, unless the driver is prepared to dig deep into his own pocket or cruise around the track in last place. Meetings are still presented by the partnership of promoters (BriSCA) and drivers (BSCDA) and conflict is still a major feature of their fragile alliance. The two organisations have a history of discord since the birth of the sport, and it would be reasonable to predict that this will continue. But at the end of the day, somehow, the show goes on. And what a superb show it is!
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