A BRIEF LOOK AT LONG MARSTON AIRFIELDS HISTORY & MOTORSPORTS HERITAGE
'HOME OF SPORTSMAN DRAG RACING'
Photo courtesy of JWR Archive.
Long before the Warwickshire countryside echoed to the sounds of rumbling supercharged racing engines, Long Marston Airfield came into its own as a satellite wartime RAF station in 1941.
Constructed by John Laing & Son in 1940 the airfield layout saw the construction of three tarmac runways laid out in the standard 'A' configuration. This was later changed when Runway Two (today's home to the countries second permanent drag strip Shakespeare County Raceway), was extended to meet the requirements the RAF bombers demanded. Three hangers and billets were also erected to house over a 1000 permanent staff and trainee air crews stationed just across the road yards from the airfield's main entrance.
In the proceeding years, units from the RAF's Group of Ferry Command's were also stationed on the airfield providing training flights and missions to and from Gibraltar and the Middle East. But it was in the summer of 1942 when the big bombers started to pound the runways. Legendary aircraft such as Wellingtons, Beauforts, Hudsons and the American built Marylands all flew missions from the Warwickshire airfield.
In 1945, stationed personnel began to disband as the airfield began winding down its operations under instructions from the Air Ministry. Training flights were still operational but in very frequent circumstances. With the last units gone, the airfield ceased operations in the summer before being placed in the hands of No 8 Maintenance Group from nearby Little Rissington. For months, the runways fell silent. The only memory left were the wartime buildings, bunkers and a large collection of redundant and dismantled Wellingtons lining the main runway.
As the years rolled by, the airfield was placed under a Care and Maintenance Order by the Air Ministry and was subsequently refurbished for training purposes as young eager National Service pilots jammed the skies eager to please. Sadly, the training flights only lasted until 1954 after another Order was issued from the Air Ministry calling time on RAF Long Marston.
Photo courtesy of Brian Sparrow/Time Travel DVD.
Soon after the airfield was acquired back by the original land owner several locally based motorsport clubs began looking for alternative venues in the late fifties to host their events. The Evesham Auto Club held several very successful two lane quarter mile sprints on the very same runway and direction as today's drag racing layout. In fact, many consider the 1959 sprint events, together with the appearance of Britain's first ever dragster built by Allan Herridge, to have been the countries first quarter mile drag strip!
Long Marston also played host to motorcycle road racing using parts of the airfield's perimeter roads and runways giving the riders a challenging circuit with its long straights and tight corners. The airfield also was used for bike sprinting organised by the National Sprint Association, Rallycross and Rally Sprint races televised by the local ATV Midlands broadcaster, and Jalopy Racing (a poor man's form of Banger/Autocross oval racing on grass). Long Marston was also home to several local gliding and parachuting clubs. However, it was much later in the seventies when drag racing properly got started at Long Marston.
Organised by the touring National Drag Racing Club the first event, held on Sunday September 9th 1973 was the fifth and penultimate qualifying round for the Castrol RAC National Drag Racing Championship. With the quarter mile strip laid out on the shorter of the three runway's racing was a little unpredictable as over a 100 racers struggled to find any grip on the far from ideal bumpy surface. However, not to go unnoticed Clive Skilton took his Castrol GTX dragster to over 208 mph in just 7.23 seconds to beat Dennis Priddle in the opposing lane.
Photo courtesy of JWR Archive
In June 1974 a second quarter mile event was held but with only 80 entries received, and most of the bike competitors refusing to ride due to the deterioration of the surface, put an end to racing at Long Martson but only for a short time! Three months later the newly formed Midland Drag Racing Association held an eighth mile race on the shorter course on Saturday 1st September.
With an admission price of £1.75 per car over 50 vehicles, some of which were driven straight off the street, raced that day for trophies and a mention in the clubs monthly newsletter Fire Up. There was no timing equipment or starting tree. Just a flag starter, and an observer at the end of the track to say who'd won. Real grass roots stuff!
Over the proceeding years, drag racing was seen to be the only motorsport taking place on the airfield except for the odd motorcycle road race. In 1979, an agreement was set in place by the land owners and the NDRC to tarmac a quarter mile section of the longest runway ready for a return of quarter mile drag racing to Long Marston Airfield the following year.