Rev up your weekend at Norfolk’s racing tracks, but expect to need ‘a good wash’ when you get home
- Credit: Archant
How do you prefer to spend a traditional Norfolk Sunday afternoon? A visit to Holkham Hall, a stroll around Whitlingham Lake, or perhaps promenading along Cromer seafront with a well-dressed crab?
Such civilized pursuits were not for my family back in the late seventies and early eighties, as we preferred the mechanised, high-octane carnage of stock car racing, as did many others during what is now seen as the golden age of oval track racing.
Norfolk has three main circuits: Swaffham, Great Yarmouth, and King's Lynn.
I've still yet to attend an event at the latter, meaning I've not witnessed the thrilling delights of Robin Reliant racing, but back in the day I was taken to any number of meets at Swaffham and Yarmouth.
There were a few, smaller tracks around, such as at Hevingham, a dustbowl track with facilities best described as 'basic'; a tiny track at Hempnall, barely able to accommodate a dozen cars; and an eccentric circuit in Bungay seemingly at the bottom of a chalk pit, complete with a chicane at one end.
Yarmouth, as part of the nationwide Spedeworth concern, hosted the more prestigious events and it was here you could watch the Hot Rods, the more glamorous high-powered formula, and follow the rivalry between Barry Lee, George Polley, Mick Collard, and King's Lynn's very own future Formula One hero, Martin Brundle.
These were the days when hot rod racing made occasional appearances on national television courtesy of ITV's World of Sport programme, and the hot rod world championship final, hosted at either Wisbech or Ipswich, formed a regular fixture in the TV sporting calendar.
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Once World of Sport left our screens in the mid-Eighties, Anglia TV carried the flag for a wheel with its Wheels show, with one memorable edition featuring the true sport of kings, caravan banger racing.
Yarmouth also offered a great range of formulae, such as stock rods, ministox, and superstox, and I can still recall the roar of the engines hitting my stomach as these exotic motors powered past while in the far distance, helicopters took off for the North Sea oil rigs.
The skill and ingenuity in constructing and racing such cars were rather lost on me as a kid, however, as I was more interested in watching Austin Cambridges and Triumph Heralds smashing into each other; I was a banger fan through and through.
So it was that we settled on Swaffham for our fortnightly fix of mayhem, helped by the meetings being held on a Sunday afternoon rather than a Sunday evening, and it took a few less hours to escape the car park than at Yarmouth.
Not that this stopped more hardcore racing fanatics however, who'd leave the Swaffham meets early and drive across the county to make it in time for the Yarmouth meeting later that evening.
Swaffham didn't have the hot rod stars of Yarmouth, instead a steady diet of bangers, saloon stock cars, and hot rods, with the occasional appearance of a curious formula known as GP midgets, little cars that looked like something James Bond might knock together if he were ever locked by the villain in a garage.
The Swaffham track opened in 1975, thirty-five years after Yarmouth made its bow, the brainchild of Bernie Mayes and his daughter Colleen.
For several years, the track was surrounded by a sold dirt bank beyond which lay a ditch, often a final resting place for a Morris Oxford with ideas above its station.
The circuit adopted a more professional look in the early Eighties, with the introduction of the more customary steel posts and fencing.
The action remained as intense as ever, though there remained no escape from the grime thrown up from the track, leading to spectators needing a good wash when they got home!
Facilities were again rather rudimentary - the best thing you could say about the toilets back them were they were a long way from the track and therefore the spectators - though there was a stall where you could buy professionally taken photograph of amusing pile-ups from past meetings.
We often hear from fans of speedway, lamenting the closure of The Firs, Norwich's only motorsport venue. I often feel it a shame that Norwich doesn't have a place for the old-style excitement of stock car racing, with its dirt, noise, and down-at-heel glamour, and that the sport remains absent from our TV screens, despite the vast increase in channels.
Surely it isn't beyond imagining that this traditional East Anglian sport could return to either television or the Fine City?