The British Brooklands circuit was the first purpose-built motorsport venue in the world. Read here the story about this motor racing monument of the past.
The prior history of the Brooklands circuit
In the begin of the 20th century car races where usual held on public roads. Because the British law forbid speed contest on public roads the entrepreneur Hugh F. Locke-King came to the idea to build a permanent motor racing venue.
In 1907 near the village of Weybridge, South West from London, this venue was opened. It was the first ever purpose-built race track in the world and the name was Brooklands. In 1908 an aerodrome was opened inside the circuit which was the first one in Britain. Because of the great testing facilities manufacturers from engines and planes build a factories near the site.
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The layout of the Brooklands circuit
The race track contained a kind of oval with two high banked corners, Members Banking and Byfleet Banking, with a length of 4.453 km (2.767 Miles). The driving direction was anti clockwise.
Inside the oval was a separated Start/Finish straight and a section with different corners, the Campbell Circuit, which could be combined with Members Banking. There was also a so called Test Hill. Compare to the Steilstrecke at the Nürburgring, this part was specially constructed for testing.
To drive on the banking was a story on its own. There where special rules about position and overtaking. You had to overtake on the right and only the fastest cars where allowed to drive at the top of the banking. There have been many hard feelings when someone drove at the top with less speed.
Members Banking with on the left the connection with the Start/Finish straight.
In the early Twenties not much people could permit a car, and certainly not a Bentley or a Bugatti. That made the Brooklands circuit an institute for the aristocrats.
Also the entrance fee was almost a week wage for the average worker, which made motor racing unreachable for normal people. And that was exactly what the managers of the Brooklands circuit wanted. Their motto: “The right crowd and no crowding”.
The end of the Brooklands circuit
During the First World War, 1914-1918, no races where organized. The ground was requisitioned and used for the production and testing of military planes. After the war the surface was damaged and used to be repaired. Motor racing continued in 1920, the beginning of the golden decade of the Brooklands circuit.
In 1926 the first ever British Grand Prix was held at Brooklands. A year later again a Grand Prix at the Brooklands circuit. But when in September 1939 Word War Two broke out motor racing stopped again.
Because of the many aircraft factories near the circuit, who had to produce only military planes now, the whole site was camouflaged. Therefore they mad holes in the surface to plant trees. After the Second World War the race track was badly damaged and never opened again.
In 1946 the whole ground was sold to the company Vickers-Armstrongs who had already an aircraft factory near the circuit. To make the takeoff and landing easier for the test pilots they demolished parts of the banking 1951. A half century later the circuit ruin get the status of a National Monument to prevent further destruction.
The old Campbell Circuit with on the right the new Mercedes Test Track.
The Brooklands circuit today
In 2004 the site was bought by Mercedes-Benz. They overhauled the neglected and overgrown motorsport monument and build a Conference Centre and a test track on the site of the aerodrome. A part of the test track runs parallel to the remains of the old Campbell Circuit.
More than a century after the opening, the remains of the worlds first purpose-built motorsport venue are still there. Unfortunately some parts of the old banking are demolished and not all the remained sections are open for public.
The best thing to do for nostalgic people is to visit the Brooklands Circuit Museum. Except that you can admire a collection of old racing cars and airplanes, you can also walk over the old Members Banking which is a part of the museum now.
© Text & Photos: Herman Liesemeijer