Brooklands: A Casualty of War

I’m over in England with a few days to kill leading up to the Goodwood Revival this coming weekend. By way of tube and train, I made my way out to Weybridge in Surrey yesterday and found myself walked along hallowed ground, on the ghost of speed herself. Opened in the summer of 1907, Brooklands racing circuit was the very first purpose-built, high speed race course in the entire world. The very first track created with banked turns for flat-out speed, featuring 2.75 miles of concrete track surface, 100 feet wide and 30 foot tall banking in some places. And this was all built two years before the gravel and tar oval that would become known as Indy over in America. The history and pioneering achievements of speed at this iconic British track can’t be summed up in a paragraph or two, and make no mistake, it was a deadly history as well, claiming 17 lives in her 32 years of active racing. In 1934, racer John Cobb set the track speed record at 143.4 miles per hour.

The Brooklands legacy of flat out speed came to an end when racing was halted during WWII as Hawker and Vickers aircraft factories began production on the grounds. Despite some ingenious camouflage, the facilities were bombed by the Germans a number of times during the war, leaving the circuit and grounds in poor condition. In 1946, Brooklands was sold to Vickers for expansion of their aircraft manufacturing and much of the original track was destroyed. Here’s a film reel from January of 1946 when it all came to a permanent end: