2-3 December: This Weekend in Motor Sport History

Discover the momentous motor sports events that took place during this weekend in history …….

~2 December~

1899: British racing legend John R. Cobb, was born. He set a series of lap records at the famous Brooklands track, including an unbroken record of 143.44 mph in 1935 as well as breaking the land speed record on three occasions. Driving a Railton he set a new land speed record in 1938 of 350.194 mph, breaking the 345.489 mph record set by George Eyston two weeks earlier. Eyston, driving a Thunderbolt, regained the land speed title later that year. Cobb returned to Bonneville to snatch the title from Eyston for good, raising the record to 369.741 mph (595.04 km/h). This record stood until 1947, when Cobb himself returned to Utah in another Railton and set a new record of 394.196 mph (634.40 km/h). Cobb was killed at the age of 52 while trying to set a new water-speed record on Loch Ness in Scotland. His land-speed record stood until 1963, when Craig Breedlove, driving a jet-propelled vehicle.

1916: The Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Board Speedway staged its first event, a 112.5 mile race was won by Louis Chevrolet driving a Frontenac. Hughie Hughes was sadly killed during the race. Motorsport was extremely dangerous in the days of the board tracks, but the inaugural race at Uniontown was an especially bloody event, even for the standards of the day. Two were killed (a driver and his riding mechanic) during practice a few days prior, and five (two spectators and three participants) died during the race.

1962: Peter Arundell won a one-car “race” at Monza, Italy. Journalist Richard von Frankenberg had accused Lotus of using an illegal

engine in Arundell’s car in a race there a few months earlier. He challenged them to match their race speed in an “inspected, standard” Lotus 22. Arundell bested his race average by 2.5 mph.

1997: Ken Tyrrell announced that he had sold his eponymous team to British American Racing. The outfit, which entered the championship for the first time in 1968, won three world championships with Jackie Stewart in the 1960s and 1970s, but had not won a race since 1984. “This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to take,” Tyrrell said. “I believe it is the right one. The cost to compete in F1 has escalated dramatically and the Tyrrell racing organisation is not satisfied with being relegated to the back of the grid. Our competitive spirit is too high.”

2001: Bruce Halford died in Devon, aged 70. He competed in nine F1 races between 1956 and 1960 but only managed to finish one – the German Grand Prix in 1957.

~3 December~

1936: Just three days after the fire at the Crystal Palace, work began on a Grand Prix track with a new “Panamac” non-skid surface. Called a “miniature Nürburgring” by the British motor press, the twisty circuit was completed in 5 months. 20 cars entered the first London Grand Prix on 17 July 1937, a race eventually won by Prince Bira in his ERA R2B Romulus at an average speed of 56.5 mph (90.9 km/h). Later that year, during the International Imperial Trophy meeting also won by Bira, the BBC broadcast the first ever televised

motor racing. With the outbreak of World War II, the park was taken over by the Ministry of Defence, and it would not be until 1953 that race meetings could take place again. The circuit had been reduced in length to 1.39 miles (2.2 km), bypassing the loop past the lake, and pressure from the local residents led to an injunction which reduced motor sport events in the park to only five days per year. A variety of races took place, including sports cars, Formula Three, the London Trophy for Formula Two, and non-championship Formula One races. Average speeds continued to rise over the years, with the first 100 mph (161 km/h) lap average set in 1970 by that year’s Formula One world champion, Jochen Rindt. Also in 1970, the injunction limiting race days expired and racing was increased to 14 days a year. However, driver safety was coming into focus in the early seventies and it became clear that racing around a park at 100 mph (161 km/h) was not safe. Expensive improvements were undertaken, but it was not enough to save the circuit. The last International meeting was in May 1972, the final lap record going to Mike Hailwood at an average speed of 103.39 mph (166.39 km/h). The final meeting was held on 23 September 1972, but club events still continued until the circuit’s final closure in 1974. The circuit’s location within Greater London made it a popular venue for both film and television settings, The Italian Job filmed on the startline at Crystal Palace for the scene showing initial testing of the Mini Cooper getaway cars and in the paddock area for the scene where a security van is “blown-up”. The Crystal Palace transmitter tower can be seen in the background of this scene. The circuit was also used in Ron Howard’s film Rush, to recreate the last corner accident between James Hunt and Dave Morgan, and for parts of the UFO (TV series) episode The Responsibility Seat. Although the circuit no longer exists (as an actual racing circuit), it can be driven virtually in the Grand Prix Legends historical motor racing computer simulation game, for which it was recreated in detail. It was later converted to several other racing simulation programs, including the popular rFactor. The circuit was used for the prologue time trial of the Tour of Britain cycle race on 9 September 2007, and is used regularly for summer road race league events, normally held on Tuesday evenings.

1964: Bobby Marshman (28) died from burns suffered a week earlier in a testing crash in Phoenix Arizona. At Indy earlier that year, Bobby in the Pure Firebird Lotus held the one and four lap record, for a short time, on the first day of qualifying until Jim Clark put him in the middle of the front row for the start. By the fifth lap, Bobby had passed Clark for the lead and was running easily in front until the 38th lap when the Lotus bottomed out and knocked the drain plug out of the gearbox. Bad luck dogged Bobby and the Lotus for the rest of the year. Though he never won a USAC Championship race he was known as a definite threat every time out.

1990: Wendell Scott (69), the first African-American NASCAR racer, died of spinal cancer. On December 1, 1963, he won a Grand

National Series race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, becoming the first black driver to win a race at NASCAR’s premier level. Scott’s career was repeatedly affected by racial prejudice and problems with top-level NASCAR officials. However, his determined struggle as an underdog won him thousands of white fans and many friends and admirers among his fellow racers. He was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

1997: It was announced Bernie Ecclestone had struck a deal with Hollywood film star Sylvester Stallone that would lead to the first US-based grand prix for almost a decade. “Stallone will film shots of practice sessions and the race itself, which will then be incorporated into film he is making based on F1,” a spokesman said. It was planned to stage the race in 1999 in Las Vegas. In the event the deal failed and it wasn’t until 2000 that a US Grand Prix was held. Writing in the Times, Kevin Eason said: “The plan seemed to be working well and Stallone had become a fixture around the Formula One paddock as he carried out his deep research – or at least as he strode around the paddock a lot with his entourage of burly chums, who all looked like extras from Goodfellas. Trouble was that Sly, as we lovingly came to know him, eventually became such a nuisance that his celebrity appeal waned quite dramatically and it was not long before mechanics did not even look up when he burst into their garages. The fact that Sly also looked about as much like a Formula One driver as Les Dawson and that Americans in the sport are as common as a train arriving on time seemed mere detail. But Bernie, not a man noted for his artistic temperament, had become distinctly nervous about the whole business and politely told Sly that Formula One was not interested in becoming a film star. Not with him, anyway.”

1999: The Ferrari team drivers finished 1-2, with Michael Schumacher leading Rubens Barrichello, in a charity go-kart race in Koln, Germany – featuring past and present racing stars. The event raised $130,000 for the UNESCO “Children in Need” program.

2007: Lewis Hamilton was nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. But just like his world championship attempt he finished second – to boxer Joe Calzaghe.

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