Friday 16th April 1954
The first stock car race in Great Britain took place in London at New Cross Stadium, on Good Friday. A 26,000 sell-out crowd saw this first meeting. As many as 20,000 more were locked out of the packed venue. The sport came to Britain via France. During 1952 and 1953 big old pre-war American cars, with V8 engines and specially built tough bumpers, were a popular attraction at the Buffalo Stadium in Paris. Loosely based on the American NASCAR cars of the period, the small oval tracks which they were to race on in France meant that contact was inevitable and, as the events were principally staged as a money-making spectator attraction, encouraged. French Stock Car drivers could push and shove their opponents! Stadium racing in France stopped after a few years, but the sport took hold in Britain, largely due to the efforts of John Bolster, a journalist, TV commentator and established member of the motor sport old-school who had seen the cars race in Paris. John played a big part in the four New Cross meetings of 1954 promoted by Digger Pugh before he, and the motor sport “establishment”, lost interest in the sport. Stock Car Racing was featured at many venues around Britain during the 1950s. Drivers were drawn from many backgrounds, even established circuit racers took to the oval tracks. Some took up a nomadic life touring the country racing at a different track each night of the week, sharing in the prosperity of the sport. In the first year, 1954, more than 35 tracks staged over 130 meetings. After three New Cross dates came Bradford (Odsal) on Wednesday 26th May 1954 with a crowd of 38,000. Plush Harringay Stadium opened for Stock Cars on 5th June and the famous Belle Vue (Hyde Road) speedway track in Manchester saw its first Stock Car meeting on 16th June. It was a period of intense rivalry between promoters who were keen to reap the financial rewards of this popular new attraction. The V8 powered monster cars made an impressive sight at small oval tracks of around a quarter of a mile in town and country. The tracks were often shared with motorcycle speedway teams or built within greyhound racing tracks. Metal posts with suspended wire fences were erected around the track to keep the cars away from the spectators, but none the less the enthusiastic crowds could get close to the action. The cars were still based around American road cars which gave them a “saloon” look. Only in later years did purpose built “specials” start to appear.