This weekend (10-11 September 2011) the Aston Martin Owners’ Club holds a landmark meeting at Snetterton.
The club has been established for 75 years and held the very first meeting at Snetterton in 1951, making it 60 years since racing engines were first heard at the Norfolk circuit. Motorsport artist and circuit historian Andrew Kitson guides us through the years:
Motor racing was a popular pastime in the immediate post-war period, with an abundance of circuits made up from the access roads of airfields that were now surplus to requirements. The Eastern Counties Motor Club (ECMC) originally used Fersfield for racing activities but after they could no longer use this facility, they started looking for another airfield where they could organise race meetings. ECMC members Oliver Sear and John Wyatt were the driving force and approached Fred Riches, owner of farmland at Snetterton, just 7 miles away. Snetterton Heath had been home to the US Army 8th Airforce during the war.
Oliver Sear was also a member of the Aston Martin Owners Club and he invited the club to organise the first meeting. The airfield perimeter road made a fast and flowing 2.7 mile circuit and on October 27th 1951 racing started. The president of AMOC, Dudley Coram, was clerk of the course and corners were named after him, Fred Riches and Oliver Sear.
That first event was a sprint race meeting and the fastest time of the day went to Ken Wharton in a pre-war 2-litre ERA, at 82mph. The Eastern Counties Motor Club organised the next meeting in April 1952, where Archie Scott Brown scored his first race win in his MG TD. He became a legend at Snetterton, particularly his performances at the wheel of a Lister Jaguar and there is a permanent memorial to him in the paddock.
The circuit grew in stature and the crowds flocked in throughout the 1950s, 60s and beyond to watch their heros, such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt. F1 and F2 races drew huge crowds, in the days when Grand Prix stars could enter other events away from the World Championship. Motorcycle racing first came to the circuit in 1953 and remains an important part of the calendar, whilst Drag racing and Rallycross also took place at Snetterton in the ’70s.
Snetterton became and remains an important circuit in the UK, and a circuit also favoured by many manufacturers and teams to test cars. In 1967, the most successful Grand Prix engine of all time, the Ford-Cosworth DFV, was tested by Graham Hill in the new Lotus 49, ahead of its winning debut.
The world’s first racing school was based at the circuit from 1957, started by Jim Russell, and the world famous Formula Ford Festival also started at Snetterton in 1972 before moving to Brands Hatch. Night racing came to Snetterton with the Autosport 3-hour race, the European Touring Car Championship and the Avon Tour of Britain, and Britain’s first round-the-clock race was held in 1980, the Willhire 24 Hour, starting a tradition that continues to this day. Night races were also revived by the British Touring Car Championship in the late 1990s.
Two cars from Snetterton’s long history will be present at Snetterton on Saturday: Archie Scott Brown’s MG TD from that second meeting and the winning Ford Sierra Cosworth from the 1989 Willhire race, which celebrated the sponsor’s 25 years by being extended by an hour – the longest ever race to be held in the UK.
There will also be appearances from special guests and relatives of those who were key to the early years, including Leslie Marr, winner of ‘best Aston’ at the first ever meeting, and Jack Sears. The transformed circuit will be used in both 300 and 200 layouts over the weekend, both providing great entertainment with fantastic viewing opportunities from the new spectator banking. These improvements ensure that Snetterton is ready for the next 60 years.
Tickets for the Aston Martin Owners’ Club 300/200 weekend are available on the gate for £13 per day, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information, call 0843 453 9000 or visit www.snetterton.co.uk