Why you should go to a classic racing event
The best action, the coolest cars, the closest experiences. Classic Racing is a belter of a spectator sport.
I think it was when the second drop of water dribbled from the cover on my camera and down my face that made me reconsider my choices for a past time. Why couldn't I enjoy knitting or painting; things that could be done indoors in the warm and dry? Why on earth was I stood on a blustery former airbase with sideways rain now filling my left ear steadily with drizzle, my stout jacket now soaked through with the autumn rain just about shielding me from the meteorological onslaught. Five months previously I'd been lounging on a sun-drenched bank of grass, a Mr Whippy threatening to run away in the searing May heat as I regretted not putting on shorts, and later regretted not putting suncream on. This is the brilliantly bonkers world of classic car racing. And everyone should give it a go. At least once.
One thin wire fence, some tyres and an endurance spec Ferrari 458. Excellent.
I don't know what got me hooked on watching classic racing. I got into it way before I got into Formula One funnily enough. It just seemed to be a bit cooler to young me. Yes, an F1 car is a marvel of engineering: teeming with aerodynamic devices, energy harvesting systems and a level of efficiency that nigh-on defies the laws of thermodynamics. But it's not as cool as a Jaguar E-Type being wrestled along with armfuls of opposite lock, straight-six howling a song of the sixties as a Mini Cooper whips around the outside, tyres screaming in protest, chasing down a Lotus Cortina. And that's one of the key things that I find makes classic racing so appealing, there's a little bit of something for everyone.
1935 Aston Martin Ulster, again pay no heed to the rain.
From F3 500 series cars to historic F1 racers equipped with screaming Cosworth DFV engines. Vintage racers from marques Frazer-Nash, Bentley, Riley, BMW, MG, Alvis and Talbot Lago throng to the tracks with screaming superchargers and svelt coach-built lines.
Fancy something a bit more modern? Try the Pre '66 Touring Cars and its Mustang on Mini chaos or the Norman Dewis Trophy if you like Jaguars. The GT and Sports Car Cup offers up Austin Healeys and TVRs fighting for room with MGBs, AC Cobras and the odd Ferrari. A new favourite of mine is the '70s Road sports series that fizzes with classic Lotuses, Alfas and Morgans.
With car classes spanning the years from the 1920s through until the 1980s, there really is a chance to see something you once had/your Dad/Grandad had. The action becomes relatable and easy to get close to. Brands Hatch and Castle Combe are two hugely underrated tracks in the UK, they feel stuck in a bit of a time warp, ideal for classic racing, they are lined with Armco barriers and grass verges, with low fences keeping you from the action. At Brands you can walk up the hill out of Paddock bend, cross over the track on the little bridge and stand inside Druids at the top of the hill with the cars passing you by barely six feet away. It's ideal for photographing from and nothing has quite the same visceral experience as a Cosworth powered F1 car banging down the gears and then racing away again when you're stood as far away as I am tall.
Nothing sounds quite like a 289 V8 as it's wound round to the stops through open pipes!
The wall of sound that hits you, the smell of hot rubber and half-burnt fuel draw you right into the action. Want more? What about milling around in the paddocks and pit lane? You have to be a celebrity to get that sort of access in Formula One, but in the world of classics you can watch teams prep and repair cars, sound testing, drivers suiting up, grids forming, all the minutiae that makes a weekend work is right there for you to walk up to and point at. Covid did dampen this, but open paddocks are now back and there's still something quite special about milling around the paddocks.
Tiff Needell doing what he does best, going fast.
There's nothing fancy or ostracising in the world of classic racing. It has a friendly environment that doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is. The racing is close and competitive but once off the track, it's a jovial atmosphere filled with passion and love for the machines and sport. It's also often packed with some big names, Andrew Jordan from BTCC, Rowan Atkinson, Tiff Needell, Howard Donald, Amy Williams, Theo Paphitis, Ant Anstead and I think I'm correct in saying that snooker star Dennis Taylor has turned his hand to it. So much is the inviting atmosphere of the set-up that it's led to me trying to get my racing license and a seat for the next season. Stay tuned for updates on that.
Shot from the paddock to pit road at Brands Hatch.
The whole set of classic motorsports is frankly quite brilliant. Tickets for a day's worth of action, and I mean a full day's action as racing will start at 9 am and in the summer will go on until about 6 pm, can cost as little as £15 with some tickets costing as much as £25! Spread that number out over nine hours of entertainment, even in the worst-case scenario you're looking at £2.78 per hour of entertainment. I won't go into the world of trackside snacks and drinks as this varies from track to track hugely, but I will say, nothing hits the spot quite so nicely as racetrack hot chocolate.
This was last year also at Castle Combe. Racing in the rain is just better.
The UK is peppered with racetracks that at one point or another host a classic race meeting and with the season starting up in the spring and running through until late autumn there is plenty of chance to catch some action near you. Just remember to bring a sensible jacket or suncream.
This was from 2020 at the Autumn Classic at Castle Combe. The weather was... very autumnal let's say.