Who would have thought that some 70 years after the likes of Prince Bira and Earl Howe set the pace around the Byfleet Banking, the opportunity would arise to go racing at Brooklands. Well, back in 2009, the offer of taking part in a race for cars which used to thunder round the banking and skitter round the infield circuit seemed too good to miss – even in 1/32 scale.
This was to be the Feature Race of the Slot Car Festival at Brooklands. BBC Top Gear presenter James May was there making his Toy Stories programme about Scalextric, setting a world record for the longest track in the world by running around the full length of the old Outer Circuit. There was drag racing and a massive Airfix stand where kids of all ages could have a go at building and painting something exciting and a gigantic swapmeet to enjoy.
The Feature Race rules insisted that a full-size version of the car you intended to race must have raced at Brooklands in period. My collection is not huge but fortunately the Swiss racer Hans Reusch campaigned an ex-Ferrari Alfa Romeo 8C/35 in the Mountain Championship of 1937 – the same car with which Reusch and Dick Seaman won the 1936 Donington Grand Prix, so this was to be my mount for the occasion.
Bright and early on race day, I joined a trail of grown men carrying boxes of toy cars past the somewhat bewildered-looking staff. The race was being organised by Pendle Slot Racing, from where Sean and Nic were to be found Concorde as an imprmptu workshop to plumb the regulation Scaleauto motor. Everyone was required to have the same powerplant – a rorty little number capable of spinning up to 25,000 rpm – so they were doing a roaring trade.
Then came to mounting the body and, lo and behold, the end of the new Scaleauto motor was fouling the front body post. With the clock ticking towards the end of scrutineering and little progress being made chipping away at it, I gave up and pulled the mount out of the body completely, leaving me with only the rear mount. Nevertheless the big Alfa sailed through scrutineering – aided by my first edition copy of Bill Boddy’s History of Racing at Brooklands, whereby our eagle-eyed ‘scroots’ could find, on page 316, provenance that Reusch had in fact campaigned it here.
Next up was the concours. Among the scratchbuilt drivers, clothes, chassis, bodies on display my efforts were very much on the average side. Victory in the concours ultimately went to the fabulous Morgan 3-wheeler.
Then came the track action. The Alfa suffered some serious overheating problems in the heats, but mustered a couple of fourth place finishes which weren’t too bad. The problem was fixed by a seasoned hand, Steve Francis, who walloped the motor with a screwdriver – whatever it did worked a treat.
This in turn, however, meant mastering new cornering speeds, and there were a few too many incidents before I managed that, including terrifying several small children who were standing at the end of the main straight and had to duck as the big Alfa whistled past their ears. Little by little the Alfa shed its finer detail parts and by the end of my running was held together with gaffer tape.
I was looking carefully at all the other entrants on the track and in the ‘paddock’ and feeling rather like the new boy. Steve Francis came to my rescue again, talking me through his fabulous Alfa P3: balsa body, ride height the lowest permissible and weighty rattle pan chassis. It seems one can build a winner on the track or a winner in the concours but there is a degree of mutual exclusivity! Steve’s car was a joy to watch, poised, driftable and kart-like in its responsiveness. That’s what everyone needs to aim for – as his deserved victory proved!
All in all it was a fantastic day’s racing with plenty of camaraderie among the builders and racers. Hopefully there will be more of the same before long – Team S&G is ready to go racing again! Meanwhile here are some more of these glorious little racing cars to enjoy…