Nothing warms the cockles like the sound of twenty or so racing cars assembled on the grid, revs rising as the lights go red and then the gut-wrenching roar as the pilots bury the accelerator as the race is commenced, struggling to tread that line between maximum impetus and loss of traction. I love it, seriously love it. It doesn’t matter what’s racing, ever since my first visit to old UK kart circuits—like Shenington and Little Rissington—to watch my dad compete I was infected with motorsport. It still gives me goosebumps each time the lights go green. Growing up I was exposed to and sought out all kinds of racing action, but my favorite memories are those where I’m stood on the banking at Thruxton, watching single-seaters. Formula Ford, Formula Three and even 3000, with their big 3.0-liter lumps, screaming out of the complex of Campbell, Cobb and Seagrave. I was delighted then to turn up to a grey and bland Donington Park on Sunday for the first Historic Sports Car Club race meeting of the season, to find pretty much all of the single seater classes competing on the second day of the event.
The HSCC is one of the many clubs that we have in the UK that puts on consistently great racing across historic classes, open-wheel or otherwise. The grids are well subscribed and the racing is generally competitive, and the paddocks are open with a friendly club atmosphere during the weekends that make them a superb way to get your motorsport fix. Somewhat appropriately on the 50th anniversary of Jim Clark’s untimely death, the timetable had a fabulous clutch of classic Formula 3s, Formula Juniors, Formula Fords, and Ford 2000s competing. Whilst Clark was a skilled exponent of both open and closed-wheel racing, it was his single seater exploits for which he is best remembered, and I am sure he would have approved of the crop of machines being readied in the paddock.
Back to the present (historic) day though, and suddenly the drab surroundings of Donington Park are bought to life by the sound and color of the classic F3 cars winding their way through the famous old curves and undulations of the oldest circuit in the UK still in use. The mix of 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter cars, from between ’71 and ’84, made for a glorious vista as they plunged down through Hollywood and the somewhat terrifying Craner Curves, brightly painted liveries and large aero elements splitting the dull grey and green that had dominated the landscape seconds before.
Whilst the F3 cars were my favorite to look at, the racing provided by the historic Formula Fords is always a treat too. This weekend was no exception and the wheel to wheel action displayed by these 1.6-liter, pre-1972 machines was a magnificent display of instinctive and poetic car control that thrilled the watching crowd—me included of course. Sometimes three abreast, with dices involving ten cars at a time, the only people that could have been having more fun than those watching were those behind the wheel. It was tremendous stuff and it rewarded those race fans who’d chosen a day of historic racing rather than the chance of a trip a few hours south to Brands Hatch, for the BTCC season opener.
Of course, with such a brilliant program of racing it can be difficult to condense all of the action into a concise bit of reading without turning it into a dull play by play, and for me, that is not what this sort of racing is about. I can’t tell you who won races, nor am I too bothered, as this is about enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of historic and classic racing, decades-old cars being flung about and used as they were designed. It’s about the enjoyment provided by close racing, regardless of who’s behind the wheel or what is being driven, or even at which end of the field it’s occurring. It’s also about passionate people keeping alive the memories and history of some fabulous eras of racing, even if they weren’t the highest-flying series back in the period. To that end I still play a game at these meetings that I also used to enjoy as a youngster on racing outings with my family; pick a car number and support whatever wore it throughout the race; sometimes you would win and sometimes you would lose. Either way, it evokes a wonderful feeling of nostalgia seeing such cars out here again, for this is more than just a parade. This is sharp racing, it’s superb entertainment, and, for some, a vital slice of nostalgia.