Monday 9 July 2007, by Roy Gasson
Last summer, the Brooklands Museum charity contacted me to ask if I’d help them organise a memorial event to commemorate the centenary of the first closed circuit record ever made. Hugh Locke-King was inspired to build the world’s first racing circuit at Brooklands after watching continental road racing. At the time, all racing on Britain’s roads was illegal, and so Locke-King determined that the fledgling British car industry needed a testing and racing facility if Britain was to ever be a world leader in the design and development of the automobile. S.F. Edge was a racing cyclist, and a friend of Hugh Locke-King, and it was he who carried out the first 24 hour drive around a closed circuit in 1907. Edge set the record driving a Napier 60 hp, and the record he set stood for the following seventeen years. As the original track was no longer complete, it was decided that a 24 hour slot car race would be held in his honour. In discussions with the museum, it was decided that 1/24 replica Napiers would be built to take part in the race.
Originally it was intended that these cars would complete the first and final hours of the race, but more or less at the last minute - seeing how stunningly successful the cars proved - it seemed possible to race the Napiers for the entire 24 hours, even as the original Napiers did. Steve Francis was given the near impossible job of building a suitable stable of cars in time for the event. The cars were actually finished up the very day before the event was held!
Working from a single black and white photograph, Steve set about capturing not only the look but also the essence of the cars. Nikko, the UK Carrera importers, fell over themselves to help with the event, working closely with Sean Fothersgill of Pendle Slot Racing without whose help the event couldn’t have taken place. Nikko supplied all of the track and a massive amount of help with the organisation, even to the extent of arriving in person to help build the track the day before the event.
The event was held on the 28th and 29th of June, one hundred years to the day since Edge broke all records. It’s impossible to express in mere words the intense atmosphere the Brooklands Museum’s Chequered Flag room generates, with its tremendous aura of history. Four teams were drawn up, loosely grouped into Wales, England, Italy and the Worldwide team. On paper, Italy and the Worldwide team had the strongest set of drivers. The Welsh team included many guest drivers, including a contingent from Mercedes-Benz World and several Nikko employees.
Italy stormed into a strong opening lead right from the world go, their gleaming crimson Napier outstripping the others handily. The Italian team looked unassailable, who included a former Ferrari F1 team engineer. Time flew by, and the Worldwide team rode the coat tails of Italy’s lead, preventing them from pulling away further and leaving England and Wales to scrap for third.
Every hour stretched for an eternity, every lap a victory, every corner that you remained ahead of your pursuers a triumph. As the hours stretched out before us, a true feeling crept over the drivers of just how long an entire day and night of fierce concentration can be. Every moment that passed, S.F. Edge’s feat of endurance seemed more incredible. Severe tiredness really began to strike in the early hours of Friday morning, yet with the finish set for 6 pm, not even half the race had gone by.
In snatched moments of quiet outside away from the track, the cool night air seemed to echo with the bark and rumble of huge engines just out of reach, ghosts of great cars sweeping around the moonlit banking as it bore home that one hundred years ago that very night, Edge and his team mates were thundering around the dark sweeping corners.
Spirits rose perceptibly as brilliant sunlight filtered into the Chequered flag room through the ancient windows, even though many hours still lay before us. What in the dark hours of the night seemed a task beyond endurance became a race to the finish once more. As the sun rose, the Worldwide team finally passed the brilliant red car of the Italians and their navy blue charger raced into the lead.
By now all of the cars were battle scarred, the proud crimson Napier of the Italians losing an entire headlight and the gleaming white car of the Welsh team looking as though it had endured a demolition derby. With laps piling up, the English team held a confident third and the Worldwide team were out in front, though with the Italian team right behind in hot pursuit.
As the appointed hour approached, despite the heroic efforts of the Italian team, the Worldwide team swept triumphantly to their victory, having covered a frankly amazing one hundred and forty five miles on the seventy foot circuit. It was an honour and an experience to have taken part, and a fitting tribute to one of the first true acts of automotive greatness.