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DONINGTON PARK 1931 - 1981

As we are in limbo as far as ‘News’ is considered. I’ve looked back into my archives.

DONINGTON PARK 1931 - 1981

Honorary Secretary to the Derby and District M.C. Fred Craner was feeling pretty huffed. A former road-racer himself, he arrived at the once-popular Syston Park short circuit near Grantham with a team of three lads whom he had been coaching for the 1931 Manx Grand Prix. But one thing after another went wrong that day(and anyway the Syston organisers had apparently raised the admission charge from 1s to 32s 6d without advertising the fact, a fact that didn’t help Fred’s temper), and the upshot was Fred stormed off, threatening to start and run a road-race circuit of his own.

He meant it too, and the following day he made a tour of various stately Holmes in the Derby area, weighing up the possibilities of each. Late in the day he came to Donington Park, and was considering to himself how two of the estate roads could be linked when a gamekeeper gave him the “Hey you!” and hauled him off to see the owner of the park, Mr. J. G. Shields.

Fred explained his presences but Mr Shields, a Magistrate declared he hated motor cycles, “May be so”, said Fred Craner, but let me put on a meeting on Whit Monday, and I will guarantee to bring 10,000 people to Donington Park!

That changed the situation considerably, and when Craner and Shields met again, a few days later, Fred had acquired a large scale map on which he had linked-in the suggested track. Mr Shields agreed; but it was certainly going to be a rush job, because Fred Cramer had only five weeks to get the event organised, the track prepared, and regulations circulated.

Come Whit-Monday, and the crowds flocked in. in such numbers that the Marshals on the gate ran out of admission tickets, and were collecting money in buckets and hand-basins. The circuit itself was narrow and gravel-surfaced, and there were thrills and spills in plenty, One man however was in his element – Squib Burton the Speedway Star, who slid his 348cc Raleigh through the gravelled bends to good effect, winning two of the three finals and finished third in the other. but a youngster named Maurice Cann was up there, too, handling his 349 cc Velocette ohc model like a veteran.

Not that, that first meeting went exactly like clockwork, because the marshals had a hard job to prevent the crowd from wandering on to the course. ‘next time said The Motor Cycle ‘the Donington Park crowds will find themselves restricted more rigidly.’

By the Whitsun of 1932, the track surface had been improved. For the 1933 season, the circuit was lengthened by adding a loop to Starkey Corner and back to Redgate. And so the improvements went on, but the big leap forward came in 1937 Fred Craner was given the chance to run the R.A.C. Car T.T. and in order to secure such a classic event to course had to be both widened and lengthened, the extra section extending down the hill to a hairpin turn at Melbourne Corner, then back up to a left hander at Redgate Lodge.

For two seasons, then, the pre-war Donington Park reached full bloom, But in World War Two the estate was requisitioned as a vehicle park, Army buildings sprang up. All but obliterating the crumbling and neglected circuit, and with the return of peace it seemed that Donington would never recover.

Yet if Donington was a sleeping Beauty, there was indeed a sleeping beauty, there was a Prince Charming who would step forward and give it the kiss of life. He was Tom Wheatcroft, a Leicester Builder, and he set out to build a new and modern Donington Park on the foundations of the old. There were many changes, of course; the Melbourne corner loop was abandoned (temporarily anyway), and the new circuit was diverted so that the track no longer ran though the arches of Starkey Bridge. It was with a motorcycle meeting that the circuit closed, in September 1939. Fittingly, it was a Moor cycle meeting that the reborn track was re-opened, on the 15th May 1977, warming the place up nicely for the return of car a fortnight later. It seemed (almost, anyway) as though they had never been away.

Bob Currie

A commemorative cover was produced by the Donington Park Racing Association Club

(the independent supporters club at the Donington circuit.) To celebrate the 50 years.

This photograph was taken by Griff Bury and is included in a book on motorcycling days at Castle Donington. It shows the huge crowds, with their motorcycles, that were drawn to the 1930s meetings at the Leicestershire racecourse. Tony Gamble



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