You know that dreadful feeling when you find out about something really great on your doorstep, just in time to wave it goodbye? Well, I guess it’s going to be that way with the Shakespeare County Raceway, just outside Stratford on Avon. I can’t believe I’ve lived in the area for over a decade without hearing about it before, and I’m only grateful that a combination of ‘liking’ some classic hot rod and drag racing pages on Facebook, and a steer by some Smokey’s pals, not only pointed us in that direction, but on a weekend when we were consoling ourselves that we didn’t have time to get across to the Vintage Hot Rod Association meet at Pendine Sands.

So, what’s the story? Well, the Shakespeare County has a lot in common with that other Mecca for UK drag racing, Santa Pod. Created as an RAF training airfield at Long Marston, its runways fell into gradual post-war disuse until 1954, when it was finally handed back to the original owners, who gave in to the approaches of a bunch of local petrol heads and agreed to lease out the airfield’s runways and perimeter tracks for motorsport. Drag racing was always to the fore, and Long Marston can lay claim to being the UK’s first quarter mile drag strip. By 1974 it was the home of the Midland Drag Racing Association and refurbishment of the quarter mile in 1979 focussed activity there exclusively on drag racing, and it’s been so ever since.

Sadly, the presence of a big chunk of flat land, much of which hasn’t been used for farming for many years, makes Long Marston a prime site for helping to meet the demand for housing in the Midlands, and it looks very much as if the writing is on the wall for the Shakespeare County Raceway. Although the facilities there aren’t getting much in the way of investment as a result, the team are obviously determined to make 2017 a year to remember if it’s going to be their last, and are packing the schedule with great racing events.

We were along for the 24th annual National Street Rod Association Nostalgia Nationals, featuring exclusively pre-’73 cars battling it out over three days of non-stop racing. Although nominally divided into classes, the entrants just kept coming in a steady stream, giving us as much to look at in the entry lanes as in the 10 seconds or so that they took to eat up the tarmac. So, recognisable street legal cars were followed by high-nosed ‘gassers’, with tanks of nitrous oxygen giving their engines an extra boost. A swarm of 1950s Outlaw Anglias descended, providing some of the quickest times of the day as these once demur little British family cars, wildly rodded and massively powered, hared down the track like an angry wasp after a jam sandwich. Our favourites were torn between the 50s-based US street rods, including a bunch of 55-57 Chevys that might not have been the fastest, but certainly were each a boss hoss (as the Sonics would say), and beautifully recreated early dedicated dragsters, just like the Corgi one I had as a boy. Pick of the day, however, had to be a perfect recreation of the kind of racer fashioned from war surplus aircraft drop tanks, beautifully evoking the halcyon days of post-WWII amateur racing, with drivers searching to revisit the thrill of their wartime service.

It takes a trackside pass to really do these motors justice, so I’ll have to whet your appetite with some shots in the pit and scrutineer’s areas. Mind you, that’s another big benefit of the Shakespeare County – there’s nothing to stop you getting amongst the cars when they’re off the track, meeting the drivers and support teams, and marvelling at what’s under the hood.

 

The Raceway website and Facebook page will tell you all about what’s on for the rest of the year. If you’re within reach, make a point of getting there. You’ll regret its passing even more, but you’ll be damn glad you saw it for yourself.