Incredible. As an international Speedhunter, I do realize that many people would kill for the opportunities to do the things that I do on a daily basis. However, every once in a while, I get a chance to experience moments in life that even take my breath away.
One such moment was my recent trip to Brooklands – the first motor racing circuit in the WORLD. Yes, Brooklands was the first circuit to be built exclusively for motor racing. Prior to Brooklands, races only took place on pre-paved street courses. It was all very grassroots back then. Brooklands was the start; it was the foundation for modern automobile racing.
The photo above is special to me. I shot this photo laying down on the famous circuit's steep Members Banking, trying to compose the image with the sun coming up quickly, with the backlit trees and Members Bridge in the background – whioh is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a racing driver named Percy Lambert, who died at this spot, when his rear tire blew out as he rounded Members Banking on the last lap of the race he was competing in.
It just felt so dramatic, laying flat on the ground at Brooklands; the same sacred ground where so many of the world's earliest motor races took place. As I lay there with my camera, watching the sun come up, and listening to the birds tweeting in the trees, I thought to myself, "damn. I never expected that I'd be doing this. My friends are at work in Los Angeles right now, but I'm here in the UK, with my cheek pressed up against the roughly paved stone banking of the first race track in the world." That was crazy.
Prior to this trip, I had never been to a racing circuit in the UK, so
of course I was looking forward to visiting them all, and of course I
had fun at all the different places we went. However, the trip to
Brooklands was just a little different. There's a different spirit
to Brooklands. It's certainly not anything like the modern racetracks
of today. Brooklands enchants you with its old world charm and history.
The first events at Brooklands took place in mid-1907. At the beginning, spectators complained that it was too difficult to follow the races, because the track was so large, and the oly way to tell which driver was which, was by looking at the differently colored scarves they were wearing. It wasn't until 1909 that they figured out, they should paint numbers on the sides of the cars. (LOL! Good idea guys!)
When Britain entered World War 1 in 1914, the circuit was closed for a few years, but eventually reopened in 1920. Brooklands is also the original home of the British Grand Prix. Amazing.
This is what's left of the track's Byfleet Banking… I took this photo from the parking lot of a shopping center. There's a big Tesco grocery/department store located there (similar to a modern day Target, K Mart, or Walmart in the USA) and a gas station (aka petrol for the Brits) as well. The old banking is fenced off, and now a normal commute road with less than exciting standard cars runs through the UK's first automotive racing circuit.
On this trip to Brooklands, Rod and I were guided by our Speedhunters
UK counterpart, John Brooks. John picked us up from the train station
in his 7-series BMW, which had a trunk full of Canon camera equipment
and lenses that, I'm guessing, were worth more than even the BMW
itself! John is no stranger to racetracks. He is a veteran motorsports
photographer, and one of the top names in the business. Over the course
of his lifetime, he has photographed legendary races and drivers that
most people have only read about in magazines and books. It was an
honor to be in the company of such an accomplished photographer – and
what impressed me the most, is John had 100% of the skill, and none of
the ego that goes along with the OG stature that he has. He was super
cool, down to earth, humble, with a disctinctly British sense of humor.
I seriously felt humbled when I was with him at the track – after all,
even though I've been to several hundred race events over the course of
the past 5 years… compared to John, I'm a rookie in this business.
But he never made me feel like that, not even once. Big respect to John
Brooks; we're so glad to have him as part of the Speedhunters team.
Anyway, above is a pic that John took of me and Rod near the old Byfleet Banking.
In 1939, Brooklands had to close again, because of World War 2. The grounds were used by British Aerospace manufacturer Hawker and Vickers to build combat aircraft. This photo obviously doesn't show a World War 2 airplane! This is a prototype of the Harrier – the first vertical takeoff airplane in the world. Super cool!
Check out the British Airways Concorde, just sitting there! I know it's not a car, but I had just never seen a Concorde before. Just imagine the gorgeous young flight attendants with British accents that used to serve drinks on trans-Atlantic flights on this thing. Smashing, baby… yeah!
The trees lining the road into Brooklands certainly look nice and classy. This place looks very special and more upscale than most race tracks.
They had some cool and interesting signage around the track, like this one!
Rod recently sent me this photo that John Brooks snapped of me as I took photos on the ground of the Members Banking, as he stood on the bridge above me. Pretty interesting, you can see the scale of the place we were at. At this part of the banking, the track was heading into a straight area, so the degree of incline wasn't too extreme, but in the section right before that, you'll be able to see just how steep it really was.
The old Members Banking isn't completely there anymore, but here's a small section that remains of the bank. Moss now covers the steep banking, which has trees growing along the top.
This elegant old building houses the Brooklands Museum. The next time you're in London, you really should take a trip out to Surrey to check this place out. I highly recommend it.