One of the most well-known motorsport venues in the world is Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, England. Constructed in 1907, the track is home to the annual Bristol International Marathon each October. The event features runners from all over the world competing in a 48-hour head-to-head marathon race. Since 1923, the Speedway has also been hosting the annual Masters Tournament.
Due to its sheer size (more than a mile of track) and popularity, even non-racing fans may not have heard of the Bristol Motor Speedway. If you’re visiting the United Kingdom or are driving through the area, then be sure to add it to your travel list – it’s definitely worth a visit! Here, we’ll explore the history of the legendary track.
The Birth Of Bristol Motor Speedway
Bristol Motor Speedway was actually the brainchild of two men: Frank Vincent and Charles Avery. The two had previously been involved with another motor racing venue, Brooklands, where they had seen the need for a track with safer and more exciting racing conditions. Having made their fortune in the railway industry, Vincent and Avery were perfectly placed to fund and build the speedway. They began construction in 1907 and opened the facility a year later on September 23, 1908.
The first race held at the speedway was simply known as the Junior Grand Prix. Over the years, the event grew in size and prestige, with professional drivers such as Tony Rodd and Stirling Moss taking part. The track was soon featured on the covers of racing magazines all around the world.
It would be fair to say that without the formation of the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) in 1953, the world of professional motor racing would look very different. The following year, the group held its first World Championship race at the Speedway.
The Growth Of Bristol Motor Speedway
The construction of the track was essentially complete in 1910, but it took another 10 years for the management at Bristol Motor Speedway to realize the full potential of the organization. In his book, Total Motor Sport, Hugh Morris writes that, in the early 20th century, professional motor racing was still in its infancy, and there were very few established racing venues. For example, the French Grand Prix was first held in 1909 but was not organized by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) until 1912. The first Italian Grand Prix was not held until 1922.
The growth of Bristol Motor Speedway was therefore closely tied to the growth of motor racing as a whole. In his history of the venue, Geoff Taylor writes that the first two decades of the 20th century were “a time of trial and error for race organizers as they tried to establish motor racing as a serious sport.”
It was only in the later part of that same decade that motor racing began to see a growth in popularity, with the rise of automobile manufacturing and a greater public appetite for cars. The first purpose-built motordomes were constructed in the year 1910, which led to a boom in the construction of garages and other areas where racers could change their cars. In fact, the year 1911 alone saw the construction of more than 500 such structures across the United Kingdom.
Bristol Motor Speedway continued to grow throughout the 1920s and eventually reached its zenith in the year 1939, with crowds of up to 200,000 people attending the track’s biggest events. In that year, the track became the first in the world to feature a ‘super speedway’ section, a shortcut through the main straight that increased the racers’ speed by almost 20 mph. The following year, the British Grand Prix returned, having been suspended the previous year due to World War II.
Bristol International Marathon
The most well-known event at the speedway is, without a doubt, the annual Bristol International Marathon. The event began in 1923 and was originally held in April. The first marathon was a 12-mile race, and it took two and a half hours to cross the line. Now considered one of the world’s great sporting events, the marathon has attracted many famous athletes over the years, including Bob and Pete Hunt, Mihir Iyer, and Sangeeta Malhotra. In 2008, 3.1 million people attended the 49th annual Bristol International Marathon, making it the world’s third-largest marathon behind the New York and Tokyo Marathons. More than 160 countries are represented by the 2,600 participants in the race each year.
The Masters Tournament was first held at the Bristol Motor Speedway in 1923 and was initially open to professional drivers over the age of 30. For more than 80 years, the tournament has been one of the world’s premier sports car events, attracting the likes of Frank and Eleanor ‘Arrie’ Hunt, Alvaro ‘Alky’ Rodriguez, and Stirling Moss. Now, the event is open to all comers and features more than 300 cars from around the world. The majority of the entries are entered in the Preliminary and Amateurs’ classes, with only a handful of professionals taking part. The following year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans also returned, making it one of the truly iconic events in the history of motorsport. With more than 70 entries from around the world, the race was a great success and is still going strong today.
Many Roads Lead To The Present
The growth of motorsport and the increased demand for automobile racing venues led directly to the present day, with many of the world’s premier tracks having been built in the 20th century, particularly in the United Kingdom. While there is no denying the influence that Frank Vincent and Charles Avery had on early motorsport, it would be wrong to say that Bristol Motor Speedway was simply their creation. The track has been a part of British motorsport for more than a century and will continue to be so for many years to come.