For decades, Rockingham Speedway has been a fixture on the Formula One calendar, with the Great British Grand Prix drawing in fans from all over the world every year. But who actually owns the track?
The property has been passed down from generation to generation and has been a source of mystery and intrigue ever since. We took a close look at the history of the track and who is fighting for control of the future of this historic venue.
The Early Years
In its early years, the track was owned by a partnership of motorbike racing pioneers called the Elmo Leonard Trust. The Trust’s co-founder, Elmo Leonard, was a wealthy importer who became famous for his success in motorsport. He founded the track in 1923 and named it in honor of his friend and former competitor, Alfred Noble, who died in the First World War.
With Elmo Leonard’s passing in 1940, the ownership of the track passed to his daughter, Phyllis. It was during this time that the iconic photo of a little girl in a pig costume running down the track was taken. Although the costume was worn in jest, it became an iconic image of the track and its founder. Many credit the image with giving the track its “golden era.”
A New Owner Applies His Personal Touch
After several years of ownership by the family, it was decided that the track needed a new owner who could lend his expertise and add a new dimension to the property. It was in this capacity that Henry Herbert purchased the track in 1953 for a reported cost of £20,000. At the time of the purchase, there were already rumors that the property was for sale.
As a wealthy entrepreneur, who owned a construction business, Herbert had the funds to invest in a track he could improve and run his own way. Working with track engineer Harry Lawson, the businessman applied his business acumen by re-modeling the entire inside of the track before hosting his first motorcycle race in 1955. He also hired Chris Craft to design a new grandstand that replicated the one used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the addition of new grandstands, floodlights and an outdoor film screen, the new owner applied his business acumen by making the facility more appealing and accessible to fans. He also increased the amount of hospitality offered to paying customers.
Although he made the track safer for motorcycle racers, it was rumoured that Herbert, an avid motorcyclist, was upset that the local police were not making the track safer. Concerned for the sport’s reputation, he organized a meeting with the district’s police superintendent and the motorcycle clubs involved, establishing an unofficial truce between racing and the law enforcement agencies. This was a significant factor in the track’s return to form, with more bikes on the track than ever before and record attendances at the races.
He continued to run the track until his death in 1983, after which his wife, Ethel, continued to serve as the non-executive director of the track.
The track is now in the hands of the Herbert and Ethel’s granddaughters, Phyllis and Rosalind. Phyllis, who is also CEO of the Elmo Leonard Trust, has committed her time to maintaining and developing the track as a sporting venue, while Rosalind, the sole remaining trustee, works to ensure the ongoing existence of the track as a nonprofit organization. In 2014, the track hosted its 100th anniversary race, attracting a field of 500 riders who paid a reported £40,000 in entry fees to attend.
It was after Henry Herbert’s passing that the track went into a decline. When Ethel passed away in 2011, the couple’s only child, Richard, was installed as the sole trustee. Since then, it is alleged that he has been mismanaging the affairs of the track and has made several contentious decisions, driving many towards taking matters into their own hands and seeking to remove him from office.
Who Is Richard Herbert?
Henry Herbert’s only child and sole heir, Richard, owns shares in a number of businesses, including the car rental company Enterprise, the chain of bike shops Bike City, and the hotel group Hotel Chain, run by his wife, Elaine. He also has investments in property, oil and gas, and renewable energy sources.
In terms of motorsport, Richard owns a significant amount of stock in a company called Jaybrook Ltd, which owns the Millennium Park, the home of the British & International Motorcycle Grand Prix. This is the company that operates the track on a commercial basis, charging commercial rates to spectators, while maintaining the nonprofit status of Rockingham Speedway. He is also a co-founder of a group called the Off-Road Motorcycling Society.
It is alleged that Richard is trying to “unilaterally disarm” the track’s opposition by refusing to give them access to key track documents, which some of the trustees claim is a threat to their authority and safety. The trustees allege that he is attempting to strip the track of its nonprofit status and make it a for-profit company, which would put the future of the track in doubt. This is because, under British law, tracks that are not for-profit have to be maintained and managed by a body representing the racers and the community. If the track ceases to be nonprofit, it would no longer be obligated to comply with these regulations, putting the future of the track in question and making it very difficult to plan events there without paying large sums of money in fees and royalties to the British Racing Driver’s Club, which administers and controls the track’s license.
What Does The Future Hold?
With so much intrigue and uncertainty surrounding the future of this historic venue, it is hard to know where to turn next. Having spoken to several people directly involved, we can say that, at the moment, the future of Rockingham Speedway seems somewhat positive.
In 2016, the track was officially designated a Grade II listed building, recognizing its historical and cultural significance. The decision was made after the local council’s heritage department raised concerns that the building was at risk of being lost to future development and that more attention needed to be paid to its upkeep and preservation. Grade II listed buildings are considered to be the most important historical buildings in the country. They are also considered to be the most beautiful and fascinating buildings in England.
The designation means that the building must be cared for by a committee of historic buildings volunteers, who visit the property regularly and carry out necessary repairs. This could also mean that funds are made available for the repair and conservation of the building.
The track continues to be a popular destination for motorcyclists and fans of motorized vehicles, with events such as the Classic Bikes of Great Britain exhibition, the Northerton Trophy, and the International Six Days of Speed taking place there annually. It also hosted the Motul Petit LeMans in 2015 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
However, with the recent uncertainty surrounding Richard Herbert’s ownership of the track, it remains to be seen what the future holds for this unique sporting facility.