RIGHT into the 1970s, whippet racing was a major form of working class entertainment in south Durham, with tracks in Shildon and Newton Aycliffe, and three around Darlington alone.

In fact, whippets still race in the county, every Saturday at Sedgefield.

Whippet racing has everything: excitement, drama, a good family day out, and controversy.

“I’m sure if you mention Bobo, you’ll get a few replies,” says John Winterburn. “This famous whippet was in every newspaper in the early 1960s.

“It was owned by the landlord of the Albion pub on Yarm Road in Darlington, and there was an outcry from the rest of the racing fraternity because they said that Bobo was the size of a greyhound.”

We’d love to know more about Bobo…

The headquarters of whippet racing in Darlington was the North End Whippet Racing Club off Thompson Street. Today, the Burns pub occupies its site, but we think before that it was a large farm called High Grange.

Stuart Ward remembers going to the family-friendly race days there with his father, Henry.

“We had kennels on Skerne Park where we had four or five dogs, although if me mam took to them, she let them come in the house,” he says.

Henry’s favourite dog was Tommy, which won the Nestfield Trophy at North End in 1968.

In those days, there were also tracks at Hundens Lane and behind the Dog Inn at Heighington.

In the 19th Century days of whippet racing, a track was just a bit of flat, grassy ground, with lures dragged round by a chap pedalling a bike. The starters would hold the dogs on the line and let slip their leads as the lure went round. The dogs would then hare towards the finish line, where their cloth-capped owner would be furiously waving a towel in encouragement.

As it crossed the finishing line, the dog would leap and grab the towel, clinging to it and twirling round above the owner’s head, such was the strength of its jaws.

As the 20th Century progressed, the lures became powered by car batteries, traps replaced the starters, and a finishing tape replaced the towel wavers.

The Sedgefield Whippet Racing Club has all of these mod cons. It is an amalgamation of clubs in Shildon (tracks at “the old lines”, then Lambton Street and Sunnydale) and Aycliffe, where there was a track beside the Oakleaf complex.

The club draws members from across the county, and has been meeting for a couple of years on the car boot sale field beside Sedgefield racecourse.

“As whippet tracks go, it is very impressive,” says Alison Armstrong, who runs the club and has been racing for 50 years.

When not restricted by the pandemic, the club races on a Tuesday evening during the summer, and Saturday afternoons until November. For further details, see the club’s Facebook page or email armstrongalison@ymail.com or call 01388-776307.