I THINK it’s fair to say that no other circuit in the UK has endured such operationally turbulent times as Croft.

As featured in these pages over recent weeks, the North-East’s and Yorkshire’s only permanent racetrack can cast its history back to well before the Second World War, to 1927 in fact, with various changes of ownership over the past century which have seen plenty of openings and closures. From the MOD to the Air Ministry in the 1950s and then the privately run Croft Consortium headed up by local businessman Bruce Ropner from 1964 until 1981, operating as Croft Autodrome Ltd.

At the turn of the 1980s, a number of financial and logistical factors were weighing heavily on Croft’s shoulders and following a motorcycle race meeting in October 1981, it was revealed that the circuit had been sold back to the major land owner, Bill Chaytor, and would no longer be used for motorsport, instead it was to be returned to more profitable farm land.

Thus, circuit racing ceased at the historic venue which had provided a fitting stage for such famous names as Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren, James Hunt, Niki Lauda on four wheels as well as Barry Sheene, Phil Read, Mick Grant, Ron Haslam and local ace Ken Redfern on two wheels over the years.

It wasn’t quite the end of the road for motorsport at Croft as another local businessman, George Shield, decided that the increasingly popular sport of rallycross could operate on part of the old track which didn’t need a pristine smooth surface. So, utilising the existing planning permission and continuing the proud history of the rough-and-tumble sport which had always featured at the track, Shield formed Croft Circuit Ltd with fellow enthusiast Wally Richmond in 1982 and went on to host a number of world class events over the next decade or so.

During that time, the outline of the original 1.75-mile perimeter track remained generally intact and with the increased profile of domestic racing, the need for a facility to fill the void between Knockhill in Fife around 200 miles to the north and Cadwell Park/Donington Park over 150 miles to the south became of paramount importance to local fans.

Recognising that, local enthusiast Trevor Norris and his wife-to-be Kate Chaytor, who now owned the land on which the racetrack was situated, teamed up with property developer Jimmy Wilson with a view to redeveloping the site and returning top class motor racing to the North-East. Thus, they formed Croft Classic and Historic Motorsport Ltd (CCHM) and in 1994, set about applying for the various permissions to allow the modifications to the track and its amenities. Once these were approved by Richmondshire District Council, a £600,000 investment was undertaken and despite one or two challenging times along the way, the new 2.1-mile circuit proudly hosts a number of top-class events, including the popular British Touring Car Championship.

Back in May 1995, the very first meeting of the latest era took place under the auspices of CCHM and saw a combined car and bike race meeting over the Whitsuntide bank holiday weekend organised by the Historic Sports Car Club and the New Era Racing Club respectively. Despite the late Spring date, the weather did its best to disrupt proceedings with heavy showers all weekend.

At the time, there was no infield section, it was more or less the old track excluding the Spa and Oxo loop, which was now part of the competitor’s paddock, with a chicane (Hanger Complex) installed on Railway Straight.

Having the honour of winning the first of the 22 races that historic weekend was Oxford driver John Muirhead who won the HSCC 70s Road Sports Championship race over 12 laps in his Lotus 7. Other notable winners were Selby’s Jim Evans who won Monday’s Historic Racing Saloons race in his Alfa Romeo 1600GT – as opposed to the Chevron B19-based Skoda 130RS Special Saloon in which he used to terrify the opposition in during the 1970s at Croft.

Middlesbrough driver Bob Berridge, who went on to forge a successful career at the Le Mans 24 Hours race and became a triple Historic Formula One champion, won the HSCC Formula Ford 1600 race in his Lotus 69FF whilst Crewe’s Helen Bashford-Malkie, the former CEO of Chevron Racing Cars and reputed engineer, took the victory in the RJB Mining Historic Sports Car race on Monday in her Chevron B19.

Some 25 years later on from that inaugural Renaissance Meeting, racing, both modern and historic, on two three and four wheels continues at Croft who hope to release an updated calendar of their revised 2020 activities shortly, including the provisional replacement date for the BTCC meeting, currently scheduled for October 10/11, depending on further Covid-19 developments and Government advice.