Watching the racing at Wimbledon was always particularly special under floodlights on a cold, clear night, augmented by the heady aromas of racing fuel and frying onions from the burger stand in the paddock. During the 15 years I lived on the fringes of the Big Smoke, I always appreciated having a motor racing venue just up the road.
I won’t be doing that any longer, because last night the chequered flag at Wimbledon Stadium fluttered for the final time. The race engines were switched off and the cars loaded back on to trailers and flatbeds to set off into the London twilight.
The stadium, built in 1928 as a greyhound racing track and a regular venue for short oval racing since 1962, is to be torn down to make way for the new home of the AFC Wimbledon football club, plus more godforsaken posh flats and the kind of ubiquitous shops you can find anywhere across a city.
Until yesterday, Wimbledon Stadium was the last ‘proper’ motor racing track in London. Once there were plenty of them. Our nation’s short oval scene sprung into life in the capital back in the mid-1950s. Seasoned enthusiasts speak wistfully of London’s lost venues, names such as Harringay, West Ham, New Cross - even Wembley Stadium on a rare occasion.
If you had been a first-time visitor to the stadium yesterday, you would have been forgiven for assuming that the demolition job had already begun. The venue, formerly owned by the Greyhound Racing Association until it was passed over to a developer, Galliard, has definitely seen better days.
It doesn’t appear to have enjoyed much investment in recent years and is in a dilapidated state. Half of the covered grandstands are closed on safety grounds. The concrete area used as a paddock by the competitors could last night have passed as a backdrop for a post-apocalyptic movie. It was strewn with shattered glass and so heavily potholed that competitors had to carefully pick their way from paddock to enter the race track.
Spedeworth, the company that promoted oval race meetings at Wimbledon, has always put on a good show despite the increasing challenges of the venue.
The paddock is used as a car boot sale site several times a week, and those salesman had left vast piles of unwanted and worthless goods strewn around. Perhaps not worthless for all: one opportunistic stock car fan filched a couple of tapes from a box of videos that had been left behind, although he clearly wasn’t impressed with choices including Shrek and Romancing The Stone. Another enterprising driver grabbed an unfashionable and unwanted piece of clothing to mop up fluid that had spewed from his race car.