Ronnie Hughes: family and childhood memories of racing at Aintree

You could hear them from the street where we lived. The high pitched whines as they braked, cornered and accelerated. The racing cars, practicing at Aintree. Just three miles away across the fields. We so wanted to go. And good enough, our Dad took us.

He’d been more of a bikes fan, going to TT races in the Isle of Man in the years before we’d arrived. And he did take us to some bike races at Aintree too. But it was the cars we really loved.

Yes, it all seems a world away now. But in the 50s and early 60s Aintree would stage the British Grand Prix and other Formula One races as often as Silverstone.

Not that we started with Formula One. There were also frequent ‘club’ races, sports cars, Formula Junior and Formula Ford. We loved to watch the D-Type Jaguars because of course we had our own Dinky Toy models, made at Meccano in Liverpool by our Uncle Bob, who’d occasionally bring us factory rejects that hadn’t gone through the paint shop properly.

These club events were fairly informal affairs where you could walk around watching the engineers and drivers getting the cars ready, before pushing them out onto the track. We’d stand and listen to them having conversations our Dad understood, but we certainly didn’t.

And one day he was paying particular attention to a softly spoken Scottish man, leaning over the engine of his car, a Lotus, talking with what even we could tell was great authority. He then pushed the car out onto the circuit and put on his helmet, ready to race. ‘Do you know him then Dad?’ we asked, assuming our Dad knew everyone. ‘No, but I know who he is. That’s Jim Clark, and I think he’s going to do very well.’ This must have been 1960, or 61.

And these races wouldn’t be on the full circuit, with big stands that followed the Grand National course. But on the shorter ‘club circuit’ you could see most of the way around.

And as well as the noise, I remember the smells: the fuel, the burning rubber as they braked; and our orange squash, ham sandwiches and battenberg cake. Golden days, too soon gone.

And when we came home the toy cars would be got out. If the weather was good there was the ‘Back garden circuit.’ If not so good there was the ‘Upstairs circuit’ – all rooms required, domestic chaos a certainty. We’d make all the noises, do the commentary and lay our heads on the floor next to the cars so they looked as real as possible.

The cars were mainly Dinky or Corgi, but to make up the numbers there’d usually have to be a few Matchbox ones as well. These were made to a smaller scale and so never won. They’d therefore always be allocated to the known ‘back markers such as Innes Ireland. Whereas the main Lotuses, Ferraris, Coopers and, later, BRMs would go to known winners like Phil Hill, Lorenzo Bandini, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill and, of course, Jim Clark.

And we did go to a Formula One Grand Prix. In 1962, it would turn out to be the last held at Aintree. And Jim Clark won. I remember us sitting on the small hill by Valentine’s Way to get the best view we could. And there was a tinny public address system telling us the positions. But it was over the full course, we couldn’t see most of it, the back markers got all mixed up with the front runners. And it was a little bit boring really, once we’d got used to the fact that those little figures in the cars were our heroes.

We preferred the days when we could walk up to them and listen to them talking their fabulous talk. The day we stood next to Jim Clark.

I particularly followed Jim over the next few years. He got to be World Champion twice, he won the Indy 500, in fact he always seemed to be racing, in any formula going. And it was in a Formula Two race, at Hockenheim in Germany, in 1968, that he was killed. I was fourteen. I’d already put the toy cars away. And that day I put racing cars away too.

But I never forgot Jim Clark. And many years later I wrote him one of my best songs:

“Racing Cars”

Racing cars, racing cars

We loved to go and watch the racing cars,

Lotus cars, Ferrari cars,

Me and my Dad and Colin watching racing cars.

You could hear them from where we lived,

Roaring round for their place on the grid,

Over the fields only three miles away,

And we knew we’d be there the next day.

Watching racing cars, racing cars

We loved to go and watch the racing cars.

Junior sports cars, Formula One,

Golden days, too soon gone.

Lemonade and sandwiches and battenberg cake,

And watching Jim Clark accelerate.

Watching racing cars, racing cars

We loved to go and watch the racing cars,

Lotus cars, Ferrari cars,

Me and my Dad and Colin watching racing cars.

Ronnie Hughes

A Sense of Place

This first appeared on A Sense of Place blog at

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Memory added on December 14, 2012

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