The onset of festive delight and, in deepest Surrey, a picture postcard fall of snow, has been tainted somewhat this week by the evident dislike felt amongst the Formula One commentators of the world towards Richard Branson and Virgin. Having bagged a bargain sponsorship of the Brawn team for 2009 and come by one of the world’s most anomalous world championship victories, the bearded wonder has now jumped ship and bought into the new Manor Motorsport-run effort for next year.
Kevin Eason wrote in the Times that ‘He [Branson] took the wraps off his new Formula One racing team – that will run two cars that do four miles of petrol to the gallon – and promptly jumped on board a jet to take part in the climate change summit in Copenhagen today.’
Hmmm… quite when Formula One folk started scowling at the environmental impact of the sport I’m not sure, but it seems that Christmas cheer is increasingly in short supply as we reach the end of the Noughties. How times have changed.
From the mid-1950s to the dawn of the 1980s there was always some seasonal motor sport action to be found. Perhaps the most fondly remembered is The Yuletide Trophy meeting at Brands Hatch, which drew up to 40,000 people to the Kentish circuit each Boxing Day. Admittedly, the British weather being what it is, these races didn’t always happen because of ice and fog but when they did they were one of the highlights of the year.
Up until the late Sixties you could see the very best drivers in action – such as Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, Tony Brooks, Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Indeed, Hill managed to set a new lap record in a two-stroke-powered tin bath, which sums up the general atmosphere of the occasion.
The star quality of The Yuletide Trophy ebbed away as the big guns went off to make pots of money from the Tasman series and South African Grands Prix that increasingly made the New Year an interesting prospect. Nevertheless, the spirit of these more haphazard British events is retained to this day at Mallory Park circuit’s annual Plum Pudding races, which will be held for the 36th time this Boxing Day for assorted clubman bike and car racers to enjoy.
My childhood Boxing Day fix of motor sport action came just a mile or so across the fields at the annual Wild and Woolly motorbike scramble race in Blisworth, Northamptonshire. This year marks the 85th running of what is now officially the world’s oldest motocross event, and for old time’s sake I may well get soaking wet, splashed with mud and generally enjoy a bellyful of festive fun – although the modern, health and safety-driven, event takes place in a single field these days.
Wherever your Yuletide racing is to be found, I’m sure it’s all a long way from the sort of brand associations and four-wheel franchises that Branson and co. are dealing in at the top of today’s commercial sport. But then, at Christmas, that feels rather fitting. Enjoy it to the last!