Lydden Hill’s latest fight
It is worth taking a brief look at the history of the circuit to have a better understanding of how it used to work so well for club-level competitors.
The original owner of Lydden Autosports track, as it was once known, was Bill Chesson. He was by no means a wealthy businessman, but a man with an overdose of vision, drive and enthusiasm for motorsport.
He started out in the late 1950s by buying up a handful of bangers, which he stored on farmland on the site of the present circuit. Then he marked out the field and rented out the cars to his mates to race for the day at £10 a time. Fans at the earliest public events soon learned to wear wellies because of sheep droppings.
Soon, Chesson was able to buy the field and he successfully staged stock car, banger and motorcycle grasstrack events until in 1965 he was able to lay down a hard surface for motor racing. The planned layout was to have been identical to the current circuit, but he ran out of asphalt at the bottom of the hill and he could not afford any more, so he simply turned it around to complete a kidney-shaped loop. The extra section up to North Bend was added later.
Very little was spent on the circuit during Chesson’s ownership for the simple reason that he was reluctant to make any investment because he had to apply annually for planning permission to continue to race. There was no point in planning ahead.
Facilities were still very basic in 1983 when Damon Hill turned up to contest the Marlboro/ Daily Express/ Yamaha Clubmans Championship. Asked if she was worried about her son taking on the other teenage tearaways on two wheels, mother Bette said: “I’m much more worried about him having to use these ghastly toilets!”
Consequently running costs were minimal, which is why organisers such as the Thames Estuary Automobile Club, 750 Motor Club, Tunbridge Wells Motor Club, BARC and BRSCC, among others, could afford to race there regularly.
And when there was a brief gap in the fixtures Chesson simply formed his own group to organise his own events – the Astra Motor Club.
At one point in 1984, the 750MC, Astra and BARC staged meetings on consecutive weekends.
It’s a far cry from Lydden’s current predicament.