COVENTRY FIGHTS FOR ITS FUTURE
A dispute has thrown a cloud over Brandon Stadium.
These are tough times for stock car racing fans. Barely a week goes by without the pages of Motorsport News having to update the latest battles in keeping Wimbledon Stadium alive, a venue that finally shuts its doors on March 26th.
But head up the M6 and Midlands spectators, and in particular BRISCA F1 fans, are staring at the closure of Coventry Stadium, the Mecca for BRISCA F1 enthusiasts and drivers alike. The stadium has played host to countless World Finals and in recent years expanded its calendar to embrace domestic events – club races in long-circuit speak – for a variety of other classes. But it is F1 stock car racing that defines Coventry and its first-saturday-of-the-month fixtures bring big crowds.
And now it is set to close its doors. Maybe. Or is it?
The last few weeks have been rife with conjecture, mostly fuelled on website forums... those bastions of truth and reliability. Sources close to MN have revealed that the track is still in a state on which it could be raced and that we shouldn’t fear the worst just yet.
The problems started a couple of years back. Stadium owner, Avtar Sandhu, decided that the time was right to sell up. The stadium, like most stock car tracks, sits close to housing, meaning that it has both noise restrictions and is a prime site for development. Sandhu sold the land to Brandon Estates for a reported £2.7 million but retained the fixtures and fittings, such as the grandstands and floodlights for example, as well as the race dates themselves.
Now, although Brandon Estates is content to allow racing to continue, at least in the short-term, problems have surfaced.
Stock cars are just one element of the stadium’s usage, which also boasts greyhounds and speedway. The stadium has been home to the Coventry Bees for 69 years, and MN understands that Brandon Estates wants to renew the lease with the Speedway operator. But Bees promoter Mick Horton hasn’t agreed terms with Sandhu for stock cars to continue, despite the fact he was scheduled to take over the lease on January 3, 2017. Sandhu, therefore, withdrew his property before Christmas, which prompted Brandon Estates to call in the police claiming ownership itself. That argument rumbles on, with the first F1 night scheduled for April 1…
Rugby Borough Council lead councillor Michael Stokes is understood to have brokered a deal between the Bees and Coventrystox (Sandhu’s company), last November, which would allow Sandhu’s operation to put the stadium in a state to allow both cars and speedway to race.
A statement from Coventry Racing Club/coventrystox said: “We would like to reaffirm that we intend to return our property to the stadium, to reinstall the items removed and to make good, starting in January ready for the safety inspection we have already arranged for March 8.”
MN’S sources confirm that all parties are still talking and that there is a will to continue racing at the venue. Horton’s lease is believed to be for a further three years, but even if he and Sandhu can make their peace, it is believed that rebuilding the stadium could cost close to £1 million.
But no sooner had Horton announced that all parties were still talking and the situation was a delicate one, than Brandon Estates released its own version of events. According to the Coventry Telegraph, James Crocker, lawyer for Brandon Estates, says that deal is now dead.
He said: “I can expressly confirm that Mr Mick Horton did not take up the lease of Brandon Stadium on January 3, 2017. The decision not to take up the lease was Mr Horton’s and not Brandon Estates Ltd, and Brandon Estates Ltd had offered a substantial and extremely generous sponsorship package to Mr Horton/ Coventry Speedway Ltd.”
If it all falls apart in Coventry, what are the options? In the short-term, Sandhu’s dates could be run at a different track, such as shale venue Stoke for example, which is just a bit further up the M6. It’s unlikely that he would be able to transfer all of his dates to one venue and any transfer has to be done with the agreement of the other promoters too.
There has been talk of a new venue on an alternative site, which would be expensive and time-consuming to build, with a so-called green site, but MN also understands that Mallory Park has been looked at as a possible place to build an oval. That would come up against noise issues and is unlikely to be run on a Saturday night, thus having an impact on the number of ‘noisy’ Sundays that Mallory can run.
Whatever happens, it needs sorting fast, with the first event looming on April Fools’ Day. Hopefully, it won’t turn out to be a bad joke with the sport as the stooge. ■
F1 a haven for stock cars, like BRISCA Coventry Stadium has long been
Disagreement over lease could mean BRISCA moves on
Track has a safety inspection scheduled for March