The broken dreams of Rockingham Motor Speedway

A 25-year dream to make Corby the home of British motorsport ended with a whimper this week after Rockingham Speedway was sold for car storage space.

Thursday, 16th August 2018, 5:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 9:09 pm

It started as the impossible £50m vision of Cottingham race fan Peter Davies, who bought the land for £60,000 in 1991.

Deene Raceway was given planning permission in February 1993 and it was said that it would include facilities for formula one racing.

It was a new start for the derelict former quarry site used for the steelmaking process which ended in Corby in 1980.

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1993: Rockingham gets planning approval

Deene Quarry was one of several sites around the town where thousand of tonnes of steelworks toxic waste was dumped in the 1980s and 90s, leading to birth defects in 18 children who won millions in compensation from Corby Council after a high court judge ruled the authority had been negligent in transporting the waste around the town.

Despite huge concerns about noise and ‘nightmare’ traffic’, the ambitious scheme was trumpeted as a major coup for Corby.

Struggling to get serious backers for the oval circuit and with his five years of planning permission running out, Mr Davies took a JCB to the site one day in 1998 to start digging and therefore legitimise his planning permission.

Soon after, his backer Guy Hands - later to own Terra Firma Capital Partners and the EMI music empire - agreed to fund the ambitious project.

1999: Work begins on the site

But by 2000, Mr Davies been ousted off the board and the money men moved in.

After almost ten years of planning and 23 months of construction work, Rockingham opened for business on Monday, January 15, 2001. It was formally opened by the Queen on 26 May the same year.

Out of favour, but with his heart still in the scheme, Mr Davies watched the opening race in 2001 from the back of the grandstand.

It rained, and drenched spectators were left feeling like they’d just had a wet weekend.

2001: It wasn't a good start

The first six months in operation were described in the Corby Telegraph as a ‘disaster’ but bosses were still hopeful that the 1.5 mile oval track with 36 pit garages and a potential for 130,000 seats.

Fierce opposition led the local authorities to commit to get tough on noise from the stadium after complaints from dozens of local groups, plus friends of the earth.

The Champ Cars series, once hailed as the competition that would be Rockingham’s Blue Ribbon event, drew huge financial losses and was ditched in 2002.

Several rounds of the British Superbike Championships took place at Rockingham between 2001 and 2003 and Formula 3 racing as well as the British Touring Car Championships also took place at the stadium until this year.

2004: The day 50 Cent came to Corby

The Days of Thunder series, formerly known as Ascar, in 2004 saw huge crowds arrive for appearances by 50 Cent and Blue.

Little did those crowds know that Rockingham had probably already peaked.

The stadium was sold several times - latterly to BeLa Partnerships to whom its sister company Northants Rockingham Speedway Limited owed £38m, but only once made a profit in 2017/18.

Like the off-limits stands built on unstable foundations around its perimeter, Rockingham was sinking.

It was put up for sale in 2016 as a ‘development opportunity’ which probably sealed its fate. Its neighbour, Priors Hall Park, is the biggest building site in the country and the eventual building of the Corby Northern Orbital Road could make the site more valuable.

It’s not surprising its new owners have abandoned the racing side of the business but it will be a bitter pill to swallow for the thousands of BTCC fans that turned up year-in, year-out.

2005: The blue Jensen Motorsport cars line up on the Rockingham grid: right to left - Pete Le Bas, Wayne Clark and Ricky Cole. MAYOAK0002939040

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Read more: Rockingham Speedway will close to make way for car storage