Living up to the gentleman’s tradition for business deals being struck over a pint and a handshake, former motorcycle racers Eddie Roberts and Stuart Hicken agreed to take on the long-term lease, believed to be 15 years, of Mallory Park in just that manner.
One half of the dynamic duo is Eddie Roberts, who retired from racing in 1989, yet is still involved through his company Complog who supply tyres to the British Superbike Championship. He took some time out this week to talk to Bike Social about the Mallory Park deal and their plans, which include their ambitions to bring BSB back to the Leicestershire circuit.
“I speak to Stuart Higgs (Championship Director) on a regular basis but realistically for 2014 or even 2015 I don’t think we can be seeing anything from BSB. I know what would be required but I think realistically it’s not within our grasp over the next couple of years just simply from paddock facilities perspective.”
“It’s on our radar, absolutely. We have ideas of what we want to do, we want a year or two under our belt first. Our plan is to invest heavily in the circuit, mainly on the paddock area. The track is actually in good nick but we have to get the circuit back on the footing it was on a few years ago.”
Throughout 2013 the future of the circuit had been the source of many headlines courtesy of a noise-dispute with local residents and the local council - Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council. It led to the previous leaseholders, the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC), walking away stating that it was not financially viable to run the restricted number of events. In turn, the operating company, Mallory Park Motorsport Limited was put into administration in September.
Racing in 2014
However, Roberts and Hicken who have close links to the circuit have arrived with a refreshing vigour and a realistic determination to get the circuit back to how it was and to have race meetings most weekends.
Roberts said, “To be honest we’ve come here and expected things to be a lot worst than they are. So that was pleasantly surprising. We are trying to tidy the place up a bit. It’s a beautiful circuit, it’s picturesque, quite Cadwell-esque. It’s got a lot of history and people call it the family circuit which is very true but my interpretation is that I think the circuit has soul which is why it’s so well liked. There’s something about it, it’s not as clinical as certain other places. It’s got a grass-roots feel, it means a lot to a lot of people and everyone seems to have a Mallory-related story.”
The team have set themselves a goal of a finalised racing calendar by the end of January with a 60:40 emphasis on motorcycle racing to ‘favour its roots’. The Festival of 1,000 Bikes is due to take place at the circuit once again, Thundersport GB, the Vintage Motorcycle Club and the East Midlands Racing Association are all heading back too. Chris Walker’s Race School is already based at the circuit but for 2014 will be expanding to take in the MSV circuits; they and a host of other track day companies have also been in touch to use the circuit for the coming season.
Roberts told us, “Literally everybody has been on to us. There’s a lot of interest and everybody seems to want to come back to Mallory. From my days of racing I think everyone sees Mallory as a fun race track, it’s a seriously hard race track to ride quickly around but it’s somewhere where you really can enjoy, I think that goes right down the line from the top people who have raced here over the years right the way through to the slow group on a track day. So, it’s going to be hard work!”
The decision to approach the circuit owner was made over a beer when Roberts and Hicken, who are neighbours, were discussing Complog’s proposed move to new premises with one option being the existing units at Mallory Park.
Roberts picks up the story, “Stuart and I were chatting and we became aware that it (the circuit) was becoming available. After the last BSB race in October things snowballed very quickly. We started to take an interest in things but it wasn’t until it went into administration when I went “hang on, there might be an opportunity” so we met with the owner, Chris Meeke, soon after that, shook hands and that was it. He decided that we were the ideal people to take it over. He had a lot of other offers from the likes of consortiums and people who wanted to build on the land. But deep down, Chris still wanted his motor racing circuit because deep down he’s still a motorsport man. He could sell and live happily ever after with the money but he gets more enjoyment than the racing drivers so I can’t blame him. That’s how it all came about and it happened very quickly."
Noise & Council backing
After the previous noise issues which resulted in the BARC walking away, the new team in charge have clearly been working on their charm with the local council.
“I don’t know much about what when on (with BARC). We have had meetings with the Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council and the one thing that has come out of it very clearly is they want Mallory open and running. It’s a huge leisure park for Leicestershire and there’s nowhere else like it in the county.” said Roberts.
He continued, “It’s not only a race circuit it’s a park – we can use it for triathlons, we can use it for cycling events, there’s no limit to what this can be used for, clearly motorsport is the main role. We’re never going to keep every person happy, especially if you’ve got neighbours living close to a race track but the vast majority of people living in Kirkby Mallory want to see the place open. You only have to ride around the village and see the stickers on the windows of the houses, ‘Keep Mallory Open’. There were some events that perhaps took place at night time but we’re not interested in that, we interested in proper racing run by the right kind of organisations.”
Like a child on Christmas morning, Roberts is clearly excited by his new venture, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine owning the circuit. You go motorbike racing, you come here to the circuit and race then you come here as the main tyre man and you end up running the circuit. Amazing really!” he declared.
The team are already talking about a grand opening with some of the big names from the past to get some real nostalgia!