ONE of the biggest sporting casualties of the year-and-a-bit we have endured of Covid has been that of motorsport, especially locally.

Elite status (as the government termed it) meant professional or semi-professional racing could go ahead but like many other outdoor as well as indoor sports, without spectators, and that proviso still applies until later this month when a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend events again as part of the roadmap out of lockdown, starting on May 17.

Organisers of motorsport events are, generally-speaking, unpaid volunteers who willingly put their considerable time and effort into allowing other people to have fun and over the past 12 months, their resolve has been tested to the limit. The one thing that has proliferated from this crisis is the opportunity for bureaucracy to prevail with increasing rules and regulations implemented in the name of safety.

Such an example of all this has been highlighted in one of the most basic forms of motorsport, and with respect to the hundreds of competitors who race in Autograss, the concept doesn’t come much simpler. Persuade a farmer to loan you a field, obtain the necessary local permits, mark out an oval course, put some basic safety equipment in place and await the throng of drivers to rock up.

One such organisation is the Yorkshire Dales Autograss Club who have a rich history in the region. They have run events at places such as Catterick and Kiplin, but their most recent home can be found at Thornborough between Bedale and Ripon. Here, the club runs a series of events during the year for all levels of drivers and cars.

Banger racing it certainly isn’t, but the battered cars in some cases tell the tale that contact often takes place, though it technically isn’t allowed. And the vehicles range from scrapyard-salvaged Class 1 1000cc Nissan Micras and Minis through to the 1600cc standard Stock Hatch class right the way up to Class 10 "Specials" over 2000cc.

The ladies’ and juniors' races are in slightly different classes but usually the pinnacle of the event is when the Class 7 warriors take to the grid. Utilising the Mini pickup chassis, two powerful 1000cc motorcycle engines are bolted into the back and the rear-wheel drive banshees scream around the course almost permanently sideways. And as for the cost to build or buy one, it will have at least four noughts on the price.

I’ve visited Thornborough a number of times in the past and got to know a few of the drivers so when I saw the calendar was announced earlier this year, I thought I’d pop along on one of my weekends off to take a look after a year of very limited action.

In line with the previous observations, there was a lot of box ticking before I could even plan my visit to Bank Holiday Monday’s action. There was a stringent application process to be adhered to, as strict as anything I had to complete prior to working at events last year, but with club joined, a non-competition licence purchased and an admission fee paid in advance, I was given a unique reference number to show upon my arrival. I was booked in! All very efficient from the team of volunteers.

The predicted weather forecast was a washout as the day progressed, so racing was brought forward to help counter any disruption as this was a grass field, remember, and it needed to be used every month until autumn, so preservation was the key. So, with more than 100 competitors from all over the country signed on, scrutineered and some randomly breath tested as is protocol at all motorsport events nowadays, the opening heats got underway around 10am in bright sunshine, to the point that the track needed watering to keep the dust down.

As efficient as always, the YDAC rattled through the opening heat races with minimal fuss or incidents but by the time the second set of heats were underway, the drizzle was turning to heavy rain and mud was becoming a problem with drivers' visibility as much as anything.

By now, many of the fancied runners in the various classes had decided to call it a day either through the deteriorating conditions or through mechanical problems, or in some cases both. In the showcase special saloon Class 7 heats, Harrogate driver Andy Hornshaw and Andy Jefferson from Pateley Bridge looked in good form for the home club, as did National Champion Andy Holtby from Lincoln and Bradford’s Richard Blockley whilst local hopes were dashed when Darlington’s Graham Blackburn broke a driveshaft on the Mini he was sharing with wife Pam in heat two.

All sorts and shapes of cars continued to battle against the elements as well as themselves, but as the meeting headed towards the all-important finals, the conditions became impossible and after weeks (if not months) of dry weather, the organisers had no option but to pull the shutter down and curtail the meeting. Everyone agreed it was the correct decision as safety, as always, was paramount and the track needed to be preserved for the next meeting.

Hopefully, when the next meeting open to the public takes place on June 13, the weather gods will smile kindly on that hallowed field in North Yorkshire and the competitors, once more expected in their hundreds, will do battle again. If you like your action fast and furious, then pop along and you’ll be most welcome to share in one of British motorsport’s best kept secrets.