Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter looks back at the proud history of Oliver’s Mount, England’s only closed-roads circuit.

MOST of us have enjoyed a day out at Scarborough. For me, it was the go-to family holiday destination in the 1970s where lazy days on the beach would be curtailed with a first house sitting at a show at the Futurist or the Floral Hall theatres. Tourists thronged in their thousands before the cheap foreign holiday package boom took over and condemned the traditional British seaside holiday to a long, painful death.

But the Yorkshire resort is also a little-known mecca for motorsports. Glance up to above the Spa in the South Bay and you will see the war memorial, which is situated on Oliver’s Mount. Supposedly named after Oliver Cromwell who had visited the town in the 17th Century, the narrow, tree-lined slopes overlooking the coastal resort have been hosting hugely popular motorcycle races on the closed-roads for over 70 years.

England’s only natural "road" racing track, the origins lie with the enthusiasm of members of the Scarborough and District Motor Club, who began searching for a venue to hold road racing in the mid-1930s. Their first idea was for a 14-mile course at Seamer Moor with another option being to use the town’s former horse racing venue nearby to create a ten-mile course, but nothing came of either proposal before the onset of the Second World War.

When peace returned in 1945 the club renewed its efforts and, with the support of the ACU and the local council, began a search for a new venue. With post-war austerity, costs were now a major factor, so a much shorter circuit was now favoured. Oliver’s Mount on the southern edge of the town quickly seemed the best option and plans for the 2.410-mile course were soon laid out.

The circuit was officially opened in September 1946 with the first race meeting following a few days later.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

More than 12,000 spectators attended two days of racing on Tuesday, September 17 and Thursday, September 19 where Midlander Sid Barnett won both 500cc events with Yorkshireman Denis Parkinson victorious in the 350cc race. Bradford’s Allan Jefferies and Stokesley rider Fred Rist were also competing.

The original course followed the same layout as today, though for the first two meetings the start was located in the middle of today’s Esses at the top of Quarry Hill before being relocated to its current position at Weaponness Farm. Modifications were made for subsequent meetings, including widening the straights and a slight easing of Mere Hairpin. In 1947, racing was transferred to Fridays and Saturdays before the first Sunday meeting took place in May 1971.

The races were popular with the public too, and from 1947 the BBC began radio broadcasts, some of which featured father-and-son commentary duo, Graham and Murray Walker.

Improvements continued over the years including a complete resurface in 1973 by which time the events were under the jurisdiction of Scarborough Racing Circuits Ltd. Big name riders such as Geoff Duke, Eric Oliver, John Surtees, Bob McIntyre, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Jarno Saarinen and Phil Read brought huge crowds, with an estimated 50,000 in attendance at the 1977 meeting.

A big Oliver’s Mount supporter, Barry Sheene had just won his second 500cc world championship that year for Suzuki and was set to do battle with Yorkshire crowd favourite, Mick Grant on his lime-green Kawasaki. Sheene set a new lap record in the first clash before retiring but in the MCN/Brut 33 British Superbike Championship race over 15 laps, the pair went at it like men possessed in the early laps, roared on by the partisan 60,000 crowd but when the Sheene machine stopped again, it not only compounded a miserable weekend for the Londoner, but it also left Grant to claim another victory in front of his adoring fans.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

The circuit continued to host British Championship races throughout the 1980s with big-name riders including Wayne Gardner, Graeme Crosby, Steve Parrish, Keith Huewen and Roger Marshall but the increasing speeds came to a head in 1989 when future quadruple World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty lapped the course at an average speed of over 82mph, including three walking-pace hairpins. Something needed to be done so a new chicane near the start/finish area was installed in 1991.

1996 saw the 50th anniversary celebrations with a record crowd of more than 63,000 to see their heroes from yesteryear, who could between them boast 32 world championships. The star line-up included 15-time world champion Giacomo Agostini reunited with his former factory MV Agusta, Jim Redman on the Honda-6, Barry Sheene on a Suzuki RG500 and Carl Fogarty on his Honda RC45.

In 1999 a new pedestrian footbridge was built over Quarry Hill, and further improvements and safety work carried out but by now, the track had fallen out of favour with many riders as it no longer hosted the main championships. It did, however, continue to attract the leading TT riders including John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop, David Jefferies, Ian Hutchinson, Dean Harrison and Ian Lougher as well as a certain Guy Martin. Indeed, the side-burned TV presenter and part-time racer is the most successful having won eight Gold Cups between 2003 and 2012.

A couple of high-profile accidents in 2017 saw members of the public injured which led to a safety review and meant racing could not continue until the recommendations were carried out. That spelled the end for the existing organisers but with the backing of Scarborough Borough Council, a new consortium including former racers Mick Grant and Eddie Roberts oversaw the return of racing in 2019 which has continued despite the pandemic difficulties this season.

Hill climbs and sprints on two, three and four wheels are part of the circuit’s heritage as well as hosting stages of car rallies, such as the Lombard RAC. Latterly, it was pedal power which took centre stage in 2016 when the parkland hosted a classified climb in the Tour de Yorkshire.

For an iconic and unique track, and having raced there myself on two wheels, and rallied on four, I can vouch first-hand, it offers a challenge like no other. Long may it continue – as that’s the least this venerable old lady deserves.