Track Improvements at Stoke

Rumours of major track and pit work going on at the Startrax-promoted Stoke, in the Potteries, just had to be investigated by F1Stockcars.com.

A fairly recent addition to the current F1 calendar, Stoke has actually been around a while and has seen the Brisca F1s thundering around there on and off from the 1970s. Built fairly recently (by track standards) in 1973, at an eye watering (then!) figure of £200,000, the site is built on former coal mining land in Chesterton. Though initially a Mike Parker promoted site, the following year Hednesford promoter Bill Morris took over and started by tarmacing the oval track, but this didn’t last long.

1975 saw Mick Smith’s ‘Trackstar’ taking over on the now back to shale track, before Mike Parker then took over again – the F1s then had a 14 year gap from 1977 to 1991. Dave Mason then started again with the F1s in 1991 (the track now smaller) with a succession of promoters, including the late Stuart Smith, at the helm until a change of use saw 4-wheels disappear for a number of years.

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Stoke has seen a great number of changes over the years.

So to the modern use of Stoke…

Steve Rees’ Startrax organisation decided to bring the old gal back in 2011, complete with a new (well, second-hand) Armco fence, but it was not until 11th August 2012 that the F1s returned. Perhaps we have all been spoilt by modern day standards of super smooth shale circuits but the F1s and their supporters were certainly surprised (and more importantly thrilled) by the spectacle at the first meeting.

The track undulated (ok, big bumps!) down the straight and on the bends; with the cars literally bouncing down the straights and into the corners. This led to some fantastic good old-fashioned (ok, I’ll use the phrase Old Skool) Stock Car racing. The facilities left a bit to be desired with a basic bar (I think its great but I’m a real ale fan!) and it didn’t really help that Ian Higgins parked his Stoxkarts transporter in front of the toilet block so no one knew they were there. But apart from a few internet gripes, the place went down a storm with the fans. Steve then ran another meeting in September again to rave internet reviews from the fans.

Although a bumpy track is a great spectacle, something had to be done for both the F1s and also the hectic domestic formulae programme of meetings that Startrax also run there. The modern F1 is set up for smooth tracks – the cars were leaving the track on the main straights with the engines hitting the rev limiter and then coming back down playing havoc with the drive shafts, diffs and general drivetrain.

Steve and the Startrax team have smoothed the track out gradually since 2012; last year adding a traffic light system and portable lighting gantries on the corners to improve the lighting at the track. Stoke also hosted the World Final Semi Qualifier there in 2014 .The rave internet reviews continued, with the fans loving the place for its entertaining racing and F1 spectacle. Most of the complaints tended to be along the lines of ‘why are we only getting two meetings a year there?’

And so to the 2016 season. With the Startrax organisation running two F1 meetings at Stoke this year and also boasting a very busy domestic schedule, Steve decided to have some major track upgrades for the season – even though the bumps of 3 years ago have largely disappeared. A difficult decision to make, as the track is rented so major revisions and spending is done at the cost to Startrax and not the actual owners of the track.

Rumours and pictures on Facebook led to us contacting Stuart Milnes (Steward and Clerk of the Course at Startrax). Stuart quickly supplying us with brief information on the track updates and also putting us in contact with Adam Richards, of family-run firm A R Richards, who did the track and pit improvement work at Stoke – for those not ‘in the know’, they are the company who supply the big John Deere tractors for track recovery at the Startrax meetings, as well as at Birmingham and Hednesford.

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Hard at work improving the track for drivers and fans.

So over to Adam for an update on the work…

“At Stoke we spent days looking for the main drains that were shown on a map from 1971 – after some studying and measuring of the map we found the track had been moved lots of times and had a Tarmac race track under the shale. We found the main outlet, which was a good 12 foot down on the dog track, so after tracing them we found the main ring drain which was situated on the track running in the middle of the track another 10 foot down.

After exposing them we tapped off them and brought two drains one each end into the inner line of kerbs where we sunk three 1m by 1.2m wide rings in and having one of the ring acting as a dump hole to catch any silt, this was the same at other end so after that we dug a trench around inner line 1.5mtr from kerb and laid 6 inch perforated twin wall pipes and as we went round we positioned five big gullies with slotted lids and these also had sump traps in to catch silt. Also all pipes were laid with 20/40 clean gravel to act as a drain for water to run off the infield as well – this was the same for other end and this way we can keep on top of sucking it out and keeping clean.”

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Will these improvements lead to an increase in F1 meetings at the track?

“Each gully has a 4 inch pipe from the track to the inside gullies to take water as the track was lower than the tops of lids which with all the weather we were up against worked lovely. Then the second stage started with all the old kerbs being taken out and a 1.5 mtr wide by 50 mtr long concrete apron was laid at 6inch thick so water could run off the infield and the track to the slotted lids. This took some time and hard work with rain hitting us everyday!

While the Volvo 140 tracked digger was there we made a batter around the Armco to give more support behind and make it firmer which was needed as we had replaced some lengths of Armco on pit bend. This will also be useful for marshals to stand on and we used the material that we dug off the centre infield to act as a run off for cars etc and tractors to park and this has left both ends higher than middle. We are trying to stop cars racing across the middle which will offer added safety to the track/infield staff. By March we will be grassing down the infield and making it look tidy, this will have tyres sunk into the ground leaving half tyre showing to act as a buffer to stop cars getting onto the grass… or that’s what we’re thinking!”

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Your first chance to see how the F1s look around the improved Stoke circuit will be Saturday 26th March.

The work done by Adam and his team certainly looks impressive . With further work; track grading, addition of shale etc. being planned in the next few weeks, only time will tell. A new track needs time, racing cars and good weather to bed in and lay down effectively. Time and racing cars are unlikely to cause a problem but the weather, on the other hand, could prove more of an obstacle.

So, all looks good for Stoke at the moment – Stuart has mentioned the track lighting looks to be upgraded and become permanently installed, but this may have to wait until later in the year or even 2017 (essentially, the lighting is being replaced at Sheffield so that is being moved to Stoke). We can perhaps hope that from 2017 onwards that the only major issue with Stoke (of there not being enough F1 meetings at this little gem of a shale track) is resolved.

Many thanks for the information for this article go to Stuart Milnes of Startrax, to Adam Richards of A R Richards for the description and photos supplied and also to CB Racegear for supplying further photographs.

Words: Andy Armer

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