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Racing at the Palace

Crystal Palace is one of the oldest motor sport venues in the world and, since it staged its first motor race, back in 1899, it’s played host to some fantastic battles involving some of the sport’s greatest names. From its early days as an improvised venue for enthusiasts, through the 1920s and 1930's when huge crowds came to cheer on the local Glaziers motorcycle speedway team, right up until the circuit closed in 1972, Crystal Palace really was ‘London’s Own Circuit’.


While the popularity of two- and four-wheeled motor sport at the Palace has ebbed and flowed over the decades, it was in the 1950s and ‘60s that the fast, challenging racetrack really came into its own. Over this period, some of the great names of international motor sport - Jim Clark, James Hunt, Stirling Moss, Jochen Rindt, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, the list goes on ~ came to do battle in the leafy confines of the park.


These drivers raced on the final incarnation of the Crystal Palace circuit, opened in 1953, which proved hugely popular with drivers and spectators alike. In fact, estimates put the number of spectators who flocked to the track for its 1953 re-opening at close to 100,000 people! The roar of engines continued to echo through the park throughout the 1960s, until modern safety standards brought the final curtain down on the track in 1972.


Timeline of key events


1899: Enthusiasts first map out an impromptu track and race their new-fangled machines around the park


May 21, 1927: Inaugural Crystal Palace road racing motorcycle event held


November 30, 1936: Crystal Palace destroyed by fire

April 1937: Opening of new circuit, designed by architect C L Clayton as “a Donington Park for London”


July 17, 1937: First London Grand Prix held at the Palace; won by Prince Bira driving an ERA R2B at an average speed of 56.5mph/90.9kmh        


October 1937: Racing ace Dick Seaman demonstrates his Mercedes W125 at the Palace, the first time a motor sport event had been broadcast live on TV  


1939-1945: Motorsport suspended during WW2; the two water towers that had flanked the Crystal Palace were also destroyed for fear they may act as a navigational aid to the Luftwaffe


1953: New track layout opened; inaugural event attracts nearly 100,000 spectators


1964: Unknown Austrian Jochen Rindt makes a name for himself in a Formula 2 meeting at the Palace, beating Graham Hill and Jim Clark. Rindt would become World Champion in 1970, sadly losing his life the same year


1969 (approx): “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” The famous scene from The Italian Job filmed in the park


May 1972: During the final International meeting, Mike Hailwood secures the fastest ever lap of the track, at an average speed of 103.39mph/166.39kmh.


September 23, 1972: Gerry Marshall wins the final car race to be held at Crystal Palace driving a Lister Jaguar. Club events continue until 1974


1997: Sprint racing returns to the Palace, but Millennium plans for the park result in an abrupt end to racing after four years


2010 to present: Motorsport at the Palace goes from strength to strength, capturing the imagination of drivers and spectators and reviving and celebrating the history of this fantastic track