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April 3rd 1961. Yuri Gagarin was selected by the Soviet space agency to make the first manned space flight, comedian Eddie Murphy was born and I Berg leads a closely contested race at a rain sodden Easter Monday kart meeting at the Long Marston track.
The Keelekart Company was founded by racing driver Michael Keele in the 1950s in Tring, with the engineering workshop being set up on the old gasworks site. Another resident of Tring at the time was ‘Mr Motor Racing’ Stirling (now Sir Stirling) Moss who invested in the company and became a partner, racing the karts in such exotic locations as the Bahamas. Through his contacts 20 Keelekarts were sold to the King of Jordan.
Meanwhile, the world-leading company was looking for somewhere more local to race and in 1959 it was announced that part of the airfield at Long Marston was to be set up as a dedicated kart track, with events being run by “The Three Counties Kart Club”. Racing started at the Long Marston kart track the following year and was an immediate success, the local papers carrying details of race results and photos of winning drivers and their trophies.
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Stephens leads the Class IV field on March 12th 1961.
Michael Keele’s son Roger had joined the business and soon became a successful racer, and was the top driver at a meeting held in March 1961, when the track record stood at 34.4 seconds.
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Keele, the son of Keele Kart founder Michael is pipped at the post by L Brown at a soaking Easter Monday meeting in 1961. Roger went on to a successful single-seater race career, tragically cut short by the onset of MS.
Another notable competitor at the Long Marston kart track was a certain Roy ‘The Weasel’ James. James had dreams of being a Grand Prix driver and progressed from karts to Formula 2 where he became one of the formula’s ‘coming men’. In August 1963, though, James hit the headlines not for his racing exploits, but as one of the perpetrators of ‘The Great Train Robbery’ using his racing skills as the gang’s getaway driver. The train was, of course, held up at Bridego Bridge near Mentmore, just a mile or two from the Long Marston kart track so perhaps James was using the karting as a cover for “casing the joint”!
The race meetings were held on Sundays and, as a result of the noise, complaints were made about the disturbance. Berkhamsted RDC granted permission for the kart track to continue operating for another year in October 1961, but even then court proceedings were pending under the Noise Abatement Act. In fact, meetings continued until 1964, when racing ended, but for a few years Long Marston had its own rival to Silverstone!
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The crowds were out for the 1962 Whit Monday race meeting at Long Marston kart track.
Article by Martin Winship.
Mrs Jill Fowler
All photos courtesy of Karting Magazine. Captions by Chris Mann.
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