Danny Robins' paranormal cold cases: the ghost of Brooklands racing circuit
BBC Radio’s Danny Robins travels to the former Brooklands racing circuit in Surrey to follow up sightings of a particularly speedy spook
I’m perched on the almost impossibly steep bend of the world’s oldest racetrack, contemplating the existence of the world’s fastest ghost. Brooklands, near Weybridge in leafy Surrey, is now a rather fun museum full of old cars and planes, but it was once the first- ever purpose-built motor-racing course.
I’m with Mark Richardson, a tall, bespectacled writer and motorsports fan who’s been coming here since he was a kid. Mark very definitely doesn’t believe in ghosts, and yet, he thinks he saw one, right on this very spot.
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To understand, we need to imagine the cracked and weed-strewn track back in its heyday, on 31 October 1913, as British racing driver Percy ‘Pearly’ Lambert revved his engine and prepared to break the land speed record. Only a few months earlier, Percy had become a legend in his own lifetime; the first person to drive 100 miles in an hour. This was still the age of the horse, so his achievement was like landing on the Moon.
Cruelly though, his record was snatched away almost immediately by a French rival, so, now here Percy is, trying to reclaim it, just two weeks before he’s due to get married.
“He’d promised his fiancée this was going to be his last day of racing,” says Mark.
“Oh God,” I gasp, “and it was...”
You see, Percy’s words became eerily prophetic as, on the 21st lap, his rear tyre burst. In those days, drivers sat on the car, like jockeys on horseback, with no safety belt or helmet to protect them. Poor Percy didn’t stand a chance as the puncture sent his speeding car somersaulting, fracturing his skull. He died on the way to hospital and that was the end of his high-speed hopes. Or was it... ?
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There have been many sightings of Percy at Brooklands since – a sad-looking figure walking around the track, perhaps mourning his failure or the fiancée he’d never get to marry. Mark’s sighting came at 5.30am one misty morning when he’s pretty certain he was the only (living) person here.
For me, the most convincing part of Mark’s story is his reluctance to tell it. Brooklands Museum tends to attract car enthusiasts – rational types like Mark. No one is impressed by ghost stories here, and yet, year after year, there are fresh sightings of Percy. He’s not the only apparition either. During 28 years of racing, until the track closed in 1939, 17 people died; not just drivers but spectators too, and, by all accounts, quite a few of them have chosen to linger.
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As we walk round the death-defying concrete curve, Mark tells me of a visitor who saw the ghost of a decapitated driver and was so shaken by the experience that museum staff ended up having to call an ambulance. I feel a shiver, despite the autumn sun, as I realise this is a place of death; the early- 20th century equivalent of a gladiatorial arena, where crowds lined the track to watch young drivers risk their lives in flimsy cars at breakneck speeds.
If phantom soldiers re-enact their final moments on battlefields, it seems equally appropriate that Percy and his adrenaline- junkie contemporaries return to haunt Brooklands. But perhaps he’s not trudging round the track mournfully, he’s just concentrating, getting ready for another attempt at that record...
This article was first published in the September 2021 issue of BBC History Revealed
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