Under a blazing mid-day sun, at this 50th Anniversary Celebration, 1992 Formula One World Champion and 1993 CART Indycar Champion, Nigel Mansell teamed up with his old friend, the much loved commentator Murray Walker, to officially open Thruxton’s new multi-million pound hospitality centre.
Prior to this, the pair signed hundreds of autographs and chatted with fans. Mansell, now 64 and looking fit and well, unexpectedly quit Williams F1 after lifting the F1 crown and headed Stateside to race Indycars. He signed up with Newman Haas Racing as team mate to Mario Andretti in the CART Series where he stunned the American racing world by taking pole position and winning his first race. He also led the Indy 500 before eventually finishing a fine third. He won five races that year and bagged the Championship making him the only man to hold both the F1 and CART titles at the same time.
Mansell said at Thruxton “I did my first race here in 1976 in Formula Ford 1600 and I’m pleased to say that I won it. And I raced in F3 here in 1979. But the biggest thrill I’ve had is meeting my Dad here (referring to Murray) and being a double act to open this splendid building.” Murray, who is now 94, has frequently commentated at Thruxton and said “Looking back, I can’t think of any other track that has changed as little as Thruxton has. It’s the same now as I always remember it, which is one of its great strengths. Not only that, but it’s in this glorious rural setting in Hampshire and the racing is always good and varied.” Mansell was asked if he would be demonstrating a racing car that afternoon and wasn’t sure, so Murray, famous for his Murray-isms, piped up “Well, he’ll either be driving or he won’t.” Classic Murray.
A walk around the paddock revealed some wonderful machinery. There was a new bright yellow Ford GT which was later put through its paces on track by British F4 driver, Seb Priaulx and nearby was an original 1965 GT in the iconic blue and orange Gulf livery belonging to the Rofgo Collection. There was also the famous DAF 55 with rear mounted five litre Oldsmobile V8 that Tony Hazelwood raced in Super Saloons during the early Seventies and was the first Super Saloon to lap Thruxton at over 100mph. A raucous Lola T70 Chevy V8 in blue and yellow Sunoco colours also thundered around the track as part of the weekend’s demonstrations as did a replica of Stuart Graham’s black and green Faberge “Brut” Camaro driven by the man himself. The ex Motorcycle Grand Prix and TT winner turned Championship winning car racer, competed at Thruxton many times in Camaros during the early 70’s and won here. Upon climbing out of the car Stuart said “I wasn’t going that quick because I was still trying to figure out where all the bits were. I always used to enjoy Thruxton because it was a proper flowing circuit which suits a big car anyway. We always went pretty well here with the Camaros so it was nice to rekindle some memories and it was great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
I also spotted something to keep the kiddies entertained. Not difficult as a giant Kenworth “Smokey and the Bandit” tribute rig gave the game away. It had hauled a bunch of “Mini Movie Trucks”, powered by 6.5hp motors for the kiddies to trundle around a “Smokey” film themed inflatable course.
And finally to the racing. Of most interest to CA readers were the two Historic Touring Car Races which saw the Chevy Camaros of Oliver Bryant and Alex Thistlethwayte pitched against hot Jags, Capris, Rover V8s and Alfas. Unfortunately Ric Wood’s 3 litre V6 Capri, driven by BTCC ace Adam Morgan in the first race, was just too fast and romped home to win by 36 seconds from Oliver with Alex a further six seconds behind. The second race was pretty much a repeat. This time, Wood himself took to the wheel and won by 42 seconds from Oliver with Alex 4th behind a Jaguar XJ12C.
Words & Photography: Steve HavelockEnjoy more Classic American reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.