Scrap cars are synonymous with banger racing. In other words, rather than crushing an old, defunct car, stock car enthusiasts will often buy and resurrect the more robust ones by turning them into banger racing legends.
And, Arena Essex Raceway over in Purfleet, Essex was one of the best tracks in the country to go and see them bite the dust once and for all.
When did Arena Essex close?
Opening in 1978 (way before the Lakeside Shopping Centre was even a twinkle in an architect’s eye), Arena Essex finally shut its gates for the last time on Sunday 4th November 2018. Appropriately, the legendary Firecracker event was the last one on the calendar. With declining numbers attending as the years passed, and following a rather tempting offer of £8million from a housing development company, the owners decided to sell up. Around 2 years later, the whole site was demolished, leaving Arena Essex all but a distant memory.
Annual Firecracker event
After its inception in 1991 at the track, there’s little doubt that Firecracker was the most popular of all the events on the arena’s calendar. The reason being that, in its latter years, more common, run-of-the-mill models were banned from taking part. This meant that you could see all kinds of weird, rare and vintage entrants such as Rolls Royces, Chevvies, Hearses and Limos competing against each other. As the name suggests, Firecracker ended with a free firework display over the track.
How it all started
The Arena Essex Raceway track was the brainchild of Chick Woodroffe, a local businessman who also had a passion for racing. Prior to this, the area was the site of an old cement works overspill site that was ripe for development. So, the quarter-mile oval track was laid, a post and wire fence was erected around it and the arena opened its doors to the public on the 1st May 1978. The rest, as they say, is history.
At its very first event, Arena Essex was besieged by torrential rain which pretty much ruined the day for most people. Over time, the post and wire fence became an issue too. Clearly, it wasn’t very robust and due to this, there was a string of bad crashes. It wasn’t just the bangers either; the flimsy fence also didn’t fare too well with the faster-moving hotrods either. Finally, the fence was replaced in the late 1980s with far better Armco barriers, meaning both drivers AND spectators were safer as a result.
Despite being a fairly modest complex, Arena Essex was the chosen venue for the National World Final Championship, which ran for over 40 years, although the event was originally shared between Crayford Stadium in the early years. Numbers could vary quite a bit year-on-year, but would typically consist of around 40 qualifying vehicles plus the wild-card entries. Just to mix things up a bit, the winner from the previous year’s event would start in last place.
During the months of March and November, banger racing enthusiasts would set aside their Sundays (and/or Bank Holidays) to attend Arena Essex where they’d expect to see:
- Rookie Bangers
- 2 Litre Bangers
- National Bangers
- Team Bangers
- Big Van Bangers
- Caravan Destruction Derbies
- Unlimited Bangers.
If you were a regular attendee over the years, you’re no doubt familiar with all the more popular makes and models dominating many of the events. In particular, it wouldn’t be a proper event if you didn’t see a ton of Austin Cambridges and Morris Oxfords in the earlier years. Once most of them on the road had ended up smashed to smithereens at banger racing events up and down the country, they were replaced with popular cars such as the Ford Cortina, Granada and Mondeo. Ironically, despite many millions of these rolling off the production line, events such as the ones at Arena Essex Raceway are probably the main reason you see very few of these classics on the road today.
You can view an archived copy of the website here… and finally, RIP and thanks for the memories Arena Essex!