Last night The Arena Essex Raceway held its final event. The announcement has weighed heavily on car enthusiasts for months, but as of today it is permanently closed.
The Purfleet venue, which first opened on 1 May 1978, was put up for sale at the start of 2017 and has now been purchased for land development. At the moment there is only speculation about what the site will be used for in the future, but it is known that the new land owners are planning something separate from racing. Although work may not be started for another two to three years, all staff and management will have to move out of the site by the end of the year.
The purpose built quarter mile circuit was developed by racing driver Chick Woodroffe who saw the potential in an old cement works quarry pits. From March through to November the oval track has continuously run motor racing events such as Motorcycle Speedway, and assorted Hot-Rod and Stock Car classes from all over the country and mainland Europe. The raceway has also been used as the location for programmes such as Top Gear as well as TV adverts and music videos.
The final event – ‘Firecracker XXVII’- was an ode to the history of Arena Essex. The very first Firecracker meeting was planned 27 years ago by Chick’s son, to persuade his father to invest in an end of season finale. The event was hugely popular, usually housing up to 13,000 spectators and entries from a range of unique vehicles such as Rolls Royce’s, Chevvies, limos and even hearses. Over 230 cars took part in the event last night, including drivers from Holland, Belgium and across the UK. Shellshock Fireworks, who have worked with the arena since its beginning, also put on a spectacular display for all those who came to say their last goodbye to the venue.
In September Speedway racing team ‘The Lakeside Hammers’, whose home was at the Arena Essex Raceway, had to move to The Rye House Stadium. But they are not the only ones effected by the closure. ‘King of the Ring’ a drifting event held exclusively at the venue can no longer continue. Winners of this competition would often go on to drive in the British Drifting Championship, so the closure of Arena Essex also means that for many people a way into professional drifting has also been lost.
“The arena has always been limited as they can’t keep it up to date or invest too much to keep it modern,” said Steve Biagioni, promoter of King of the Ring. “Numbers have dwindled because the cost of cars keeps going up, wages don’t go up and then it’s harder for teams and drivers, and the public as well”. He continued “nobody wanted this place to go but their hand was always a bit forced because of the compulsory purchase situation. We’re very lucky here that there isn’t a noise limit because we’re so close to the A13 and M25. Other circuits do struggle massively with noise, I know Lydden Hill does. We’re trying to find somewhere we can take these cars and do what we do here but somewhere else is very difficult to find.”
Biagioni, known as Baggsy, confessed that the possibility of hosting the drifting event at another location is slim. “We’d love to, and we have been looking into options that we’ve got but it’s very limited to us. This site works very well because we can stay open until 10 at night. It’s such a great location. We’re struggling at the moment. If we can get somewhere else we will but it doesn’t look great.”
Talking at the King of the Ring final and last event due to the closure, Baggsy said “A lot of people have posted on social media that they’re disappointed. It shows with how many people are here tonight that its disappointing for a lot of people that this is the last ever event here. People have come out to support the last one, normally we can have anything up to 1500 people but tonight we have about 2000.”
Only time will tell whether there will be a fitting replacement for the Arena, but until then, the closure of tracks across England seems to be a growing problem. On their website, the venue’s team left these thoughtful words for their loyal fan base:
“Arena Essex Raceway and everyone involved will bid you a sad and heartfelt farewell for having such a profound effect on so many lives, not least by introducing us to numerous characters over the last 41 years, we thank you.”