Sunday was a bittersweet day. Just as it felt like the team behind Rockingham Drift Days had truly got their Meihan replica formula dialled in, the announcement that the huge Rockingham complex was due to close spread like wildfire across social media.
Sure enough, the rumours were true; the venue (at which UK drifting had found a new home after years of losing other circuits) was scheduled to be flattened to make way for industrial buildings. As such, the Sunday just gone hosted the final running of the Meihan tribute circuit at the venue. A small piece of tarmac (along with a concrete wall) that had been the catalyst for a huge improvement in grassroots driver standards over the last year or so was set to play host to its own swansong, but you could bet that the drivers involved were going to go out with a bang.
I set off super early in the morning, determined not to miss any of the action unfold. Juggling my DSLR, disposable 35mm and VHS camcorder, I made sure to capture as much of the day as possible, as I’m sure it’s something we’ll look back on in the future. I posted a highlights reel of my video footage over on the STL! Facebook page, but I will upload the full version shortly.
The day started damp and so most were understandably wary of throwing their prized possessions against a wall on an unpredictable surface but, thankfully, the wind soon dried the track out and the chaos could commence.
Events at this time of year always seem to be more of a social gathering than anything else. For a lot of us, we only tend to see each other when we travel across the country to converge on a particular circuit or venue. With the off-season approaching, it’s always good to get some last minute shit talking done before the long wait until the next major events in the Spring.
The Meihan layout wasn’t the only attraction on the day; the Outer Paddock was also open for business, while the Lakeside layout utilised some of the faster sections of the circuit’s infield. There was also a skid pan for those that felt that they could benefit from it.
As the afternoon wore on and the threat of an early sunset loomed, the action continued to ramp up. Thankfully there were no major crashes (that I saw anyway), but there was the usual array of flying fibreglass, smashed head/tail lamps and the occasional bent fender.
As the sun began to set, the headlights were switched on and we were literally counting down the minutes until it would all be over. Bizarrely, some of the circuit marshalls (employed by Rockingham) started asking the remaining crowds to start leaving the area before the track action had even stopped. Thankfully, event organiser Sweeps was on hand himself to ensure that nobody left so we could all enjoy these final few moments.
As the red flag was waved and we all began the long walk back to the pits, discussion turned to what was going to come next. As far as I have seen, no new venues have appeared out of nowhere, nor has an existing venue jumped at the opportunity to increase their revenue and footfall by introducing drifting (all Rockingham driver entries usually sell out within a minute of them going online, with all events attracting a large number of paying spectators).
I’m hoping that Sweeps and his team have something secret up their sleeves for next year, as I fear that the grassroots scene will begin to suffer if not.
Thankfully, venues such as Driftland, Teesside and Three Sisters continue to host regular events on proper circuits and, while these are all relatively easy for me to access, they are a long way away from anyone residing in the South. Buxton and Birmingham Wheels continue to offer cheap thrills within their oval confines, but these too would be considered quite Northerly by a large proportion of our population.
Only time will tell what comes next. As and when something new (hopefully) rolls around, you can be sure that I will be there, retro camcorder in hand and, ideally, behind the wheel of my own drift car at some point. This weekend coming sees the final drift day at Rockingham all together (Outer Paddock only), so I will see if I can make it down to capture the last of the action.