Based in the west country it had early links with Exeter and Plymouth Kart clubs which are no longer on the karting map, but the two clubs have since left a legacy of experienced drivers and enthusiasts who are now using their skills at Dunkeswell and other UK circuits. Like our present day club many of the UK’s early Motor Sports organisations used some of the old American and RAF Airfields which were left behind after the the ‘Yankee’ soldiers and Battle Groups from America and Europe departed at the end of the last war. Many of these great Landing Strips have now been dug up, returned to arable pastures or redeveloped, but fortunately the early Club was lucky to have a good group of dedicated Karting and Motorsport enthusiasts to seal the fate of part of the old Airfield Fuel Bay and Runway and put the area to good Sporting use.
Although the Race circuit of today is situated on the southern side of the Blackdown Hills – recognised for its outstanding natural beauty, those early days at Dunkeswell or any other venue were rustic to say the least. Some parts of the early airfields were surfaced in concrete and most were left open to the elements, barren and in disrepair which meant a bumpy ride for those early drivers who sought to experience the thrills of driving at speed.
The original ‘Go Karting’ concept was developed over 40 years ago in 1950s America. The idea was soon to spread to the UK, Europe and across the continent thanks to some innovative developments in chassis design and adaptive use of early motorcycle and motocross engines in the 50s and 60s by companies such as Villiers, Ariel, Montesa, Baltacco and McCulloch.
By 1961 the Italian manufacturer, Parilla, had produced the first Rotary Valve induction engine which effectively opened the door to the future of 100cc Karting developments. As Kart Racing became popular here in the UK and abroad we saw the birth of today’s recognisable names such as Tal-Ko (TKM), Ital, Honda and Dap.
Whilst Zip Karts carried the Komet engines of the early 1970’s and Dap sought to put the Dap T70 on the worlds race grids, Dunkeswell was proving ever more popular as a venue for race meets and was holding Car Sprint and 200 and 250cc kart events in conjunction with local and UK kart and motor clubs. Kart Racing at this time was still an adult sport but thanks to the work of JJ Blow the cadet kart concept was born out of the innovative use of an industrial engine bolted on to a small chassis. Coupled with the important advent of a new Junior Britain class Go Karting was to become available to young junior drivers throughout the UK.
A lot has changed since those early years, Kart Clubs such as Plymouth and Winkleigh have gone and new classes have seen the demise of those early machines but we now have a fantastic choice in chassis and engines to race which suit any driver at all levels, whilst race venues, UK, European and World Karting Championships have seen great names such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Shumacher, Ivan Capelli, Heinz Harald Frentzen, Jarno Trulli, Nigel Mansel,Vestappen and Fisichelle and Jenson Button (to name a few) go on to win drives in Formula One and other Motorsports. Like many of the UK’s circuits, Dunkeswell race circuit has gradually been transformed by the club from a rough piece of open ground once held by the MOD to a Kart and motorsport venue which has been used by thousands of racing drivers of all skills and ages coming from all areas of the UK. The transformation has been an on going project and is often a slow process but new ideas are under constant review and are likely to be implemented over the next five years. Such ideas include corporate hire facilities, track extensions and a number of improvements which will enhance the area both for the club and its members, our neighbours and visitors and tourists which are vital to the Rural Devon economy.