The Founding Of The Welsh Racing Drivers Association

The WRDA was formed in late 1981. The late 70s’ and early 80s’ were a bleak time for Welsh racing. At the time there were only 2 venues for on track action, Llandow circuit and Pontypool Park Hillclimb. Without being unfair to both venues, even by the standards of the day, they could best be described as prosaic.

However both held a fascination in the eyes of the public and there is a fund of funny stories associated with them both. In 1977 Tom Pryce, a driver who inspired many with his exploits in Formula One racing, died in the South African Grand Prix. Shortly afterwards Llandow lost it’s track license. Ponytpool lasted until 1980, and then sadly that too closed. This seemed to be the death knell for Welsh racing, all the National Clubs had departed back to their bases in England, and the only regional centre had closed.

Pembrey: The Welsh Racing Drivers Assocation plays a crucial part. - Founder member and current secretary Robert Allender recalls the origins of the WRDA. "I was convinced that a new initiative was needed and I approached other drivers of the day with a view to setting up a new club, which would work towards finding new venues in Wales. Luckily I found that there were many drivers and marshals who felt the same and we banded together to form the WRDA in September 1981

The first task was to drum up support for the concept that, as England, Scotland & Ireland all had race-tracks, there should be at least one Welsh venue.

‘I approached the Sports Council for Wales and spoke to Roger Eady who agreed to help’

We looked at possibilities at Builth Wells & Dinas Mawdwy, and Bryn Bach Park on the Heads of the Valleys, but all to no avail. Later the Park was built at Bryn Bach but there were no funds for the proposed racing circuit. (in 2014 another proposal for a racing circuit in the same area seemed to running into similar problems!) However late in 1982 Roger Eday contacted us, as Llanelli Borough Council had purchased,the then derelict, Pembrey airfield.

The airfield had been used as a chicken farm by Ross Chickens, but had been abandoned, and derelict chicken sheds littered the site.

We were invited to approach Llanelli Borough Council and put forward a case for establishing a racing circuit on the site. Fortunately we were able to convince them, and the rest is history.

Pembrey – the early years
Having been invited to approach Llanelli Borough Council and put forward a case for establishing a racing circuit on the site, progress centred on events like Rally Cross which did not require much in the way of Capital Spending. This was in the days prior to the Welsh Assembly and the availability of European funding & the National Lottery, all of which could have made finance much easier to find! However following a report by consultants Tibbalds, which featured input from us, in 1986 the council decided to invest in the site and the current track was laid in Fine Cold Asphalt. We were one of the first clubs to give it try and found it very good!

Although at first it lacked a track license for racing, it became extremely popular as a test venue for the Formula One teams of the day; including amongst others Benetton, Leyton House March, Williams and later McLaren, with drivers like Ayrton Senna and future World Champions Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill.

At that time a local Doctor was Peter Francis (father of Richard Francis) and he recalls 're:- my involvement with Pembrey in the early days . We moved to Llanelli in 1984 and the first time I took any photos was at the Rallycross meeting in 1986 . In 1988 when Richard was 8 he could start cadet karting and the Cardiff kart club adopted me as their medical officer for weekends at the kart circuit . About this time there were F1 and F3 teams testing so I saw some of the teams usually with Richard or in the ambulance.'

The track gained a MSA track licence, and on 21st May 1989 the first ever Pembrey raceday was held (Organised for Llanelli Borough Council by BARC) Later the council decided to put the management of the circuit out to tender with BARC successful and took over the track as tenants.