THE BEGINNING OF A BRAVE NEW WORLD
A new name takes over at two of Britain’s finest short oval venues this season, as Yorstox becomes the promotion in charge at Odsal and Owlerton Stadiums. NEIL RANDON spoke to Graeme Robson, one half of the business partnership alongside Russell Andrew, about the company’s vision for stock car racing in the north of England and the work currently being carried out at Odsal to rebuild the track surface and the local community’s support.
A GREAT deal rides on the introduction of a new promotion to BriSCA. YorStox, the new promoter of both Bradford and Sheffield, having signed a deal to take over the reins from the Steve Rees-owned Startrax from the end of January, have the luxury, however brief it may be, of a clean slate.
Graeme Robson and Russell Andrew joined forces to set up YorStox. Both are 43 years old, good friends with an inherent understanding of each others strengths and weaknesses. They bring financial clout, a strong work ethic and an open mind.
The last characteristic is important. If Steve Rees has a legacy, it was bringing a dormant Odsal back to life and maintaining the bedrock F1 stock car support in the area. Robson and Andrew want to build on that and create a fortress for stock car racing in the north of the country.
“No one will believes us, but this isn’t about money,” said Robson.
“It’s about keeping a northern sport – that’s being strangled – alive. And Steve Rees tried to do that – he tried to keep this northern job alive.”
There is a lot of work to be done. Part of that work is rebuilding trust within the local community and a belief Odsal as a motorsport venue can deliver the goods.
Despite the continued underlying threat of Covid 19, when the stadium reopened in May last year there was plenty of optimism that stock car racing could attract new fans, and encourage former supporters to return to the sport.
As the season progressed that optimism stabilised and the BriSCA F1 World Final meeting, while it had its flaws, was regarded by most fans as a success.
But it didn’t last. Plenty of drivers had concerns regarding the racing surface at this fast track. A number thought it was unsafe when the clay base became slick, particularly if water was dropped on to it.
And then when summer turned to autumn and the weather became inclement it was painfully evident that the drainage system had not been prepared sufficiently. The rain inevitably came and with that water mixing with the racing surface’s cloying ingredients, the track soon became unraceable.
The last two events hosted last year at Odsal created the stadium’s perfect storm. The Shootout round in October was delayed by an hour to try and compact the track surface down sufficiently to race on. Eventually, with a scant crowd to witness it, the racing got under way.
But a week later, in front of a massive local family crowd who gathered for a firework bonanza, with Monster Trucks and stock car racing attached, the night turned into a disaster.
If it had stayed dry it would have been salvageable, but the rain never abated, and what was supposed to be a night of spectacle turned into a farce, with the Monster Truck forced to cancel and the stock cars literally stuck in the mud.
It was a PR disaster, with both the Daily Mirror and Daily Express online running stories on the evening. The Express ran the headline “Children so ‘bored’ at fireworks and car racing event they beg to go home.”
But that was then.
Now is all about creating a new dawn for the stadium.
Robson, from Staindrop, Co Duhram and Andrew, from Tideswell, became friends through their racing. Robson first competed in BriSCA F1 in 2008 and has raced on and off ever since, winning two races – the consolation at Coventry’s Shootout round in 2011, and another consolation event at Mildenhall’s World qualifier in 2018, where he also finished fifth in the Grand National. His last top ten came at Bradford’s long-awaited opening meeting last year in May, where he finished eighth in his heat behind Bobby Griffin.
Andrew raced in BriSCA F2, and his children Thomas and Hannah now both compete on the short ovals. He is also a respected sponsor of the sport through his company Andrew’s of Tideswell Ltd.
It was halfway through the year that the opportunity arose to buy Steve Rees’ Startrax promotion.
“I never asked Steve to sell Startrax,” explained Robson. “Steve asked me to buy Startrax, but I wasn’t interested one bit at the time.
“There was never a sit-down conversation between Russell and myself where we said we should approach Steve and have this bought off him. It just sort of evolved, like a natural progression, over the course of the year.”
Robson’s chief business is in steel-frame buildings, mainly agricultural buildings and that business branched out into industrial buildings.
“It was the worst best-kept secret was that we were buying Startrax off of Steve – and the second was that we were helping build this two-storey restaurant with Rob Speak. We’ve helped Rob put the steel frame up.”
But even before the deal was set in stone Robson and Andrew set to work on rebuilding the track. The first job was digging up the surface and making a thorough survey of the drainage system under the rugby pitch and racing surface.
It was a complex job. Robson discovered a myriad of issues. Blocked drains, silt-laden filters, collapsed pipes.
“We have removed 500 tons of shit and laid 250 tons of stone to begin with,” said Robson.
“The drainage system around the whole place is fantastic. We’ve a guy called Tim Collins, his son races. He is Fast Eddie, he has the Tarmac car number 147 and it looks like it’s rusty.
“Tim is Odsal Stadium through and through, he loves the place and his company works closely with a firm called Subscan, and between him, Subscan, me and Russell we have mapped out all the drainage for the whole stadium.
“We have found every collapse drain, every unkept silt trap, every hidden manhole. We’ve dug the pitch up and we’ve found a hidden culvert that was 12 metres down and it became quite apparent, which we already knew anyway – from the pit gate round the back straight towards turns one and two and back down the past the grandstand – all that water catchment was sitting on the track and not down the drainage like it should be.
“So we have removed about 30 tons of silt out of the silt traps that have probably been there since the last Bradford in 1997. We’ve removed bottles, cans and plastic cups and we replace everything with new silt traps and now the drainage is completely finished.
“We’ve been sanctioned that we can put in a two and a half metre concrete shoot from the kerb towards the touchline and at the back of the concrete shoot we’ve put a temporary concrete wall.”
The work on the drainage and the infield concrete partition has been non-stop since the beginning February.
“February and March are about getting the track right and whatever time permits we are very, very, close to securing a larger pit area at the back of the pits on the council-owned land,” Robson said.
There will be 24 events between Bradford and Sheffield during 2022, including Monster Trucks at both Bradford and at Sheffield – but not under the YorStox banner. Those events will be hosted under the partners other company, Odsal Motorsports Ltd.
YorStox have plenty of ideas they want to get up and running as quickly as possible, including a promotional stock car they can use at local shopping centres and also outside the stadiums.
“We’ve done a promotional car,” said Robson. “There was an ex Keith Chambers chassis that came on offer on the internet for about £500. So we bought it and put a set of axles on it and sprayed it and painted it up.
“It looks like a brand new car and it will be parked up outside the stadium, whether it is Bradford or Sheffield, in the fortnight or week before the event to show that something is on that week.”
Having a visual presence, Robson believes, is key to luring the local community to the stadiums.
“Every time I drove past Odsal or Sheffield last year I would have never have known anything was happening,” Robson admitted. “At Odsal I knew when there was a pop concert, I knew how much a season ticket was, I knew when the next rugby league match was, but no one would have known there was a stock car World Final there.
“At Sheffield I knew when the speedway was on, and when the dogs were on – Monday Thursday and Saturday. Everything was nice, bright and lit up on those nights, but there was no clue when there was going to be a stock car event there.
“Stock car racing is never going to get back to crowds it had in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Those days are gone for the same reasons that rugby’s the same, speedway. It’s a fact of life.
“I hope I’m right, but I believe we can attract new fans in through the gate and the reason I think that is because Robert’s (Speak) done it at Skegness.”
Once Robson, Russell and Rees had agreed terms and with discussions due on the next season’s fixture list rapidly approaching Robson travelled to Owlerton to meet with Matthew Hamilton, the stadium’s venue director.
It was a revealing conversation.
“BriSCA F1’s first visit to Sheffield last year was on June 12. I think there were four Sheffields during the year and I pretty much took it as read that was what Owlerton wanted from us,” Robson explained.
“Things progressed and the deal was back on the table and conversations started at Owlerton. I said to Matthew that we would be coming to Sheffield four times next season, and he said “why are you only coming four times?”
“And I said “well, I believe that is what you want, isn’t it?”
“And he said “no”.
“So I asked him how many times a year he wanted us – and he said 52!
“He said if he could have stock cars in the stadium every weekend we would be there every weekend.
“I was absolutely gobsmacked. So we came away and Russell and I had a long conversation about it – Russell only lives about 20 minutes away from Sheffield. I said I thought Sheffield is an absolute gem.
“Bradford’s a financial monster. If you get Bradford right it will pay its way – but Sheffield is the hidden gem. It is a cracking, underused facility and it’s inexpensive.
“I hope I’m right but this year there are eight meetings at Sheffield and for the local crowd I will be able to say to them that once a month they can come racing at Sheffield.
“So the first meeting is on April 10, which is a Sunday and we have BriSCA F2s, 2-litre saloons and bangers.
“I’ve got a place booked in Sheffield at Stockbridge shopping centre which is a new mall that is quite close to Owlerton and Martin Ford’s going there with a team to promote the track and we are just going to try and get a local crowd to go to the opening meeting.
“I went to Scotland to sort some jobs out and took the time to go and visit Chris Burgoyne and he’s coming down for that meeting.
“So, I’m proud to be able to say that at our first meeting at Sheffield the BriSCA F2 world champion is going to attend.
“I said to the wife, if I put out a booking list to the people of Sheffield, who have never seen a stock car before in their life and I put ‘featuring Chris Burgoyne’, they won’t care. But if I put ‘featuring F2 stock car world champion Chris Burgoyne’ it’s a little bit different isn’t it?
“I want to push Sheffield because I want it to be huge. The people at Owlerton are so receptive to us at the stadium it is unreal.
“Selfishly, I’ve managed to get Bradford on a Saturday night with BriSCA F1s and 2-litre saloons, so the August Bank Holiday weekend will be Saturday night at Bradford, followed by Sunday at Sheffield.
“We’ve been asked to do that by the Dutch, so they now have to deliver and we expect to have 25 Dutch drivers over for that event. So it will be be a big Dutch weekend, racing Saturday night at Bradford, Sunday at Sheffield and then on the boat on Sunday night so they’ll be back to work Monday lunchtime.
“The tyres hadn’t got cold on the cars last season and we are straight into it,” added Robson. “We’ve got an uphill struggle at Bradford to get it all done in time for the first meeting on March 26, but by hell or high water it will be done.”
One of the many criticisms the sport has had in recent years (particularly from this writer) is that promoters assume everyone in the crowd understands what they are watching. But to bring new fans into the sport, and keep them there, Robson understands that that has to change.
Another idea is keeping new fans informed at all times during a meeting.
“I want an on-track commentator to have a quick word in the cab with the drivers as they are lining up on track,” Robson said.
“And at the first Bradford this season, I want to have Tom Harris and Chris Burgoyne park their cars on the start/finish line at the start of the meeting and the commentator explain to the crowd that night what they are about to see. This is a BriSCA F1 and this is a BriSCA F2 and for anyone who doesn’t know, this is what they are.
“Then have a quick chat with Tom and Chris before they do a few laps around the track to show new fans what they are about.
“And the other thing I am absolutely adamant about is that the start of every race will begin with its own rolling lap music, so that once you’ve told the crowd what the cars are, the F1s all start their rolling lap to one piece of music (Fanfare To The Common Man, perhaps?) and the F2s always set away to another particular tune – so that everyone understands what the hell we are doing.”
A prime example of how little information used to be given during a meeting about the formulas racing out on track happened coincidentally at Bradford last year.
“A kid rolled over in a National Ministox – this was the August meeting – and there was a comment from someone on Facebook who said “We have been going to all the Bradford’s this year and it’s the first time I’ve realised that it was kids who were racing in the Minis…”
“The car rolls over and this kid gets out and the crowd are like… that’s a kid in that car!”
Crucially, Robson also believes in encouraging drivers and fans to openly give their views on how they think the year is progressing under Yorstox.
“What we need throughout the year is drivers and fans to tell us what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong ” he said.
“And we will listen.”
One thing is certain, every stock car fans across the country will wish them well.
Photos courtesy of Neil Randon, Colin Casserley, Thomas Ackroyd and Yorstox
Neil Randon 2022
A new monthly subscription-based BriSCA F1 e-magazine – featuring exclusive interviews, Zoom Chat debates, news, views and much more!
Tagged: Bradford, BriSCA F1, Odsal Stadium, Owlerton Stadium, Sheffield, Stock car racing, Yorstox
I have followed Brisca F1s for over 50 yrs, and living in the North East all my life I was spoilt with the likes of Aycliffe (home track), Hartlepool, Bradford and numerous Mike Parker run tracks. When Odsal reopened last year I like a lot of fellow supporters could not believe it after 25 yrs of inactivity. Along comes Steve Rees and pulls a rabbit out of the hat and performs an absolute miracle. A lot of people were critical of the track towards the end of the year, but after reading this article a clearer picture has been unveiled. I would like to wish you all at Yorstox all the best for the future, for what I hope will be an exciting time for stockcars at both Odsal and Sheffield. Looking forward to the fisrt meeting in 2022. Good luck and Thank you
Great to read somebody with real enthusiasm for our sport. Thanks
Looking forward to your new venture and wishing yorstox all the good luck in the world. And thank you.
You lads have done a great job its just what we needid in the North I’ve followed stock cars for 45 yrs it’s a fantastic sport there’s nothink like it still excites me after all this time its going to be a great year looking forward to odsal big time great place.
Do the team have any plans to open the terracing on the back straight at Sheffield?
Wish you all the best for a successful season after all the hard work gone on over the last months
Great read. Keep em coming
Good article, reasonably balanced and absolutely share the vision, bearing in mind our aim was to retire in 2019, However a last ‘push’ to get Odsal open and the details behind it [ see SCM next month for FULL story of 20/21 ] had to be done because it was then or ‘never’ it was an albatross to the RFL, if this did not proceed which in itself pulled the Bulls back – the imminent likelihood is that the RFL would have put up for auction, the 100+ lease to dispose of the stadium – a fundamental part as to ‘why’ despite the Pandemic it was crucial to get it open. But we did – An interesting anecdotal point was, around June 2020 we had a number of people on site, drivers like FWJ, Pete Falding, Scott Newton and Graeme with whom we had developed friendship with through F1 and Darlington – that day was to get views back from everyone on different plans, one being fence design, was very concerned at ‘knock outs’ so we designed to differently with loads of give, Graeme said to us ‘you are a brave man’ and remember saying ‘brave ?’ and knowing Graemes business and resource was far above ours said ‘would you do it’ and at the time said ‘no’ – which will stick with me, however across the course of the year Graeme was ‘part of the team’ and gave us huge support and became ‘enthusiastic’ and despite several other ‘enquiries’ to take Startrax on upon our retirement, for ‘us’. Money / value for us was also never the issue, we had invested over £300k in the dream by this point, it was for us the ‘right’ partnership with shared passion, importantly, younger and much better resolved. We secured Odsal by agreeing a 12 year lease, getting it open of which no one else had showed interest except us since 1977 – and we tried unsuccesfully 3 times in that period. Get it open was primary concern. We certainly would not be around in 12 years time at 75! So our aim was to do the impossible and move on with that legacy. Job done. Similarly if I would correct one thing slightly, we did also explain to Graeme and our words ‘hidden gem’ with regards Sheffield – It used to be hugely problematic however moved forward and commercially since John Gilburn became MD [ and then tragically and suddenly passed away ] and Matt took over. Sheffield indeed could be used 52 weeks of the year, with greyhounds not where they were and a changing market, commercially, the stadium needs revenue. John Gilburn can be credited for kick starting a phase of £7m plus of improvements, the latest the hospitality suites which eventually, due to the Pandemic, did not open until late last year so we never had the opportunity to use them. However the stadium is now very forward thinking. We worked with Matt in recent years and Sheffield City council re the back straight which they would not accept, however for 2020, which became 2021 they agreed that ‘race teams’ could use it and we fitted catch fencing etc. It’s achilees heel being brutally honest is the £3500 per meeting cost of putting the fence up and down, over years and with BSCDA we have had meetings with Stadium, Speedway, Neil Scothern and Pete have been present to ‘try’ and engineer a solution, thus far without success but, one day there will be one! It has so much potential and facilities but the rope and post and cost [ and for Bangers etc ] has always been the albatross. The rent for a fine stadium is what it is, just over 4k a meeting, it could always come a little down if more volume, the stadium is one of the best with its food and drink facilities, However, an ordinary meetings costs before prize money, stood at over £12k taking in track, medics, fence, rent, staff, advertising. We also ran more events at different stages, Wowcher, Groupon etc which actually diminishes revenue. We tried that as we believed it needed regular monthly racing but £12/£13k costs + v 5/600 people and £8k ish revenue as a small business would have ‘bust us’ but we kept it alive and on the calendar for so many years so it was not lost – Sheffield is a ‘tough city’ to trade and we used Sheffield Star and other media constantly, but I repeat what I said to Graeme, ‘it is a sleeping giant’ with so much potential ‘but’ you need deeper pockets being honest or cut the costs somehow, do a lot more with your own resource which we did not have. Martin Ford and team were an inspiration and whilst £3500 grand sounds a lot, the number of men and grunt, work would start on a Thursday and finish midnight Sunday after the taking the fence down, a thankless task and indebted to Martin for his loyal service. I also said to GR that moving forward, Odsal and Sheffield in future years creates new opportunities, cross fertilisation to create drivers interest as much as fan interest. We worked hard for 27 years to keep the North alive after it’s demise and we are proud to have left a platform with both tracks now ‘long term’ neither facing a need for a sale for redevelopment now in the forseeable future which can be invested in as there is some security. BV whilst how we opened it ‘where it was located’ and lasted 21 years, was probably a bigger achievement than Odsal but from almost day one, given the state of GRA and greyhound racing, there we no long term certainties and no investment by the owners. Now, we happily leave behind a platform of two great venues with security, hence job done. Graeme and Russell have the same passion and enthusiasm BUT with far more resource, than we have ever had and came into the sport 30 years ago with. The way forward is that platform laid to build on – fresh thinking and enthusiasm and we wish them every success! We retire PROUD and leave the sport in a better place than we found it in 1994/95 and at 63 found the right team for the next chapter, what more could we wish for ? Just another little point, the October event indeed had it’s issues due to heavy rain days preceding and am which are part of learning and ‘huge’ thanks to drivers as the family for their support, by the Consi, boy was it fast AND dusty, the crowd was around 2500 despite the weather preceding – it us just such a huge palce, thr grandstand alone would old more than most stadiums! You need 4/5000 to ook lived in! [ we had to cancel Sheffield next day, in hindsight if we made a bad decision, perhaps we should have cancelled this on the day, but ‘my’ decision, the sun had eventually come out. Back in October 1995 [ much better days! ] Bammy announced the doors were closing then as crowds were around 1000 – did we / didn’t we foolishly step in ? Younger, fearless, we went ‘balls out’ to promote it’s opener on a tuesday night [ remortgaged the house ] and it attracted around 6000, sadly despite huge investment, it was lost in 1997 for a development that never happened! It’s the North’s time to rise and join the wave!
Great article, fans will never get bored of announcements over the tannoy, informing new spectators of what’s going on. Bev Greenhalf was brilliant at it.
Great article Neil.
Articles like this with news of investment, new promoters with fresh ideas really make me enthusiastic for the new season. Whilst I readily admit my days of travelling hundreds of miles every weekend are long gone, aswel as much of the youthful enthusiasm for the sport, the reopening of Odsal has been the best thing that has happened to the sport since closure of Coventry and without this the sport would have been in a sad state and verging on extinction in the north.
Steve left a lasting legacy to the sport in reopening a Odsal. The resource was tight and there should have been further work to make it smoother but I can’t think of anyone who would have the guts to take it on in this climate. Passing it on to Greame and Russell will allow further development with greater resource and an injection of new ideas. I know Greame and he and the family are passionate about stock cars and together with the Andrews will make a success out of Odsal and Sheffield.
If, in due course, progress can be made with Sheffield fence and back straight, I see a bright future for the sport in the North.
So last year Odsal Made her return.. And boy what a return.. yes there lows but there was also highs!!! When she closed her doors all those years ago I stood at the exit that last night looked down at the bowl and said.., at some point you’ll be back!!! Fast forward to last year!! Amazing the first meeting there was like coming home. Loved every second of it. I’m sure both Graeme Tracey and Andrew will take this to the next level now and bring us all some fantastic memories. Thank you all for saving the RACING IN THE NORTH 👍👍👍👍🏁🏁🏁
I’m a genuinely casual stock car supporter (first meeting Odsal circa ’78/’79 under Bammy), but I’ve watched stock car racing at well over 20 tracks the length and breadth of the country (many no longer with us) and scarcely missed a fixture at Odsal from when you took over to the bitterly sad loss of the place in 1997. Thanks for your post/explanation, please know that even some of us casuals appreciate what you did and won’t ever forget it…reopening Odsal was a dream come true for me (I’m now 50 years old!) and I thank you, and the present incumbents, for your hard, hard work to bring back what has always been, imo, BriSCA’s premier track.
I wish you the very best of luck at Odsal/Owlerton. Both are great places to watch stock car racing, and I’m genuinely encouraged by the work you guys have put in across 2021 and in the close season, what I can tell you is that whenever work permits I’ll support either venue, every time I do it’ll be with 2/3 other adults (2 of which are my kids who, despite going to Owlerton many a time had over 20 years of me telling them how Bradford was THE best track to spectate at!). I hope you make a fortune off it, because that means us, as fans, will be getting what we want.