By Reg Burnard
HOWARD Strawford, the ex-ice cream salesman who had the vision and will to rescue Castle Combe racing circuit from oblivion, has died aged 77.
He had been in failing health for some years and died on Saturday (February 23) morning after a stroke.
Strawford, a quietly-spoken Welshman, bought the circuit, a former World War II night fighter station, in 1976, and he and his wife, Pat, set off on a lifetime’s journey of turning it into the most friendly - and one of the most thrilling - circuits in the country.
His first introduction to motor sport was in 1952 in the Welsh Motor Racing Club, which ran events at Fairwood.
He competed in sprints and hillclimbs, usually in a Morgan 4/4, and started organising events with Swansea Motor Club, of which he later became chairman.
In 1967, his career with Kraft Foods took him to Bristol. He soon started visiting Castle Combe and by the end of the 1960s he was competition secretary of the South Western Centre of the BRSCC (British Racing & Sports Car Club).
With 1971 scheduled to be the final season at the circuit, Strawford set about keeping it open and eventually took control of the venue.
The Strawfords took Combe from a circuit on the brink of closure, with a turnover of £15,000 a year and employing one person part-time to cut the grass, to an operation employing 20 full-time, more than 100 part-time, and a turnover of more than £1.5 million.
For nearly 20 years he was chairman of the BRSCC and created the highly-successful Castle Combe Racing Club.
He watched over the planning and building of the Strawford Centre with its meeting and corporate facilities, the racing school which is part of Wiltshire College, the skid pan and, most recently, the superbly equipped Media Centre.
Strawford was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2010 from the Motor Sport Association - one of the highest accolades in the country's motorsport.
But he never forgot how it all started. I knew him for more than 40 years - from the days of straw bales around the circuit, when motoring writers viewed it all from an open, always windswept balcony above race control, separated from judges by an angled scaffolding bar.
He was a good friend of the Western Group of Motoring Writers, always highly receptive to ideas for improving the group’s PR day, which has been held there for 25 years.