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Tom Wheatcroft

john wheatcroft, tom wheatcroft
Frederick Bernard "Tom" Wheatcroft 8 May 1922 – 31 October 2009 was an English businessman and car collector He made his fortune through building and construction, and was known for resurrecting the Donington Park motor racing circuit and founding the Donington Grand Prix Collection museum

Contents

  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Motor sport activities
    • 21 Wheatcroft Racing
      • 211 Complete Formula One World Championship results
    • 22 Donington Park
  • 3 References

Biography

Frederick Bernard Wheatcroft was born in Castle Donington, Leicestershire, in 1922 Early in life he was nicknamed 'Tom-Tom' by an uncle, owing to his habit of repeatedly patting his stomach, and the name stuck with him for the rest of his life Wheatcroft had only 20 months of formal schooling, and following the end of this he became an apprentice plasterer However, he preferred to bicycle from his parents home in Leicester to Donington Park to watch pre-war motor racing He was in attendance at the circuit during the 1937 and 1938 Donington Grand Prix races:

During World War II Wheatcroft served as a tank driver He saw action in many theatres, including Madagascar, India and the Middle East, and was a part of the Allied invasion of Italy Toward the end of the conflict he was invalided home after he was temporarily blinded by a nearby mortar explosion Following the end of the war Wheatcroft returned to the construction industry as a labourer When a storm caused significant damage to parts of Leicester he organised repairs

Using the money made from this he funded the construction of two houses, and from there he rapidly built a thriving construction business, Bernard Wheatcroft Ltd In 1946 he married Helena Morgenstern, known to her family as "Lenchen" Wheatcroft had always lived within a 30-mile radius of Castle Donington, had by his death had amassed an estimate fortune of £120 million, and was father to seven children

Motor sport activities

Following on from his childhood passion for motor racing, after Wheatcroft's construction business started to provide a stable source of income he returned to visiting race events as a spectator In 1964 he bought an elderly Ferrari 125 Formula One car, formerly owned and driven by Peter Whitehead Despite having had its Ferrari V12 engine replaced by a Chevrolet Corvette V8 by the previous owner in Australia, Wheatcroft enjoyed driving the car at test sessions The car sparked a buying spree and formed the first of what was to become a major collection of Grand Prix machinery Over the following years Wheatcroft and his distinctive laugh – described by historian Doug Nye as "like a rusty truck failing to start" – became a familiar feature at race circuits around the world

Wheatcroft Racing

Derek Bell in the Wheatcroft Racing Brabham BT30 at the Nürburgring in 1970

Having made his fortune, and having started to build his car collection, Wheatcroft further indulged his racing passion by running his own racing car team In 1970 he purchased an ex-works Brabham BT26, Jacky Ickx's 1969 German Grand Prix-winning car, and entered Derek Bell for the Tasman Series' 1970 New Zealand Grand Prix Bell finished second Following that initial success, later that year he invested in a new a Brabham BT30 to run for Bell in the European Formula Two Championship Bell again finished second During the season he also entered the BT26, in full three-litre form, at the Race of Champions, where Bell suffered an accident in practice, and the Belgian Grand Prix, where the car retired

At the 1971 Monaco Formula Three race Wheatcroft became acquainted with Roger Williamson, also from Leicester, and began to support his driving career Driving for Wheatcroft Racing, in 1972 Williamson won two of the three British Formula Three Championships, and took part in numerous European Formula Three and Formula Two races In 1973 Wheatcroft sponsored a seat for Williamson in the Formula One March Engineering works team, run by Max Mosley Williamson's short career lasted two races He crashed on the first lap of his debut, at the ill-fated 1973 British Grand Prix Then also on the eighth lap of the Dutch Grand Prix Although he was unhurt in the accident the car had flipped over, preventing his escape, and Williamson died in the subsequent fire Wheatcroft reflected later that "I lost friends in the war but it was nothing like losing The Lad Wasn't until afterwards you realised how much he meant"

After this Wheatcroft continued to back occasional drivers in Formula Atlantic and Formula Two He funded the construction of a bespoke Wheatcroft chassis, designed by former BRM designer Mike Pilbeam, and ran 1974 British champion Brian Henton born in Castle Donington in selected Formula Two and Atlantic races using it Henton's best result with the Wheatcroft 002 was third place in the Silverstone Circuit round of the European Formula Two Championship The two maintained their relationship in 1976, but Wheatcroft's heart wasn't in it and he slowly wound down the team's activities over the year

Complete Formula One World Championship results

key

Ret

Donington Park

In 1971 Wheatcroft bought a large part of the Donington Hall estate, including the Donington Park pre-war racing circuit, for £100,000 The park had been used as a supply depot during World War II and the circuit was derelict At his own cost, he rebuilt the circuit over the following six years One of his first moves was to move his car collection to the estate, the largest collection of motor racing cars in the world, now known as the Donington Grand Prix Exhibition Racing finally returned to the Donington circuit in 1977, after a hiatus of almost 30 years

Over the next decade and a half Wheatcroft campaigned tirelessly to hold a Formula One World Championship Grand Prix at Donington In 1983 he was given a provisional date for the 1988 Formula One season, but when the calendar for that year came to be finalised the RAC Motor Sports Association changed their mind and decided to stage the British Grand Prix at Silverstone instead At the same time Wheatcroft even explored the potential for holding an Irish Grand Prix at Donington, but this too was vetoed by the RAC MSA

Finally, in 1993 the European Grand Prix was scheduled to be held at Donington Park Prior to the race, despite having suffered his third heart attack only the previous week, Wheatcroft himself took the wheel of his own pre-war Mercedes-Benz W154 Grand Prix car for a demonstration run He spun the car The 1993 European Grand Prix was held very wet conditions, but produced a memorable drive from Ayrton Senna However, having lost money on the event Wheatcroft decided not to pursue a follow up race the next year

In 2007, Wheatcroft agreed a 150-year lease of the land on which the circuit and museum are located to Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, who with his support subsequently won a 10-year agreement from Formula One Management to host the British Grand Prix from July 2010 However, the project ran out of money and Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd went out of business

Tom Wheatcroft died, aged 87, on 31 October 2009 at his home in Arnesby, after a long illness Wheatcroft's son, Kevin Wheatcroft has followed in his fathers footsteps as a collector of vehicles, establishing The Wheatcroft Collection in Leicester

References

  1. ^ Tremayne, David 5 November 2009 "Tom Wheatcroft 1922 – 2009" Autosport Vol 198 no 6 pp 16–17  |access-date= requires |url= help
  2. ^ a b Henry, Alan 2 November 2009 "Tom Wheatcroft obituary" The Guardian Guardian News and Media Limited Retrieved 5 November 2009 
  3. ^ a b c Tremayne, David 10 November 2009 "Tom Wheatcroft: Motor racing promoter who fought the sport's governing body to bring Formula 1 to Donington Park" The Independent Retrieved 27 October 2012 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Nye, Doug 1976 "Profile: Tom Wheatcroft" Road & Track No September 1976 pp 14–15 
  5. ^ "Grand Prix dream comes true for circuit's saviour and thousands of region's race fans" thisisderbyshirecouk 5 July 2008 Archived from the original on 21 May 2009 Retrieved 13 January 2009 
  6. ^ "Wealthy trio on rich list" thisisderbyshirecouk 18 October 2008 Retrieved 13 January 2009 
  7. ^ a b c "Track owner reveals secret summit with F1 boss Bernie" thisisderbyshirecouk 8 July 2008 Archived from the original on 14 January 2013 Retrieved 13 January 2009 
  8. ^ Brown, Allen "Brabham BT24/4" OldRacingCarscom Retrieved 14 December 2016 
  9. ^ a b "Constructors: Wheatcroft Racing" GrandPrixcom Retrieved 15 December 2016 
  10. ^ "Donington owner Tom Wheatcroft dies" autosportcom Haymarket Publications 1 November 2009 Retrieved 1 November 2009 

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