I have come across some unusual accidents and incidents through my reading of and watching motor racing events over many years, but one of the most unusual that I have ever come across was Major Peter Braid’s accident at the Blandford Army Camp in 1949.
Due to the rarity of purpose-built motor racing circuits in the UK in the late 1940’s, any venue that had sealed roads was pressed into service for racing, even if this was just a single airfield runway. The Blandford Army Camp in south-western Dorset was one of the better venues available, as its perimeter access road around the camp of just over 3 miles in length meant that a layout which was similar to purpose-built circuits could be used. The layout was fast and challenging, with competitors reaching over 100 mph on the two straights.
After several motorcycle events were held from mid-1948 to April 1949, approval was granted by the Royal Automobile Club for the first car racing meeting to be held on the 27th of August. The meeting featured several sportscar races, as well as the new 500cc Formula 3, which were small rear-engined cars powered by motorcycle engines.
The events leading up to Braid’s accident occurred during the morning session of racing. During the third race for sportscars, Gordon Woods lost control of his Frazer Nash – BMW between Engineers Corner and Hood Corner. The car demolished a bus shelter, and Woods was thrown out of the cockpit, receiving critical head injuries from which he died in hospital later. In the current environment, the meeting would have been immediately stopped, but back then, the racing continued on. The demolished bus shelter was left in situ, and this would have a major impact on Braid’s accident.
Braid had only started racing in Formula 3 a couple of months previously, and had already achieved a win at Silverstone and a second place at Great Auclum. While leading the Formula 3 race in his Cooper Mk III powered by a J.A.P engine, Braid slid into the outer bank on the left side of the road. The car bounced back across the road to the other side, hitting the ruins of the bus shelter, previously destroyed in the Woods accident earlier in the day. This acted like a ramp, launching the Cooper over a fir tree and onto the roof of the Battalion Headquarters, located on the inside of the track.
The car appeared to be neatly parked the correct way up and facing the right direction, and remained there for the duration of the race. Braid survived with only some bruises to show for what must have been a terrifying ride.
The photos show what an amazing accident this was, and how lucky Braid was not to be killed. The Cooper could have so easily struck the pole located next to the Battalion Headquarters, or worse still, actually crashed into the side of the building. What is particularly intriguing is the relatively small amount of damage suffered by the Cooper – a dent on the front nose, a buckled wheel and a dislodged engine fairing. As well as the lack of damage, the way that the Cooper is sitting on top of the roof is unusual – it almost looks like the car has been gently placed on its wheels. I can only assume that the car had just enough speed to reach the roof after becoming airborne, and that the corrugated iron acted like a brake, immediately bringing the car to a stop.
Braid continued racing in Formula 3 until the end of 1952, when he retired. He died in the Barnes rail crash in London on the 2nd of December 1955.
Racing continued at Blandford, but their were several motorcycle facilities and one further car driver – Joe Fry, who lost control of his car when practising for a hillclimb on the 29th of July 1950.
This the final car event at Blandford, although motorcycle racing continued until the early 1960’s. The track still exists, although it is now impossible to drive a full lap, due to the installation of several steel fences across some of the corners.