There is a common misconception that motorsport participants are unruly, mud-plugging thugs, but this could not be further from the truth.
In fact, there is a huge range of motorsport activities to suit almost every type of land, and participants range from doctors to farmers and even the author of this article.
Most motorsports are governed by a national body, with which hundreds of local motor clubs are registered.
Any events are arranged directly between the farmer and the club, but insurance, safety and noise levels are all regulated by the national organisation.
It is therefore vital to check that you are dealing with a reputable, registered club.
Clubs usually rent the land from the farmer, and organise and run the event themselves.
Rents vary according to the terrain, acreage, and importance of the event.
They can be either flat-rate fees, or linked to the number of competitors or paying public.
Motorsports can be split into two main categories – car events and motorcycle events, and are regulated by the Motor Sports Association and Auto Cycle Union respectively
What sort of events are we talking about?
There is a wide range of bicycle and motorbike sports, each demanding a different type and acreage of land.
The main ones are as follows:
Enduro: Terrain ranges from fields to woodland, ditches, hills, rivers and rocky climbs, with a minimum area of about 40ha (100 acres). Rent levels depend on the size of event and number of riders, but can be as much as 1000/day.
- Motocross/Scramble: This requires 8-100ha (20-250 acres) of either very undulating land or man-made features like mounds to jump. It is a high-impact sport in terms of the effect on the land, and planning permission may be required for creation of the man-made jumps. Rents average 500-1000/day.
Grass track: Based on an oval-shaped grass track, these events are run on fairly flat ground of 4-8ha (10-20 acres) or more. Revenue is usually 200/day upwards. Trials: A slow, skilful sport which typically requires at least 1.2ha (3 acres) of challenging terrain such as gravel or sandpits, woody hill climbs and rocky areas. Clubs will pay anything from a bottle of whisky to 200/day. Training: Nearly all of this country’s top riders run training days, with rents by negotiation with the relevant trainer.
Again, the wide range of sports demands unique terrain for each discipline and rents reflect the importance of the venue and the type of event being held, ranging from a bottle of whisky to 1500/day.
Over 5000 events are held by the MSA’s 750 registered clubs each year – 2000 of which are off-road competitions held on farmland. Some of the different types of event include:
Autocross: This is normally held on a 2-3.2ha (5-8-acre) stubble field after harvest and consists of 2-4 cars racing around a kidney-shaped grass track against the clock. Autotest: One car at a time drives around a complex cone-marked course against the clock. This has very little impact on the ground and can be held on grassland, tarmac or stubble. Rallying: Cars drive at speed around tracks or field margins, often crossing many adjoining farms. 4-Wheel-Drive: Off-road events usually held on undulating or wooded terrain.
- Hillclimbs and Sprints: Cars race singly against the clock on a tarmac track – often held on private estate roads.
- Trials: Cars attempt to climb a steep off-road section of terrain – whichever reaches the highest point without stopping wins. Held in the winter, this can have quite an impact on the land.
And how much demand is there?
Most motor clubs have been running for decades and often go to the same farms year after year.
However there is considerable demand for new venues; having additional sites allows the sport to manage and minimise its impact on the land in one particular area.
Do I need planning permission?
If there is a change of land use – for example a brand-new tarmac track or man-made motocross course – you will.
However, metalling of an existing farm track doesn’t require planning permission if it is needed for an agricultural purpose.
Timed events can be held for up to 14 days a year without planning permission under your permitted development rights.
Anything over that will generally require planning permission.
If the primary use of the track is no longer agriculture, then it could be subject to business rates, too.
Will it affect my single farm payment?
Events can be held on SPS-registered land at any time outside the 10-month period in which land has to be under your control, and for up to 28 days within the 10-month period.
However, cross-compliance measures must be observed, and the track re-instated after each event, including re-seeding grassland if necessary.
It is important that the track is still used in agriculture; permanent tracks cannot be claimed upon under the SPS.
Do I need insurance?
Any clubs registered with the MSA or ACU will have their own liability insurance, which indemnifies the farmer against accidents.
However, the Health and Safety Executive advises farmers to be absolutely clear about how the event will be held, and inform the club of any potential dangers to competitors or the public, such as slurry lagoons or electric wires.
How does it work?
Anyone interested in hosting an event should contact the MSA or ACU, which will send out an information pack and put them in touch with any local clubs.
The club will visit the land and if it is suitable will discuss with the farmer a proposed route/circuit and date.
The weekend before the competition, off-road courses will be roughly set out and toilets and other facilities brought on-site.
The day before the race the final taping, arrows, and fencing are installed. After the event has finished everything is cleared – including litter.
Contracts tend to be verbal and based on trust, but the farmer must be sure of what he is agreeing to.
Written agreements are a good idea where larger sums of money are involved.
What’s the downside?
Motorsports can be noisy, and sometimes generate some local annoyance.
However, the governing bodies lay down specific rules on all aspects of the sport, including noise, organisation and safety.
What about access and parking?
Good access is essential, as is plenty of parking for vans and trailers.
Doing it for yourself
Some venues offer 4WD days, others quad biking or off-road karting.
One firm which helps farmers to start up a karting business is Madtrax.
Set up by farmer John Cowling in 1990 after he sold his market gardening business, Madtrax is a franchise with 10 sites across the country.
“We give farmers all the help they need to set up,” says Mr Cowling.
This includes checking the suitability of the site, arranging all the required equipment and advising on insurance, track design and so on.
Farmers need five karts to start up – at a cost of about 21,000.
Other kit, such as helmets and overalls, comes in at 1550, insurance at around 3000 and site preparation and promotion at 3000.
The track needs about 2ha (5 acres) of free-draining land to be run on, and must be levelled after each session to restore the track and banking to its rightful place.
Planning permission for change of use is needed, but as long as the track is carefully sited away from residential homes Mr Cowling has not found any problems in obtaining this.
The track is normally fenced off and set aside from any farming activities.
Business rates are usually payable, at a cost of 200-500/year and Madtrax charges 5% of turnover for its services.
Mr Cowling says his kart track at Common Farm, Swinefleet, Goole, Yorkshire, averages 3500 visitors a year at 35/head, giving an impressive annual turnover.
Half-day sessions usually average 16-20 people and he is running about 150 days a year.
Running costs are low – about 25-30% of turnover – so the business will pay for itself within 20-40 weeks, depending on how busy the venue is.
Ideally the track should be sited within 25-30 miles of a few towns to ensure a large enough catchment area.
Facilities like toilets and light refreshments are also essential.
Health and safety requirements include protection of spectators and participants, clear signing of fire extinguishers and checking of the karts after each session.
About four marshals are needed during each race, with one timekeeper and a manager.
Marshals and drivers must be over 16.