Donington Park director Robert Fearnall dies
|By Marcus Pye
||Friday, March 2nd 2012, 18:13 GMT
An integral part of Donington Park seemingly forever, Robert Fearnall - who died today (Friday, March 3) – was by no means a one-trick pony. His lifelong passion for motorsport led him to carve a unique niche within it, firstly as a young journalist and historian of rare calibre and later as a management professional.
Brought up a stone's throw from Oulton Park, Robert was happily fascinated by racing. He first became a household name as a writer for AUTOSPORT in the early 1970s, his analytical brain and eye for detail giving readers real access and strong insight into this great era's wonderfully varied classes, cars and people. Enthusiasts with magazine collections treasure his prose still.
Fearnall's next career step was as press officer for Silverstone, where he not only developed the role and made it his own, but also went out of his way to help hapless 'hacks' (whether serious scribes from dailies or freeloaders from provincial 'Bugles') get the most from the action, be it at grands prix, the plethora of home internationals or the humble clubbie events which he loved as much as the more glamorous strata.
Although he was not a competitor as such, Robert went out at the top. Sitting alongside the flamboyant James Hunt (on the climb towards his Formula 1 world championship in 1976) he was, perhaps fortuitously, barely able to see over the dashboard of the AJ Rivers Chevrolet Camaro as they growled to victory in the 1973 Tour of Britain race/rally segue.
When bluff building tycoon Tom Wheatcroft brought racing back to Donington in May 1977 (awakening the pre-war giant and basing his then sensational collection of single-seater racing cars on site), one of his smartest moves was recruiting Fearnall to the fold. Robert, his black book bristling with contacts, arrived in '79 and became managing director of the enterprise. He established a wide range of events at the wonderful East Midlands venue.
Although he was not there continuously – there was a brief and unhappy interlude with Octagon and an unceremonious (and unwarranted) 'sending-off' after Simon Gillett's ill-starred attempt to bring F1 back to a 'new' Donington – Robert was responsible for promoting motorcycle and car racing at the circuit through the successful Two-Four Sports epoch.
The sagely bespectacled character, whose other love was horse racing, was never far from Donington, even after Kevin Wheatcroft boldly retook control of his late father's once towering empire and reopened it for business in 2010. Hugely respected by all, ageless Fearnall - he looked about 16 throughout his adult life – brought enjoyment to so many dyed-in-the-wool racing people through his words and actions over five influential decades. A legacy we should all be thankful for.