MEMORIES OF MADRAS Indu Chandhok on the camaraderie among motor sport enthusiasts and the history of the sport in the city
Motor sports enthusiasts in Madras had a decisive factor in their favour — deep-rooted camaraderie. While prejudices weakened the foundations of motor sports clubs in a few parts of the country, the sense of unity among its members took Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) from strength to strength. From its inception, MMSC has been a model of excellence.
A nebulous idea of a motor sports club was formed by the exhaust fumes spewed out by two MG cars that were raced within the city in 1953. The desire for racing on dedicated tracks this race had ignited was not enough; it took the added ingredients of systematic planning and perseverance to make it happen. With great foresight, men such as M.A. Chidambaram and K.V. Srinivasan decided to develop a track in such a way that Madras would become the centre for racing. An Indian Air Force airfield at Sholavaram, long in disuse, was chosen. The contours of the airstrip severely challenged efforts to turn it into a race track.
After an L-shaped track was prepared, there were fresh problems. During a practice session, a car nearly ploughed into the crowd. In response, the spectator area was pushed farther away. The Western side of the track was riddled with potholes. As his bike hit one of them, Hari Rao went flying. It was nothing but a miracle that he survived this fall.
As the Army put its new tanks on trial at the airstrip, the southern section got pummelled out of shape. Following a re-design, the track became T-shaped. Whenever the Government godowns earmarked for storing wheat were filled to capacity, this track doubled as storage space. Such interferences required MMSC to make adjustments.
The track gave a fillip to motor racing in India, and provided wholesome entertainment to enthusiasts, but it was time to move on. Due to differences between the Military Estate Officer (MEO) and the Indian Air Force (IAF), which had control over the land and the airstrip respectively, and the surface of the track getting unsafe for motoring, MMSC started looking for land to construct a new track.
After approval from the State Government, 300 acres were bought from farmers in Irungattukottai, at rates ranging from Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 an acre. An Indian Bank loan took care of the expenditure. S.N. Patel and Gopal Madhavan, who prepared a layout for the new track, found out that only 200 acres were required. The remaining 100 were sold to MMSC members at roughly the same prices at which they had been bought. A Trust was formed to manage the Club properties. K.V. Srinivasan and I were founder-trustees. As the board of trustees included M.A. Chidambaram, A. Sivasailam, K.D. Madan, S. Muthukrishnan, L.L. Narayan, V. Chidambaram, Venu Srinivasan, Vinoo Mammen and Vijay Mallya, the initiative had abundant support.
With handsome contributions of Rs. 50 lakh, Rs. 40 lakh and Rs. 25 lakh from McDowell, MRF and TVS respectively, the road to a new racing infrastructure was clear. Among other groups that contributed to the new track was ‘Wish Bone Ash', a four-member English band (Trevor Bolder, Laurie Wisefield, Steve Upton and Andy Powell), which performed in an MMSC fund-raising concert at the University Centenary Auditorium on December 12, 1981.
Born in 1931, he is one of the main architects of motor racing in India. A key member of the Madras Motor Sports Club, Indu has contributed immensely to establishing motor racing in Sholavaram in the 1950s, and later taking it to Irungattukottai in the 1980s. Into car racing and rallying, Indu inspired two men in his family — his son Vicky Chandhok and grandson Karun Chandhok — to embrace motor sport.
An award for best reporting of racing events at Sholavaram was instituted by the Madras Motor Sports Club. As it began to drive a wedge between sports journalists from different publications, the award was later scrapped.