The Madras Motor Sports Club, set up in 1954, ignited the thrill for speed among Chennaiites
If the walls of Madras harbour had ears, they would have been privy to a prophetic conversation in 1952, which held the key to the growth of motorsports in India.
A spirited conversation on automobiles, between R. De Souza and the owner of a 1948 MGIF, as the gentlemen waited for their vehicles to be cleared, gave birth to the idea of launching a motorsports club in the city.
However, it was only in the summer of 1953, when Rex Strong, an English member of the Calcutta motorsports club, and K. Varugis zipped down the road from Chesney Hall in Egmore to the Catholic centre in their MGs on a whim, the idea finally took shape.
Fashioned on the Grand Prix in France, the Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) hoped it would foster knowledge of locomotives and contribute to the still-burgeoning field of automobile manufacturing, in India.
Mobilising fellow aficionados was not enough, a convenient track to rev up engines was yet to be found. After a protracted search, the club chanced upon an abandoned airstrip, 12 miles from Madras, on Nellore Road in Sholavaram.
By September that year, speed trials had begun (though MMSC officially came into being only in 1954). Of the 17 entries of motorcycles and cars, it was the lone Jaguar entered by G.M. Donner, the president of the club, that impressed crowds by clocking a speed of 84.8 miles per hour.
On October 25, 1953, the city woke up to witness its first-ever organised motor race in front of a surprisingly large audience at 8.30 in the morning.
Indu Chandok, one of the founding members of the club, recalled the wild cheering of around 30,000 people from the bamboo stands erected at the periphery. Spotting exotic cars like Cadillacs and Mercedes, driven by the Maharajas of Gond and Pitampura, was common during these sessions.
The craze for motorsports had not escaped even the likes of M.G. Ramachandran. “I remember him coming and watching the races in childlike wonder. We arranged a special spot for him whenever he dropped by, as he would’ve been mobbed otherwise,” he said.
Interestingly, the love for machine grease was not exclusively a masculine affair. Indu’s son, Vicky Chandok, president of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India said he remembers his mother, Indra Chandok, at the wheel, participating in special ladies’ races in the 60s.
Yet, with the advent of the television, the bamboo stands typically teeming with spectators were left increasingly vacant. “Motorsports lost its sheen with the media boom, in a sense,” said Vicky.
MMSC, which turned 60 this year, has managed to keep itself relevant despite the odds. Its biggest achievement yet is igniting the thrill of speed in a city that is, otherwise, famously known to be unhurried.