We caught up recently with the founder of Masters Historic Racing Ron Maydon – The ‘look and feel’ of the events, the initial concept and the development of the product very much his Bailiwick.
Ron though was keen to make it clear that the success of the events is down to the hard work and skill of his team, led by a familiar face in the historic racing world, Event Director Rachel Bailey.
“My job title is Event Director, but I think that’s a bit of a catch-all that means its anything from organising the events, looking after the drivers, scheduling the calendars for each year, marketing, right down to organising the catering! We are a small team so it’s busy and it’s definitely got busier as we’ve gone on!
“I’ve been with Masters since the very start – I was working for Ron already in a separate business when he had his big idea for Masters back in 2003 and the rest is history.”
Tell us about the culture that surrounds it?
“When Ron originally wanted to do this, it was because he hadn’t enjoyed the racing he had done. He’d taken his family along, it had been cold, wet and there was nowhere for them to go when he was out on track.
“He looked at and realised there was a gap in the marketplace, a place where you could go and do some racing with these amazing cars, but that was also family friendly. It still had to be great racing but it was more than just a race meeting, it was a social event too.
“The Masters Drivers Club comes to all our European meetings. It means that everyone has somewhere to go – it’s open all day, every day throughout a race weekend and is somewhere to come and sit down, a place where people can socialise, sit comfortably, read magazines as well as coffee all the time. It’s always been one of the central focusses of what we do. We look after the drivers, and that also means looking after the people that matter to them too.
“If you aim to make sure that the drivers and their guests have a great time then it’ s much more likely that they will want to come back and do it again and again – it’s just good business sense.”
And it’s been successful?
“Yes, we continue to grow with new customers every season and, very happily, we still have people that are still racing with us that came from the very start. Keith Ahlers, for example, has the astonishing record of never missing a race with us up until this year!
“There is a good central focus of people that have raced with us for a long time and keep coming out or buy more cars. As we have five different race series drivers often get tempted to try or buy other cars they see in action at a Masters weekend. We have drivers who come with just one car and also drivers who may have multiple cars to bring to a race meeting.
People are racing really pretty expensive cars, these are people who have significant resources. So the experiential side of things has to be pretty high?
“Yes, and we also have to remember that they have options on what they spend their time and money on. They’re not doing professional motorsport and they race these historic cars in their leisure time.
“We’re competing with other things that they can do with their weekends. The fact that they can bring their families along, enjoy some racing as well as enjoy the social scene of a weekend – nice local restaurants etc – means they can hopefully come away having had a good weekend as well as enjoy their racing. We have to keep an eye on the fact that it’s not all about competition.”
What are the big lessons that you’ve learned at Masters over the last decade and more?
“Oh wow, so many things! Mainly that the customer’s always right!!
“There’s many a time I’ve been in a paddock with people who can get really irate, due to something that happened, and actually, your job is to smile and say, I’m really sorry, you had a bad race but what else can we do to help you have a better day?
“You know, nobody needs to go away having a bad feeling about a race meeting. I think we’ve learned to try and look after our drivers and teams as well as understand what they want.”
So what’s involved in making that all happen?
“We’re pretty much ready with our calendar for next year.
“The start of the race meeting planning process starts now. We’re talking to event promoters about the track time, we need, how the event will be formatted, organising our own team etc. The basic outline of the event calendar and its format starts quite a long way ahead.
“From January each year people can start to enter the races they want to do – some people enter a whole season at a time whilst some people will just pick one event and add them as they go along.
“We’re dealing with all sorts of different people who want to commit in different ways and at different times – but basically, after promoting the entries for each Series and each race meeting, then you get onto the finer details about the regulations, the permits, all that sort of thing.
“At the start the year we’re probably working on around 18 events, so there’s always a lot to do.”
Including the US too?
“Yes, we started an Historic Formula One series in the US in 2014. And then a couple of years back, we launched an Endurance Legends grid too over there so we’re racing two series in North America. They have a calendar that normally has six events a year. That’s also managed from our UK office but we have someone who flies in and out for each event over there at the moment.
“There is actually quite a lot of crossover between the two and running both sides of the Atlantic gives people the ability to race on some of the great US road circuits, and vice versa to see the European circuits too. It has really worked for us to have that sort of transatlantic connection.
“We went to Japan a little while ago to Suzuka to do a race over there with the historic formula one cars. We took 10 cars from the US and 10 from Europe, which turned out to be a really great thing.
So when and how did Masters Endurance Legends come about?
“When Ron came up with this idea back in 2017 my first reaction was – “Are you sure?” Was this really where he wanted to go with Masters Historic Racing.
“But he was always looking for what the next few years would be, where we could get a younger group of drivers, where there’s a good pool of cars, but actually really good cars to race as well.
“There was a lot of resistance to start with – Was this really historic? Could they go to historic events? But actually, once they came out and people saw them, that perception seemed to go away very quickly, people love them.
“The first couple of seasons it was quite difficult to get promoters to put them on their event schedules. But, actually it’s completely the opposite now, and it’s the first thing they ask for – they want Historic Formula One and they want Endurance Legends.
“It’s been a massive turnaround – all the event promoters love MEL, I think because spectators have made it clear that they love the cars, and Masters can now offer cars there from the 60s right up to 2010s. Having the more recent cars brings a new audience, something every event wants – the cars have massive appeal, and let’s face it who wouldn’t want to see and hear cars like the Aston Martins racing?”
There are economic challenges right now, and there are a whole lot of people that might be considering either continuing or getting into contemporary racing, where this provides a very much more accessible price point – and very relevant cars?
“If anyone did the analysis of actually what goes into racing in a professional race series to actually what it costs to go racing in historic racing, it’s a lot different. And you’ll see that the costs are a lot less.
“It’s a very different ethos. If you want to go and chase major trophies and win everything, historics isn’t necessarily about that. It’s about coming to enjoy your racing but still having a great time on track as well.
“We go to all the best tracks – you can’t say that it’s about going to second-rate circuits – there’s a lot to offer in historic racing for anyone that is looking for a high-quality experience.”
It does seem – with absolute respect to my friends and colleagues in contemporary motorsport – that the historic scene has a whole lot less regulatory clutter?
“Yes, I think so. I think there’s a whole lot less hassle. We don’t take ourselves quite so seriously, I think is the answer.
“There’s a lot less regulation, or we try to make it feel that way! We’re not always down to the letter of the regulations a lot of the time and try to have a little bit more fluidity with things. It’s just different.”
One major difference with Masters Endurance Legends is that these are cars that were contemporary when you first started, which is a first I guess?
“I was at Le Mans 24 Hours in 2011 and 2012 and I remember seeing some of our current MEL cars racing there. It feels a bit odd that I saw that car racing in period because I’ve never had that before with our other series. But, that is also part of the reason why this makes such a lot of sense.
What are the kind of areas that people are asking most about?
“There are a couple of types of people who make contact. Firstly, the drivers who already own a car and secondly, people who haven’t yet got a car but are interested in buying one. People are interested to find out which race series cars are eligible to race in, what races there are, licence requirements, regulations etc.
“We don’t get involved in car sales. We always say the best thing for people who are looking at joining us is to come to a race meeting, wander around the garages, look at the cars and talk to people about what they want to see and what they want to do.
“But we do get a lot of enquiries about Masters Endurance Legends, more than around any of our other Series – in part because it is still relatively new and there are more questions about eligibility and what people can do. But it’s a great sign of the level of latent interest that is out there.”
We hear a lot about the cost of historic motorsport?
“The Endurance Legends cars are good value at the moment. I was just talking to a guy who’s here testing a Pre-66 Cobra Daytona Coupe and he said he just can’t believe it that that one of the LMP2 cars was cheaper than his 1966 Cobra Daytona. Feels a bit bonkers when you look at the LMP2 car with all its electronics and looking amazing!
“Add to that too that there’s no doubt that for some of our customers the ease of driving the MEL cars, and their inherent safety standards are defining factors – Of course the more modern the car, the more they can offer on those fronts – Some of the cars have traction control, even ABS, and flappy paddle gearboxes with advanced electronics and the safety standards in modern race cars are leagues ahead of older cars – that’s just a mark of progress.”
Let’s talk about the scope and scale of this part of the industry? It’s one of the few growth areas in most sports.
“It feels like there’s always growth in where we are at the moment, people doing new things or trying new things.
“About four years ago, there was a big surge of organisers launching new race series but it feels like its stabilised recently.
“We seem to have reached a nice selection of series out there which are succeeding at the moment, so I think it’s a good place to be. There’s lots of preparers out there that are preparing multiple cars and seem to be doing really well as well. It’s a great sector of the market at the moment.
So what can you tell us about the calendar in 2021?
“For Endurance Legends, we’re going to try and do six races next year.
“We are just waiting for some final things to come into focus. But we will probably start in the UK, because with all of the current uncertainties over travel we can be reassured that in the UK we have a solid following and that means we can race here.
“We’ll probably get some racing underway in the UK, and then get a bit braver as the year goes on, hopefully, by the time we get to mid-season, things will be a little bit clearer as to what we can do. But the plan is to go to Donington Park, Paul Ricard, Zandvoort, Silverstone (for the Classic) and Spa.
“Classic, top class circuits. People with these sorts of cars don’t want to go to little circuits, it’s just not the right thing for them to do, the cars don’t work there and it’s not fun to race, so that’s not where we go!
“We want to try and take them to the best circuits you can, and the same in the United States.
We’re still learning and we are still tweaking things. Each year, we’re just trying to listen to what people say.”
And you are reducing the MEL entry fees for 2021?
“MEL Entry fees have been nearly £3000 for the last couple of years. We’re going to bring it down, for 2021, to around £2250 as we are cutting qualifying back to two x 30 minute sessions and the grid numbers are on the increase.”
It’s around the price of a current set of tyres.
“The entry fee isn’t a big part of people’s budget for racing. Not compared to preparing a car, getting it out there to a race meeting, travelling yourself and your hotel, the entry fee is a fairly minor proportion. But I think we recognise that we want to make sure that our people are getting value for money as well from us.”
And there’s going to be a change in 2021 to the MEL class structure too?
“Over the last little while, we’ve had three-year groups. But what’s been apparent is there aren’t too many of the early cars coming to us, maybe because we run cars to a little bit later, to 2016.
“The plan is to lose one of the year groups and just run pre 2011 and then up to 2016.
“We’re still running P1, P2, GT1, GT2 & GT3. That should give some of the earlier cars more cars to race against and, as it’s a class-based points system, you need to have a certain amount of people in your class to get the points. It’s not always the race winners that win the championships all the time.
Your message is a pretty simple one, which is if you like the idea of this pick up the phone?
“Yes, we’ve got a great network of people who know where cars are, or have got cars, who can talk to you about what sort of car you might want to have. So please yes, get in touch – we value that contact, and we enjoy it.
“This has been a very strange year, you know. But actually, what it has done is highlight how much we love doing what we do! The break enforced on us has made us appreciate what we enjoy doing at Masters.
“Our little team is really hoping that we can get back to normal and have a really great year next year, because we think there’s a lot of people out there who want to go racing again. And we really want to put on some great races.”