St Annes promoter to revive historic Odsal venue with stock car racing and still dreams of a Fylde circuit

A St Annes businessman is reviving one of England’s iconic sporting venues through his passion for stock car racing.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 12:30 pm

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Promoter Steve Rees, who has staged stock car and banger racing via his Startrax organisation for more than 25 years, has struck a deal to hold events at Odsal Stadium in Bradford in the coming months.

Yorkshireman Steve has been looking for new northern venues for his beloved sport since the closure of the Belle Vue arena in Manchester and still harbours ambitions to bringing stock car racing to his adopted home on the Fylde coast.

Stock car racing at Odsal in the 1980s - the sport is set to return to the venue in May after a 24-year absence thanks to St Annes' Steve Rees Picture: COLIN CASSERLEY

But for now his focus is fully on Odsal, a natural bowl which has stood empty since the financially-troubled Bradford Bulls rugby league club vacated the site in 2019.

Now the venue is being prepared for a series of Steve’s sellout motorsport spectaculars, starting with National Bangers on May 22 and followed by BriSCA F1 stock car events on May 31 and June 12.

Council-owned Odsal is best known as the home of Bradford Northern/Bulls for 86 years. It has held a place in the history books since 102,569 attended the RL Challenge Cup final replay there in 1954, the largest crowd ever in this country for a sporting event outside London.

But Odsal was also a hugely successful post-war speedway venue, and the track which surrounded the rugby pitch continued to stage motorcycling and stock car events until 1997.

Steve takes up the story: “In fact, we staged the last stock cars event there 24 years ago and we’ve been trying to get back ever since.

“We were only supposed to be moving out for two years while they built a superbowl but then the venue became a political hot potato for many years. After the Bradford Bulls went bust it was leased to the Rugby Football League in 2012. We were close to going back in 2013 but this time it has reached fruition.

“When the Bulls moved out in 2019, the RFL invited proposals from anyone interested. We honestly thought we were wasting our time but we started negotiations and reached a deal last year.

“The RFL hope the Bulls will return this season (they arre currently based at Dewsbury) but it’s an expensive venue which will need other activities and we have agreed a 12-year renewable lease.

“We have an agreement with the Bulls that we should not be two separate entities. To make this work for everyone we have to be welded at the hip.”

To redevelop the venue for a grand reopening against the backdrop of a global pandemic was a huge gamble but Steve has every confidence this labour of love will pay off.

He added: “The agreement was to work on the track and fencing but we have done much more than that because of our pride and passion.

“After all the refurbishment and landscaping, we will have spent £250,000. The RFL have also put money in and by the time we open it will have cost half a million.

“When the new variant of Covid struck in December we wondered whether to put it all back six months, which would have meant not opening until next year, but we took the gamble. We put our pension money into a project, which is about leaving something behind as legacy for sport.

“We are thankful for the huge amount of goodwill and support we have been shown and the Bulls fans are right behind it because they would love to be back at Odsal.

“Tickets went on sale in January and sold out inside an hour and a half.

“The opening events have been put back in line with the government’s roadmap for spectators at sports grounds but that has bought us more time. We put extra tickets on sale and they sold out in minutes. There is huge interest in Yorkshire.”

But Huddersfield-born Steve believes that is true of his adopted Fylde home too.

Last year we reported on Steve’s desire to develop a circuit in these parts following the closure of Belle Vue and that dream has not dimmed.

He added: “We’ve lost a couple of stadiums – Stoke as well – and we are still looking round here.

“The area within six or six miles of Blackpool would be ideal. We’ve looked at the Riversway area in Preston but it’s about finding a suitable plot.

“You only have to look at what the Skegness Stadium (another stock car/banger venue) has done for tourism there to see how much it would add to commerce around Blackpool.

“The race weekends at Skegness attract 5,000-6,000 and add enormously to the economy.

“I’m really looking forward to talking to the local authorities here at some point because it would be a huge thing for the area.

“It’s always about finding the land but Blackpool is regenerating.

“You can see how much investment is going in and if I live long enough it will be a different town.”

But for now the focus is on reviving one of West Yorkshire’s, and indeed the UK’s, most historic sporting arenas.

“If we had not stepped in it is fair to say that Odsal would have been empty for another year,” Steve added.

“It’s too expensive for the RFL to continue sitting on an empty stadium and I’m sure it would eventually have been offered for sale as a piece of land, which would have meant another iconic stadium being lost.”

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