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Pensioner marks 80th birthday with Brands Hatch fast lap

Friday, August 25 2017

Pensioner Rita Edmonds returned to Brands Hatch after a 60-year gap today (Friday) to celebrate her 80th birthday with a fast lap of the track her uncle once owned.

Joe Francis, a speedway star who raced with New Cross Rangers, established Brands as a bike circuit after World War II and persuaded the BBC to screen grass track racing in 1947 - the first motorcycle racing ever shown on British television.

Rita, who lives near Croydon, fondly remembers the rough grass track and wooden grandstand from her childhood and daughter Julie said the daredevil pensioner had been longing to return for a lap of the circuit for many years.

"She's always up for anything - I think if they did trips to the moon she would go! Ever since we mentioned coming to Brands Hatch she's been hassling me, asking if I've sorted a date yet," said Julie.

Rita grew up in Orpington and was a frequent visitor to Brands Hatch with her father - Joe's brother - and her siblings. But things could have been very different… Joe almost sold Brands Hatch to a 19-year-old Bernie Ecclestone in 1949 before changing his mind over the price.

He persuaded the 500 Club to pave the circuit a year later, enabling cars to use the track for the first time and kick-starting the development of Brands Hatch as an international circuit. Joe spent his later years living on the Isle of Man but when he died, his ashes were scattered at the Kent circuit.

Rita, who celebrates her 80th birthday on 31 August, was accompanied by daughter Julie, son-in-law Chris and grandson Tom for the visit. She toured race control and took photos on the podium before being strapped into the BMW M4 Master for a spin around the circuit, touching a top speed of 130mph on the strait.

"It was amazing, even better than I expected. I loved it!" she said.

To find out more about how you can get behind the wheel at Brands Hatch, please call 0843 453 1000 or visit www.msvdrivinggifts.com.