The story behind Knockhill: Scotland’s race track

Colin McRae took part in a guest race in the BTCC at Knockhill in 1992. Photo: Spenderone
Colin McRae took part in a guest race in the BTCC at Knockhill in 1992. Photo: Spenderone
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From humble 1970s beginnings as a disused railway line and farm service road came Knockhill Race Circuit, which now hosts rounds of the British Touring Car Championship and the British Drift Championship.

With Scotland’s motorsport talent boasting of names such as Jim Clark, David Coulthard, Dario & Marino Franchitti and Allan McNish, it’s hard to believe than even as recently as the early 1970s, Scotland didn’t have a dedicated race track. A selection of closed-off streets and public spaces had been used as and when they were needed, but this would not do if Scotland was to continually foster its own talent.

Spotting what was to prove to be a worthwhile gap in the market, Fife sheep farmer and motorcycle racing enthusiast Tom Kinnaird had a vision for his farm at the foot of Knock Hill just outside Dunfermline, which resulted in the 1.2 mile-long circuit that exists today.

Hosting a motorcycle race meeting in 1974 - the circuit’s first-ever event - the 10 metre wide track was noted from the start for being one of the few that could be run in either direction, lending a whole new perspective to the 200ft elevation change experienced by drivers and riders on every lap.

Kinnaird maintained a catalogue of events for another year before entrepreneur Denis Dobie stepped in with dreams of hosting a Scottish F1 Grand Prix in Fife. Despite major developments to the circuit, including extending the track to 2.3 miles in length and building Race Control and Medical Centre facilities, Dobie’s plans became mired in over £200,000 of debt and Kinnaird regained control.

The early 1980s saw motorcycle racer and successful mid-20s businessman Derek Butcher take ownership of the hallowed Scottish tarmac, using money from his successful start-up Fife Alarm Services. The mud-encrusted track and its surroundings received no less than two subsequent resurfacings and investment in the catering facilities.

Knockhill Race Circuit in June 1985. Photo: BBC Domesday

Knockhill Race Circuit in June 1985. Photo: BBC Domesday

Knockhill was rewarded in 1992 with venue status in the British Touring Car Championship; an accolade it holds to this day as the only BTCC event north of the border. The circuit’s tricky layout, with the stretch between Scotsman corner and the Arnold Clark chicane a particularly treacherous spot, has kept fans coming back for more over the years.

Those wishing to drive the circuit can do so at a variety of amateur events and trackdays throughout the summer and spring months, with the crash of a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera just one of many spectacular collisions to occur at the aforementioned sequence of corners.

Nowadays Knockhill has a number of versatile features including a conference centre, skid pan for driver training and purpose-built go-karting and rally facilities. It has hosted the official Scottish Motor Show since 2007 with Scottish Motor Trade Association backing and plays host to the spectacular British Drift Championship, bringing both new spectators and income to the region.

Kinnaird’s original design survives largely unaltered, with multiple configurations and Tarmac and Rallycross stages keeping Knockhill popular with spectators and competitors. The current lap record stands at 47.039 seconds, posted by Ryan Lewis behind the wheel of a T-Sport Dallara F305 Formula Three car.

Over the years, Knockhill has hosted drift events from the British Drift Championship. Photo: Jordan Butters

Over the years, Knockhill has hosted drift events from the British Drift Championship. Photo: Jordan Butters

Knockhill's International Circuit is very similar to its original design. Photo: Knockhill

Knockhill's International Circuit is very similar to its original design. Photo: Knockhill

Knockhill's famous kerbs keep the racing entertaining. Photo: WN

Knockhill's famous kerbs keep the racing entertaining. Photo: WN

Trackdays are popular at Knockhill. Photo: Barlow

Trackdays are popular at Knockhill. Photo: Barlow