Formed in 1963 through the merger of Cumnock & District Car Club and the NCB East Ayr Area Car Club, East Ayrshire Car Club has grown to hold a unique place in Scottish motorsport, for it owns the only dedicated sprint circuit in Scotland.
From its inception, the club’s purpose has been to help club members become involved in motorsport. To that end, the newly-formed club started to run sprints – a form of motorsport in which drivers vie to set the fastest time over one or more laps of a circuit – on roads at a former camp near Dalmellington leased from the local authority.
The club also organised rallies, mostly then run on local roads and farm tracks, and sent a team of three club members to compete in the 1966 Welsh International Rally, their efforts netting them the Club Team Award as a prize.
In addition to sprints and rallies, the nascent club was heavily involved in autocross, a form of motorsport that’s run either on grass or stubble fields. Thanks to a club member, the club had the use of a large field near Girvan which was ideal for autocross. This led to the club being invited to host the inaugural Scottish Autocross Championship in 1968. It was well supported by competitors and spectators alike, with added entertainment being provided by Wing Commander Ken Wallis, who demonstrated one of his autogyros, as featured in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. The event was a great success and did much to raise the club’s profile.
Having established itself, the next step was for the club to acquire land on which a permanent motorsport facility could be established. After what club historian and long-time committee member Robert Smith describes as ‘a few false dawns’, the club was able (thanks to the good offices of local MP George Foulkes) to purchase a defunct railway yard at Muirkirk.
Turning the site into a motorsport venue would, however, take time and money. To this end, the club generated funds by organising events such as the Ayr Motor Show.
Based for most of its life (1970 to 1989) at Ayr’s Dam Park Hall, the Ayr Motor Show was famously opened by double F1 world champion Graham Hill in 1973 and by the then World Land Speed Record Holder Richard Noble in 1984.
By 1984, the Muirkirk site, now known as Kames Motorsport Complex, was home to a dedicated sprint track, running to 600 metres in length in its original form. It hosted its first sprint that year, with the layout being extended to incorporate a hairpin bend some eighteen months later. The circuit, the length of which is to be extended to 1000 metres in the next two years, continues to lie at the heart of the club’s activities, hosting eight sprints a year. Club members can also take their own road or competition cars to the circuit on dedicated test days. As with sprints, only one car is permitted on track at a time, thus giving participants the security of knowing that they have the circuit to themselves. Indeed, this very feature has resulted in the track being used by those learning to drive!
Kames also features from time to time on the routes of world-renowned historic car rallies such as Le Jog and The Flying Scotsman. It also has a small but significant claim to motorsport fame, being the locus of future World Rally Champion Colin McRae’s first-ever competitive rally in 1985. For the record, he came in fourteenth in a borrowed car.
Kames typically hosts two or three tarmac rallies a year, these being run on the circuit and other roads on the site. The club is also the joint permit-holder (with Solway Car Club and Machars Car Club) of the annual Galloway Hills Rally, a round of the Scottish Rally Championship. Based at Castle Douglas, the rally is run mostly on forest roads and attracts entrants from Scotland and beyond.
Throughout the club’s history, its members have flown the flag at motorsport events around the globe, with no little success. In the club’s first year, Ian Gemmell won one of the two Scottish rally championships. Most recently, the 2022 season has seen Andrew Blackwood win the Scottish Tarmack Rally Championship, Wallace Menzies notch his third consecutive British Hillclimb Championship, and Cameron Fair become the Scottish Rally Championship’s champion co-driver.
Involvement in motorsport can, of course, take many forms outwith being a competitor, with perhaps the most important role in motorsport being that of the marshal. It’s a fun and exciting role and, as club Chairman Russell Fair puts it, ‘As a marshal, you’re part of the action’.
To become a marshal, you need to be aged 14 or over. There’s no fixed upper age limit. Indeed, some of the club’s marshals are in their seventies. No prior experience is required and training is provided. It’s a voluntary position (even marshals at Formula 1 Grands Prix are volunteers) but lunch is provided and the club makes a contribution to travelling expenses.
As a permanent circuit, Kames is also set up with spectators in mind. There’s a spectator banking which affords excellent views of the circuit, a commentary is broadcast over the PA system at motorsport events, and refreshments are available from the clubhouse cafe. Moreover, the facilities have recently been upgraded to provide wheelchair access and toilet facilities for persons with disabilities. There’s on-site parking, and Kames’s compact nature means that spectators aren’t faced with a long trek from their cars to the track.
There’s more to Kames than just motorsport. In recent years, it has become popular with cycling clubs, such as East Kilbride Road Club, as its smooth surface, elevation changes and traffic-free environment make it an ideal training venue. Moreover, the circuit and the hills around it have also made it a favoured choice for triathletes to hone their running and cycling skills.
The club celebrates its 60th anniversary* in 2023. In an ever-changing world, it has not only endured and adapted but has thrived. Long may it continue to do so.
*To mark this, the club will be releasing a book which covers the entire history of the club from 1963 to the present day. Due to its size and the sheer number of photographs it contains, it will be available only in PDF form. Details of its availability and price will be posted on the club’s website:
Thanks are due to Russell Fair, the Chairman of East Ayrshire Car Club, and Robert Smith, the club’s historian and long-time committee member who’s been around since the inception of the club, for their assistance with this article.