Martin Philippo is our resident correspondent on Circuit Zandvoort. On the eve of a new season he takes you back into the history of this legendary track.

We write the late thirties, when Mayor van Alphen wants to give his seaside town a little more class by organizing a genuine automobile race. The result is a street race that attracts a lot of spectators, maybe mainly because of the demonstrations given by Mercedes and Auto Union with Von Brauchitsch and Stuk behind the wheel. To cash in on the success, Van Alphen dreams of a real track, in the dunes, just north of Zandvoort. Little later the world is at war and everything is different. To protect the German Reich against intruders and give cannons free shooting range, all buildings within two hundred meters from the shore are demolished. Van Alphen uses the destruction to his advantage by having the debris dumped right there where he wanted his new track to be. He tells the  German occupants these are the foundations for the new Paradestrasse he will finish once the war is over. In fact he founded Circuit Zandvoort. Even today the straight and the paddocks are built on the finally hand chopped debris of pre-war Zandvoort.

In 1948 the brand new track is raced on for the very first time. The marram grasses aren’t yet matured enough to hold the drift sand of the dunes. Through these dunes, through the forest up to the straight, the drivers love the new track. In these early days Zandvoort isn’t much more than a strip of tarmac in the  middle of the dunes, without any form of protection for drivers nor audience. Officials along the track communicate through discarded army field telephones or warn each other with whistles. Bit by bit the entire organization becomes more professional, better equipped. Like the fences, put up by the infamous Hugenholtz. Finally, in 1973, the track is fitted with safety strips and guardrails. Now it is starting to look like something!

 

Since the beginning, Circuit Zandvoort has been run by an army of enthusiastic volunteers. All lovers of motor sports, the officials, those who run publicity, the fire brigade, the cashiers, everybody contributes to his or hers capacity. In these early days this sometimes leads to dangerous situations, since not every enthousiast is just as capable as he should be. That’s why in 1963 the Officials Club Automobile sport, the OCA, is founded. Thus giving the organizations a little more structure and staff decent instruction. From now on no more flagging behind a bale of straw, provided with a ham sandwich and a roll. However the atmosphere around the track remains relaxed. In the fifties there are two or three race weekends at most, amongst which of course the Formula One Grand Prix. Today the season presents weekly entertainment, still carried by the enthousiasts and their passion for motor sports.

 

One of these volunteers is Rob Petersen, the man telling us this story today. As a four year old Rob and his father stroll along the Zandvoort track during Grand Prix training. One of the race cars comes to a halt and the driver gets out. The car is a Lotus and the driver is Stirling Moss. Chatting away amicably, young Petersen is being hoisted into the Lotus. It’s that exact moment that starts of a life full of motor sports and devotion to the track. Being a high school student, Rob skips school on friday afternoons, just to witness the Formula One training sessions. Later he’ll join the OCA to be able to get even closer to the event as one of the officials. When Jim Vermeulen takes over the lead of the organization, Rob becomes the treasurer, paying all fees from the entry tickets income. Later he fills in the roll of gentlemen speaker, keeping the visitors up to date of everything that happens on and off the track. Circuit Zandvoort is the Red Thread in his life. Rob Petersen no longer waves flags or give his fiery version of the facts through the microphone, he left that to a younger generation. His bond with the Zandvoort track however, has remained strong as ever. Rob declared himself Zandvoorts archivist, his computer holding a gigantic database of historic pictures and documents, all labelled with key words and everything. It’s from his gigantic archive he provided us with the pictures with this article. The history of the Dutch track in the Zandvoort dunes is recorded by one of the heroes of motor sports. Not one wearing a track helmet and racing gloves, but one with fond memories to keep these famous days alive.
tekst Martin Philippo
foto’s ©RobPetersencollection