Stephen Murty was one of a band of keen motorcycle sprinters from the Calder Valley area of Yorkshire. Early drag racing ventures saw Steve progress to a crazy Hillman Imp engined two-wheeler contesting Competition Bike at Santa Pod in the very early seventies. The drag racing bug had bitten deep, but that brought about a realisation that drag racing was a Southern based sport, and Northerners had far to travel to compete.
Steve and several associates formed the Pennine Drag Racing Club, to promote and bring drag racing to Yorkshire. Negotiations with the landowner followed by much hard work from the new club, brought eighth-mile drag racing to Crosland Moor Airfield near Huddersfield, the former private aerodrome of Sir David Brown of tractor fame. In 1974 the club held two race meetings at this venue, featuring Clive Skilton, Dennis Priddle, Roz Prior and Ed Shaver in a great show of support for this new drag racing venue, until complaints from distant householders forced the venue closed by the ruling of Kirklees Council. The closure saw Steve embark on a long legal battle with Kirklees, which he was to win eleven years down the road.
Undaunted, drag racing was promoted and staged at Liverpool’s Aintree Racecourse by Steve and the PDRC during 1975, though Yorkshire still beckoned. Steve had long been in negotiation to find a permanent venue, which in 1977 was finally unveiled as the main runway at Melbourne near York, on farming land which had been a World War 2 RAF Halifax Bomber base, the home of Number 10 Squadron. Those inaugural meetings had seen the emphasis on bracket racing, and were contested enthusiastically by American motor sport starved locals, with guest appearances by some of the most famous racers in the UK on two and four wheels. Big crowds and television company visits were the order of the day.
It soon became apparent that Steve’s organisation was very much family-oriented, with wife Leone running things in Race Control, and Leone’s mum Iris and dad Amos attending to the gate. Leone’s sister Liz and her hubby Steve were willing workers too, whilst Michael was just a small boy.
Stunt driving arrived at York with the purchase of the wheelie Vauxhall, campaigned by Steve initially, but latterly by Leone, to the delight of the lady racers and spectators. Truck racing was a Steve Murty innovation at Melbourne and the early eighties saw the familiar Grand Prix racing trucks of the day racing in brackets at York. Trucking led to drag racing’s first purpose built drag racing truck, the Bandag Bullet, built and raced by Steve and his team, inevitably giving rise to another Murt first. The Rolls Royce Avon jet-powered Pirelli Pro Jet, a record-breaking truck built by Fred Whittle and demonstrated by Steve all over Europe.
Steve attended to PDRC business with a passion, and quickly established himself as a keen negotiator when involved with inter-club meetings, and the forming of a National Drag Racing Championship, and often locked horns with the ruling RAC MSA. Steve was heavily involved in the inter-club meetings with the BDRA and NDRC to ensure that safety aspects of drag racing were being overhauled and improved through the combined efforts of the promoters and clubs in the UK. Of course the racers were still getting full attention, along with upgrades to the Raceway, which was the subject of an ambitious campaign to re-surface the runway under the banner of Mac the Track. No-one can have worked harder than Steve during that period in the late eighties. The track re-opened as the New York Raceway in an era when National Drag Racing was at all venues in the UK, and the number of racers who were cutting their teeth at Melbourne was booming.
Promotional vehicles continued to accumulate, and the Leyland Skytrain was unveiled as another top quality exhibition vehicle added to the Murty fleet – sixteen tons of wheelie Leyland Landtrain truck. The exhibition vehicles were kept busy helping provide the funds to keep drag racing alive at Melbourne as well as providing the perfect promotional opportunity for drag racing at the track. A return to Aintree with big promotional events in 1988 and 1989 was a forerunner to the huge 1991 National Power Sports Festival which lasted a week at Blackpool and featured drag racing demonstrations along the Golden Mile, in the biggest showcase ever organised for the sport.
In 1992 Steve founded the International Organisation of Professional Drivers, the IOPD, when new legislation threatened the existence of motor sport on private land through the rulings of the Road Traffic Act. In effect many events were saved from extinction, or indeed prosecution, by the new authorising body which ensured that properly organised and permitted events were not under threat. Steve remains passionate that all such events should continue without fear of falling foul of the law.
Today the Murty Family are still actively running events at York Raceway; Steve as the promoter and champion of the grass roots racers whilst Leone continues to be the steadying influence keeping the Race Control staff contented and keeping Steve in line, whilst Michael has established himself as a superstar in Monster Trucks amongst the other machines that are part of the Murty stable. Latest addition to the team, younger brother Christopher at twenty one, has taken the reins of track preparation, and the general race events organisation, ensuring that York Raceway is in safe hands for the foreseeable future. This means of course, that PDRC will continue to generate the enthusiasm that has led to some of Europe’s fastest and best racers having a local track to learn their trade, thanks to the dedication of the Murty family.