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Pensioner celebrates 80th birthday at Brands Hatch 60 years after her uncle first owned circuit

PUBLISHED: 15:11 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:11 25 August 2017

Rita Edmonds at Brands Hatch

Rita Edmonds at Brands Hatch

Archant

Rita Edmonds grew up in Orpington and regularly visited the Kent track as a child

An Orpington-born pensioner returned to Brands Hatch after a 60-year gap this week 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 the Second World War and persuaded the BBC to screen grass track racing in 1947 – the first motorcycle racing ever shown on British television.

Rita Edmonds, who now 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,” her daughter said.

Ms Edmonds grew up in Orpington and was a frequent visitor to Brands Hatch with her father – Mr Francis’ brother – and her siblings.

But things could have been very different - her uncle 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.

Mr Francis spent his later years living on the Isle of Man but when he died, his ashes were scattered at the Kent circuit.

Ms Edmonds, who celebrates her 80th birthday on Thursday, 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.

She said: “It was amazing, even better than I expected. I loved it.”

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