History teaches us that the first auto race in the Netherlands was held the 3th of June 1939. The street circuit of Zandvoort was the host for this event. During the war construction started on the permanent, track in Zandvoort. The track was completed in 1947 and in 1948, we had our first Dutch Grand Prix. However, the first Dutch Grand Prix was scheduled for the 15th of September 1935, yes 13 years prior! In 1934, the KNAC gave the concession to build the track near Heerlen. The Autorenbaan Heerlen was born! Eventually the plan was canned and no Grand Prix was held.
As mentioned in a previous article autosport was never a big deal in the Netherlands. There were still citizens in the 1930s that saw the car as a devilish thing. If you read magazines from the 1910s, the sentiment is mostly negative. Why do we need those cars? All they bring are dust clouds and dangerous situations. Another issue, the government was never a fan of autosport either. At some point it was even forbidden.
In the roaring 1920s the sentiment started to change a bit, especially people in the cities saw the practice of cars. The very first attempts to materialise a permanent circuits date back to the 1920s. While the first serious attempt came in 1925. When a permanent circuit was planned near Noordwijk called Autorenbaan ‘t Langeveld. Several more plans came for permanent tracks. Arnhem was one of the places were a circuit would come. The KNAC even gave them in 1933 the concession to build the track and held the Dutch Grand Prix in 1934. Johannahoeve was the area where the track was to come.
The Autorenbaan in Arnhem would stay in the scope during the days that the KNAC moved towards Heerlen. This complete political move is a worth an article on its own. As accusations would came from their side.
In the early days of January 1934, the mayor of Heerlen, Van Grunsven, gave his word that Heerlen was able to build the track and to host the Grand Prix that would happen in 1935. Extra facilities would be built like Hotels and Restaurants for the fans. There would be also a special bus transfer from Train station Heerlen towards the circuit.
The 9th of February 1934 the council from Heerlen came together to discuss the matter. The most important issue was the finance that was needed. In those years, there was a lot of unemployment. Eventually the council gave the green light for the realisation of the first permanent circuit in the Netherlands.
A day later, the 10th of February, almost all newspapers came with the announcement the KNAC gave regarding Heerlen. The plans got the green light and it was estimated that the circuit would be completed in the spring of 1935. The first races would be held in June of 1935 while the Dutch Grand Prix was planned for the 15th of September. This was in between the Grand Prix’s of Italy (8 September) and the Spanish Grand Prix (22 September).
It only took a few days before the first complains came from the group in Arnhem. They openly questioned the liability of the financial structure for the Autorenbaan in Heerlen. Neither did they believe that the group consulting the circuit had not the needed capacity to meet the conditions. Their main concern was the location. They believed that Heerlen was too much towards the south. Were they just jealous or did they have a point?
In March 1934, the circuit plans were made public. The KNAC had several conditions for the location were the circuit would arise. There needed to be an elevation difference, the length of the track needed to be around 8km and new modern facilities are needed for the fans. Geological wise there was a great location. This was the Heerlerheide near ‘t Heksenberg, geological wise the track had it’s elevations. Difference between the lowest and highest point would have been around 15 meters.
The circuit would exist out of 11 corners and one long straight. On start/finish and the corners 2,3 and 7 big grandstands would arise. While there were, at least two places around the circuit were fans could park their cars. The main entrance would be at the Heerenweg which meant that’s the road had to be made bigger due to the traffic volume that would increase.
There was another reason they believed that this was the perfect location. Heerlen is only a few kilometres from the German and Belgium border. This would make it easier for fans abroad to drive to Heerlen and visit the circuit. At that time, thousands of Dutch citizens drove to the Nürburgring already. A concern from some people was that Spa-Francorchamps is only 40 kilometres away.
It took a while before we would hear more about the Autorenbaan in Heerlen. On the 12th of May 1934, a correspondent of the Arnhemsche Courant asked one of the local council members what the status was of the circuit. Their answer was “We are planning to buy the ground, it needs some time”.
One of the biggest papers was already questioning how legit this operation was. Being in doubt the track would ever materialise.
In June 1934, work was going on in preparing to construct the circuit. The schedule to have the first national races there in June 1935 was a stress test to see if the facilities were good enough when the Grand Prix would be held. As already said, in December 1934 the autosport calendar for 1935 was released. On it was the Dutch Grand Prix held in Heerlen. Planned for the 15th of September.
It became quiet, really quiet, regarding the situation and status of Autorenbaan Heerlen. Only in March 1935 some news came, and not the best news. There were problems with realising the circuit. At that point, the KNAC came with new safety regulations. It meant that the tracks had to be wider. Normally it used to be 12 meter, now it had to become 20 meter. It is an extra 8 meter. For the original plan, the Council of Heerlen calculated an astonishing amount of 600.000 Gulden. Due to the new regulations another 170.000 Gulden was needed.
Nothing had happened with the circuit. Several people went on the tour to find new money. To see if they could finance it. Sadly, they could not find enough investors in time. On the 12th of April 1935, the KNAC came with a statement that Autorenbaan Heerlen was canned. Due to the financial struggles. The concession was cancelled and the KNAC was looking for another spot to held the Grand Prix.
As there was not enough time to build a new track, the KNAC came with the idea to held the race in the streets of The Hague. The plans were to organise the 1935 Dutch Grand Prix on the streets. Like Zandvoort would have four years later. Eventually they came to the conclusion that it would not work. Therefore, the scheduled date for the Dutch Grand Prix was cancelled.
Around the same time, Arnhem was full in the scope again; they still had the plans to build the permanent track. As well, they had their financing already done. All the money that was needed, was there. This plan went through for a couple of more years before the ware happened. There would never race a Grand Prix car in Heerlen or in Arnhem. Zandvoort was the first one in 1948.
Trivia: It seems that the KNAC and other were convinced that the Autorenbaan in Heerlen would beat the Nürburgring. The circuit was opened in the 1920s. However, everyone was convinced that the track could not stay open with “new” high speeds that were common. Little did these people know that 90 years later there are still races there.