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Rod Street, chief executive of Great British Racing, and I have a couple of things in common. You hardly need me to tell you that we both have a passion for racing. You might be surprised to learn that in our younger days, we each wore the brightly coloured jacket of a holiday camp entertainer. Street donned the blue for Pontins in the South West; I wore the red of Butlins in Skegness.
Even as a boy, Street was close to the world of racing. He was born in Woodingdean, no more than a mile from Brighton racecourse, and grew up just along the coast in Shoreham, where he lived in the same road as another boy who in time found his way into racing, Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt. Perhaps racing was in their destiny for both of them.
His mum’s partner gave the young Street his first helping hand, as he explained in an interview with the Brighton Argus some years ago. “My interest in horseracing came at an early age. My mum’s partner was a bookmaker from a family of bookmakers. At the age of eight I started taking an interest. I used to be with him when he watched the racing on the television and I helped him work out odds and study form. I even used to give him some of my meagre pocket money to bet on a horse on a Saturday.”
Street had no ambition to make a career in racing, and went off to work as a Blue Coat, honing his skills as a stand up comedian under the tutelage of Pete Conway, the father of Robbie Williams, whom he spent time entertaining in the summer months at the holiday camp. Six years as a holiday rep at resorts throughout Europe followed, before he returned to England in his mid 20s in the middle of a recession and with no job. It was a case of standing on his own feet, literally, as he again took to stand up comedy and promoting other acts in the Potteries.
The need for a proper job grew, and Street applied successfully for the job of assistant commercial manager at Uttoxeter racecourse. It was a move that was to shape the future direction of his career. He recalled the interview. “I remember meeting Sir Stanley Clarke, chairman Northern Racing, for the first time. He looked me up and down and decided my talents fitted with his ideas for the racing business and offered me the job. I went on from becoming commercial manager to general manager, a director of Northern Racing, managing director of the racecourses at Bath, Uttoxeter and Brighton, and finally managing director of the whole group.” All that by the time he was 35 years of age.
Clarke had enormous influence on the way Street approached his work, with the Northern Racing motto of ‘Racing is our business and our passion’ at the heart of everything. Clarke was instrumental in putting up ‘How are we doing?’ posters in the loos at Northern Racecourses tracks, and Street has shown a similar desire to hear from and understand what racegoers want.
Now, as chief executive of the British Champions Series, he has been a key player in establishing QIPCO British Champions Day as one of the highlights of the racing calendar. That passion for catering for a whole range of interests on the day beyond the racing itself (if that isn’t enough!!) saw several Olympic Champions supporting the day in 2012, and a Champions of 2013 theme this year. That saw an exhibition celebrating sporting champions from across the sporting world. The Jules Rimet trophy, the FA Cup, the Ashes urn, the Ryder Cup, the Ballon D’Or and the rugby league Challenge Cup were all on show, putting Champions Day on a par with those other sports.
That work sits alongside positions as chief executive of Great British Racing and Racing Enterprises Limited, meaning we’ll hear plenty more from Rod Street in the coming years as he continues to raise the profile of racing in Britain and overseas.
As for me, this is my final post for Geegeez, so you won’t hear from me in the future. I’m off to start the retirement that beckoned two and a half years ago when I finished full time regular work, but somehow never happened. That translates to building the business I started last year (not connected to racing), which should help me to complete my anorak’s tour of Britain’s racecourses.
I’ve had a great time, and learned an awful lot more myself about this wonderful sport. Thank you for your encouraging comments. I’m glad you enjoyed some of my scribblings.