Contrary to what many people think, there was Thai motor racing before the Pattaya Asiana Speedway in 1975 or the Bira Circuit that was built in 1986, and the Siamese Prince Bira was intimately involved for many years, both as a competitor and in the hierarchy of Thailand’s motor racing.
Remembering that F1 only began in 1950, before then and before WW II, the unofficial ‘world championship’ was the British Racing Drivers Club championship, run over a number of events each year. Any driver who could win the coveted BRDC Gold Star was the supreme driver of that year, but there has only been one driver to win three pre-war consecutive BRDC Gold Stars, and that driver was an Asian, and in my view one of the most under-rated drivers in motor sports history. This driver was the only Asian to beat five times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, in equal cars in 1949, when Fangio was making his name as the up and coming driver of the future.
That driver was Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh (known simply as Bira), a member of the royal family of Siam (as Thailand was known then). In 1936 Prince Bira won the J.C.C. International Trophy and three International Light Car Races at Monaco, Peronne and Albi, France. In 1937 he won the Campbell Trophy, the Light Car Race at the Isle of Man, the London Grand Prix, the12-hour Race at Donington Park and the Imperial Trophy. In 1938, he won seven major races including the Coronation Trophy, the Campbell Trophy, the Light Car Race at Cork, the London Grand Prix, the Nuffield Trophy, the BRDC Road Race and the Siam Trophy. Those wins against all the accepted hot-shoes of the times, gave him the BRDC Gold Star awards for 1936, 1937 and 1938. A feat unequalled since then.
Despite the fact that Prince Bira mainly raced in Europe in those pre-war days, Thailand, unlike many of her neighbouring countries, has always had a strong following for Motor Sport, be that circuit racing, rallies or just “doing it in the dirt”. In fact, Dr Prachin Eamlumnow, the father of the Bangkok International Motor Show was a celebrated driver and winner of the Bangkok to Singapore Rally in the early 70’s. Thailand can be proud of its motor racing heritage, and should remember Prince Bira. There is a statue to his memory just inside the main entrance gates of the Bira Circuit.