Club racing stalwart Howard Strawford, the driving force behind Castle Combe circuit, died early on Saturday morning after a stroke.

It is understood he had just returned from holiday.

Mr Strawford, 77, rescued the Castle Combe circuit from closure in the 1970s and developed it into arguably the best venue of its kind in the country. Three years ago the Motor Sport Association honoured his outstanding contribution to racing with a Lifetime Achievement award.

Twenty-one years after opening, 1971 was scheduled to be the final season of racing at Castle Combe circuit. But Mr Strawford set about keeping it open and eventually secured its future by taking control in 1976.

He and his team went on to take it from a venue on the brink of closure to an operation with a turnover for the group of more than £1.5 million.

John Gaisford worked as his photographer ever since he bought the circuit and said Mr Strawford was a good friend. He said: “He was a one-off. He was a shrewd businessman but also very, very loyal, he wouldn’t let anyone down. He’s always been absolutely superb. I’m very sorry he’s gone.”

Mr Strawford had been with his wife Pat ever since they went on a blind date in the 1950s. They have two daughters, Karen and Emma.

Daughter Emma Burns, who is membership secretary at the circuit, said: “Howard took the brave decision to purchase the circuit in 1976, and with his stalwart wife Pat providing constant support and encouragement, saved it from closure, going on to secure its future for the pleasure and satisfaction of innumerable drivers, riders, employees and spectators.

“The rich legacy of motorsport created by Howard will continue for the benefit of motorsport enthusiasts both locally, nationally and internationally.”

He spent nearly two decades as chairman of the British Racing and Sports Car Club (BRSCC). He has also served on many committees as well as the Motor Sport Safety Fund.

The BRSCC paid tribute to Mr Strawford: “It was with great sadness that the club heard that vice-President and former chairman, Howard Strawford, passed away. Howard, who owned and operated Castle Combe circuit, was a great servant to the BRSCC.

“Everyone at the BRSCC would like to pass on sincere condolences to Howard's wife Pat, and daughters Karen and Emma.”