There are places in the world that remain iconic in our minds and souls. It could be the first shop that you bought your first motorcycle from, or record (vinyl to be clear), or fish and chips, or Dr Martins boots. It could be the place on a wild coast line where you camped overnight on the beach after a ride there with some friends. It could be the first live concert you ever went to see, where the bass guitar and drums reverberated in your chest and you bought your first ever gig T-shirt. It could be the first ever holiday that you had with friends and without your parents. It could be anything, anywhere etc etc. So, here’s mine………
On the wild North East Coast of the UK, lies a place called Scarborough in North Yorkshire. It has a castle perched high up on the cliffs overlooking the harbour and the town. It was originally a fishing town, then Victorian holiday resort, which then turned into a 20th Century holiday resort. The architecture follows the town’s story through the centuries. It has history, energy, entertainment and soul. Importantly, it has a ‘real roads’ racing circuit, which was built in 1950 by soldiers who had returned from war and who subsequently raced motorcycles around it. Most of the time it is a public parkland space and with a perfectly smooth ribbon of twisty tarmac weaving its way up, down and round the hill on which it sits. The views from the circuit are of land one side and sea on the other. Apart from the weather, which changes a lot, even in one day, the circuit itself has changed very little in the last nearly 70 years. Below is a chronological, non-bullet-point list of why I still go there, and why you should too.
First visit was in 1976. Bloody hot summer. It was September and the International Road Races. Barry Sheene was racing, plus a host of other international stars. I had been banned from ‘anything motorcycles’ by my parents for being put on report at school for consistently not doing, or making a mess of French homework. I told them I was going to see a friend for the day, which wasn’t a lie. My friend’s Father took us to Olivers Mount to watch the races. Stepping out of the car and hearing for the very first time, racing two stroke engines being thrashed, was really special. The smell of Castrol R, chips, burgers, damp grass and salt in the air from the sea has been unforgettable. At the end of the day, my parents wanted to know where I’d been so I told them. I got a right royal bollocking for it, and then I proceeded to tell them it had been the best day of my life so far. Not very subtle in hindsight and it wasn’t well received either. The ‘anything motorcycles’ ban was extended.
1977 and at the ‘Cock of the North’ National road races. I discovered local Yorkshire hero, Mick Grant, who rode the fearsome, 3 cylinder, lime green and white, works 750cc Kawasaki. I ate 4 bags of chips throughout the day, drank at least as many mugs of hot tea, a couple of Mars bars and felt sick on the way home because my friend’s Dad was a shit driver, had a shit car and it was like being in a small boat in a storm. I wasn’t on report anymore and my parents had given me a pass out, and even spending money to go! I bought a BSA metal pin badge for my jacket even though I was into Japanese bikes. I just liked the BSA logo.
A year later, same month and event, and four of us decided to camp at the circuit for the full weekend. It didn’t rain once amazingly. Chips for breakfast, lunch and mid-afternoon snack. You can walk around the circuit and in most places, only a hedge and a wooden rail separates spectators from racers. Very exciting. The camping experience was basic. Tent and sleeping bags only. Camp site entertainment of several types went on until first light the following day, so just when you thought a couple of hours sleep was in order, the mechanics started warming up noisy two-stroke racers. Toilet facilities were a nightmare, so a good dump would have to wait until I got back home, and a regular piss in the woods was convenient. Smiling Barry Sheene (below) bloody-well won everything and smashed every lap record.
May Spring Classic races in ’78, the Bee Gees had the number 1 song, Night Fever, and I witnessed my first motorcycle race crash right in front of me. Not pretty, very messy and inconveniently, the accident put the race timetable back 20 minutes. I resorted to having a bag of chips whilst waiting for the mess to be cleared up. Whilst eating my chips, I watched a group of ‘old people’, who were sitting in camping chairs with flasks of tea, ham sandwiches, cake etc and diligently filling in the race results in their programmes.
In September 1979, I rode with some friends to the races, with me riding my new Honda XL100S. I took sandwiches as my meagre budget didn’t run to petrol, chips, tea, Mars Bars and a programme. I took a pen with me to fill in the race results in my programme like the old people did. I managed one race, then got bored and spent the rest of the day drawing motorcycles on the inside covers of the programme. Mick Grant won the big race for Kawasaki, Yorkshire and himself, obviously. As it was the last big race of the season, a big event was held in a massive Victorian hotel in the town. All of the big racers were presented to the big crowd of even bigger drinkers. Mick Grant got cheered the most and had an encore. Barry Sheene, twice world Champion, seen as a posh Southerner, was booed off the stage unsportingly, but it was good at the time. I’m sure Barry had the last laugh on all of us. I drank too much and was sick walking back to the tent. Slept well though.
As a young biker group, we all wanted to race like the racers and live their flamboyant and glamorous lives, but without ever crashing, because it looked like crashing hurt. Instead, we became fully trained, unpaid but very enthusiastic, Track Marshalls. This meant the best viewing spots, free entry and the opportunity to scrape our heroes and their bikes off the road when they crashed. It also meant that sometimes, we got to keep parts of the bikes that littered the track during the chaos of the crash. Rider language was pretty bad whether they were hurt or had just damaged a bike. I don’t think their words increased my vocabulary, but it was entertaining. At one of the Marshall’s posts I was manning one day, a group of smart-arse bikers leaned over the fence and said “Oi! Sonny-boy. Can you tell us where we can buy some Vespa scooter parts?” In my professional Track Marshall capacity, I just ignored the fuckers.
Sometime in the early Eighties, I saw my first sidecar get airborne, complete with passenger and rider. A gust of North Sea wind got underneath the new aerodynamic bodywork and helped it take off. It literally flew off into a nearby field. The landing wasn’t good and the passenger had to be plucked from a big hedge by Marshalls. Amazingly, both of them walked away from the crash. Others haven’t been so lucky. There are no big gravel traps here, just trees, fences, hedges and mostly very hard stuff to hit.
There used to be 2 commentators. One at the top of the circuit in a cafe and the other in the control tower on the start line. For two people about a mile apart as the crow flies, they were pretty well co-ordinated, particularly when the audio system failed for one of them and the other one didn’t realise, and then it came back on and in some cases, they were both in sync, and in other cases, it was like they were commentating on different races. Now there is just one of the original two commentators left and he does his best to explain the ‘new-timing-app-thing’ that can be downloaded to get the race results and timings. For me, this is as boring a piece of 21st Century technology as you can get, and just as tedious as filling in the programme was last century.
A bit more on Camping. One weekend race saw a gale make the sea rise to extraordinary levels of ferocity with waves crashing over roads on the sea front. Some folk were trying to ride under the waves like a surfer would. It always ended badly. It blew our tent to shreds and we woke up in the morning with a flat tent on top of us. Another year we arrived on the Friday night and pitched the tent in readiness for the weekend, then went into Scarborough for something to eat, then found out on our return that someone had stolen it. This was made worse as we had spent the previous week sewing in a new entrance zip in the tent. We had to ride back 60 miles to get a good nights sleep at home. The Spring Classic in the first weekend of May can attract a lot of spectators, and snow. This happened one year when my wife and I were camping. Camping and riding in the snow isn’t a great weekend away. It was the point that my wife decided that forever more, cars were better than motorcycles.
In addition to watching the racing, the lunchtime walk around the bike park is very interesting. There is everything parked up from home made specials to brand new bikes. Some bikes have a ‘for sale’ sign on them but never any price. Some people remove the ‘for sale’ sign and put it on another bike. The stalls are great too. Currently, the selection of stuff to buy includes helmets, leathers, bike parts, chips, sweets, posh coffee, enter a raffle for a Joey Dunlop replica Honda, T-shirts, caps, chips, sweets, more posh coffee etc.
Like most places, it is the people that make the entertainment. Olivers Mount races always have a great cross-section of society in attendance. Some are classic stereotypes and others are hard to guess. Of course, there are many Yorkshire accents, but this is also diluted by Northern Irish as this is a real road racing event and as such, is attended by many Northern Irish riders. Then there are also the famous, character stars like Guy Martin, who has won many Gold Cup races.
The circuit weaves in and out of woodland and the trees are spectacular. They are like strong, human arms punching the sky. With the right light shining through them, the view is epic.
Graeme Crosby was a man who turned up from New Zealand one year and racing a Moriwaki Kawasaki. Talk about sensational riding style. whilst all other riders were trying to make themselves as aerodynamic as possible, this man was riding in an upright position and on a big four cylinder, 1000cc Kawasaki. Most of the time, spectators found themselves taking photos of the underside on his bike, such was the level of epic wheelying that he did. It was crowd entertainment at its best. I took a photo of him and hero, Mick Grant going around the cafe corner, and that photo (below), hay bales and all, says everything about Olivers Mount.
More recently, there have been some issues with getting the circuit up to safety standards, but fortunately it has been resurrected by a group of people, and which includes none other than the Godfather of Olivers Mount, to me anyway, Mick Grant. This is a normal public road that is open to the public apart from race weekends, so just riding round it slowly on a road bike gives an indication of how narrow and exciting this circuit it. The bottom part of the circuit has a jump on it. If you’ve never seen a 1000cc racing Superbike fly, you should stand and watch behind the thin wooden fence between you and an angry, flying motorcycle, which is trying its best to throw its rider off. Excited? If you haven’t ever been there, you should, and you should also watch some on-bike footage on YouTube. If you have been there, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
All photos, even the crap quality ones, are by the Author