One-day race meeting? It’s been done before…| Mike Nicks | British Superbikes
Imagine a three-day British Superbike meeting compressed into a day. That is how racing worked in the sixties. And that - or something like it - is what racing might be faced with in a cash-starved future.
Here’s how sixties’ racing worked. Good Friday at Brands Hatch was a typical big day. Everyone wanted to be there - Phil Read, Mike Hailwood, Rex Butcher, Bill Ivy, Colin Seeley, Chris Vincent, Joe Dunphy, Paul Smart, the lot.
Practice started at 9am and lasted till a brief lunch break. Starting order was based on practice times, and there were no separate qualifying sessions. Racing started around 1pm, and was over by 6pm.
Racing classes ranged from 50cc (yawn) to 125, 250, 350, 500cc and unlimited events, plus sidecars, which were a big spectacle in an era when the chairs drifted and slid through the corners. Riders would compete on up to four different bikes.
Here’s the proof taken from a random look at Mike Hailwood’s career: at a Silverstone meeting in 1962 he rode a 125cc EMC (second), a 250cc Benelli (second), a 350cc AJS (second) and a 500cc Norton (1st).
‘Hospitality’ would probably have been a cheese sandwich (white bread) and a cup of tea from a flask. Racing transport was a Ford Thames van (1700cc, 55bhp), into which bikes, spares and tyres had to be packed.
On Bank Holiday weekends riders might compete in three different meetings: a popular schedule was Brands on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and, for the survivors, Oulton Park on the Monday.
The bikes they competed on were those stalwarts of the British short-circuit scene, the 350cc AJS 7R and Manx Norton, and the 500cc Manx Norton, Greeves Silverstone, Ducati, Bultaco and Cotton Telstar in the 250cc class, Honda CR93 in 125cc races, and Triumphs, Nortons and Dunstall Nortons in the big classes.
650cc BSAs were popular in the sidecar class, but they were usually beaten by Swiss and German crews on 500cc BMW flat-twins when the Continental riders such as Florian Camathias came over for international meetings.
Did it all work? Yes: the crowds were huge (claims of 50,000 spectators were frequent, although you always have to treat promoters’ boasts with a touch of cynicism), and the racing produced world champions. Spectators went home happy, and the sixties are now regarded as a golden era of motorcycle racing.
I don’t wear rose-tinted specs, and although I was there at the time, I don’t claim that things were better then. Today’s big BSB, WorldSBK and MotoGP circuses are great spectacles. All I’m saying is what happened when there was a lot less money around.
In the economic wasteland that is now unrolling, it might be a good idea to look at how racing operated in poorer times, and to draw some conclusions from that.