I’d never anticipated lining up on the grid with four-time World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty MBE, the most successful SBK racer of all time with the most championships and 59 race wins under his belt. Renowned during his career for his high corner speed riding style and aggressive competitiveness. I can confirm, he’s lost none of that.
I didn’t expect to be rubbing shoulders with others like two-time TT winner, Gary Johnson or any of the current flat-track champions racing in the same ‘Hooligan’ class as me. I took little reassurance when the organisers said the event is all about fun and friendly competition, I’d argue the level of competitiveness depends on the race category you enter, even the group dressed up as lobsters wanted to cross the finish line first.
I was on the front row with Foggy on my left, a marshal held up a sign that read WAIT. The other riders gunned their throttles. This is it, I did the same. I cranked the throttle half way, took a deep breath and waited for the start light, I did not need to see the light turn green, I knew it had because everyone launched.
A couple of bikes cut straight across my nose heading for turn one. I could taste and smell the sand and dust as it blasted me in the face. I had my left foot out, the steel shoe sliding across the gravel as I held the weight of the bike into the turn. My brain screamed don’t crash, left arm down, right elbow up. Be ready to react! I was eating more dust and gravel. It was glorious (I regressed, I was five again playing in the sand pit).
This was the first time I had ridden the Street Rod, it was much heavier, and had six times the power of the little easy to ride 125cc bike ridden in practice at Rye House some weeks before.
There is a very small window of ideal grip on the track because too wet or too dry and it’s like a ski slope but after each race the owner comes out and ‘grooms’ the surface with his tractor and water spraying machine. The track was dry, dusty and slippery first time out for the four practice laps before racing so much so that when I dabbed the back brake (combined with significant engine braking) the rear wheel locks quickly.
I learned that by rolling off the throttle aggressively then the back wheel locks and slides without having to rely on the rear brake.
On the little bikes I was trying to get them to slide and lean much further over into the turns. It was easier to figure out how much throttle I could use mid corner and when I could get on the gas. It’s an adhesion balancing act.
While on the Harley I just shut off, turned in, hoped for as much grip as possible, stood the bike up and then gassed it, the back wheel spinning up all the way down the straight. I am sure with more laps on the bike I would get the same confidence that I had in practice but, as always, I was getting better with each lap.
Ok, so I’d survived turn one, phew! Turn two, no surprises as the front runners started to edge away.
Coming back around to turn one I saw a rider rocket past on my outside from the corner of my eye. I wasn’t concerned because surely he’d run wide at the pace. I told myself to hold the tighter inside line. He came in like a comet, so hard and fast that he might have had a jammed throttle. He did not seem to brake at all.
He went straight on hitting the wall hard! The rider and bike tumbled. He was followed into the wall by the racer that had been on his tail.
The race was red flagged and we were herded back around to the start grid while the ambulance crew and marshals cleared the track. One rider was able to ride in the next heat, the other was taken to the local hospital with a dislocated shoulder.
Speed is relative, this weekend reminded me of my first road race, I was back of the grid and I was so pleased that I made four places in the race, I was also thankful that that I walked away in one piece. It took time to build and find the podium. The front runners did not appear to be fast but, seemingly without much effort, they certainly were!
As a child I was always in awe of the legendary speedway riders and I’ve never forgotten the smell of the methanol fuel, leaving heavy grey smoke in the air and the deafening noise of the bikes off the line which was often amplified if the race was indoors. I’d wondered what it took to learn and survive speedway. Those guys have a new level of my respect now.
The flat track resurgence has made it possible to get a taste for what it feels like to ride the oval. Unlike speedway bikes they have a helpful back brake. Some championship winning road racers have seen the benefit using flat track when training, exploring what their bike are doing when they have broken traction. It teaches great throttle response discipline. Cheating the angle that a bike enters a corner can also increase the maximum speed for the corner. Valentino Rossi has even built his own track.
Who invented DirtQuake?
Born in the summer of 2012, DirtQuake was the brainchild of Gary Inman, Editor of Sideburn magazine and it’s quite simply the most fun you can have on two wheels, combined with the buzzing social scene and inappropriate bikes. You might be mistaken thinking you had landed in the middle of the Wacky Races cartoon series but even DirtQuake ups that ante and becomes Wacky Races meets Mad Max, it’s true run-what-ya-brung racing. There is of course a serious side to the racing too. The signs all around the track remind us that motorsport is dangerous, as if we needed reminding. Gary says “It is so much easier not to get involved, keeping ourselves out of harm’s way, but that is a robot’s take in life. DirtQuake does not compute. Artificial intelligence would never come up with this event, let alone condone competing in it. You require 100% human spirit and a high compression optimism to pessimism ratio of greater than 13:1”
This is an alternative free spirited motoring festival that encourages a diverse blend of bike fans, dirt racers, grease monkeys, celebrities, custom shop designers, speed freaks and weekend warriors all celebrating their shared love of motorcycles.
Guy Martin said “I’ve been especially looking forward to DirtQuake this year because the road racing job didn’t go as it should have. I have been looking forward to riding for the sake of riding”
Foggy said “What a weird and wonderful event. With all sorts of bikes and everyone is chilled out. There is a community feel and no one is bigger and better than anyone else. We are just having fun going around in circles and doing some skids”
Riders entered their bikes in the following categories’ this year; Inappropriate Road Bike, Street Tracker/ Scrambler, Ladies Race, Chopper, Harley Davidson, Best of British, Scooter, Learner Legal 125.
Because Harley Davidson is the official sponsor for the next three years, they have their own race and invited BikeSocial to ride in their team. I was volunteered to be among the other flat track newbies in the race yet on arrival, in the ‘new rider briefing’, we were told we weren’t simply racing against each other. Oh.
We would be racing the current DTR flat track champion Pete Boast (European Champion) and Glyn the chief instructor from the school. They had also recruited legendary multi TT and BSB winner Steve Plater. We had no idea who would be riding from other teams but we knew that the rival teams had been on a recruitment drive.
Only one classmate turned out to be successful in the hunt for silverware over the weekend; Dominika, a fashion model who started riding only seven months ago, took the podium winning second overall in the Ladies Race.
Harley’s and Hooligans
Saturday’s racing was a class led team all Harley, so everyone was riding the same class. I was to race in the Hooligan class which is an open class on the Sunday. The Hooligan class is for bikes with engines over 750cc, must have multi-cylinder engine and use a stock frame. The most popular bikes in the class were Harley-Davidson Sportsters and Indian Scouts. In this class, you also find fast race prepared bikes. (and amazingly fast talented experienced riders), a class where ‘Hooligan’ equals - Go Hard, Home or Hospital.
The atmosphere in the paddock was epic. We all had full access and sharing the track with Guy Martin (riding in the in the Chopper class), Gary Johnson and Neil Hodgson (Former BSB and WSB champion) who was presenting for ITV4 and riding in the Inappropriate Road Bike class. He started on the back of the grid riding an old Royal Enfield producing less than 26 bhp, he worked his way through to reach the leading pack in the race.
All the Harley’s were prepared by IDP Moto who are based at Silverstone. They had three days to get all the bikes ready, fortunately there were not that many changes needed. Harley’s brief stated they wanted safe and great sounding bikes. The first thing they did to make it safe was to turn the ABS off, (you need to be able to use the back brake and allow the rear to slide into the corners), with ABS on it prevents the skid and allows the wheel to turn so you end up running straight on. The next safety modification was to the wheels. Racing regulations state that you need to cover the gaps in mag wheels. This prevents riders’ limbs from getting stuck in the wheel which unfortunately is easy to do in a crash. They closed the gaps with zip ties, a simple solution. The foot pegs were wired so they can’t fold back, the front brake and the tail section were removed because using the front brake on gravel will cause an inevitable crash. The lock stop was removed and the tank was deliberately bent in were the bars meet to tank to increase the full lock potential. The mufflers were taken off to fit the noise brief. These were all minor alterations and the bikes were ready to roll.
The collection of bikes in the paddock were a feast for the eyes. There were bikes made from scraps, there were classics like Bultaco, BSA, XL’s and exotic bikes like the vintage Ariel.
The clothing is flamboyant and eccentric to say the least. Fashion ranges from classic vintage, through to anti-fashion and comedy dress. Secretly I was sorry that I had not worn a crocodile suit especially after seeing a group of lobsters chasing each other around the track riding scooters (there’s always next year).
We all felt like factory riders with all the support that we got from the Harley team. We were presented with our own race vests with our names or nicknames. A teammate had the name BoneCrusher I was not sure if he was referring others or his own.
Foggy won five of his six races and was riding in a different class just before the Hooligan final when he had a massive crash. He high-sided going into the back straight on lap one chasing Gary Johnson who’d got the drop on him off the line. Before they carried him in to the ambulance he gave a thumbs-up, the crowd gave a cheer as the ambulance left the track.
Later he posted on social media that he had broken his shoulder blade, ten ribs and had suffered a punctured lung. He thanked everyone that had sent him best wishes and said “except Mrs F who hates me right now...!!(I promise I'll never do another race again)”
Five minutes after the ambulance left I was lined up on the back of the grid. My final entry was border line but with Foggy out of action that meant another slot so I found myself on the back of the grid.
I was fully committed and determined. The green light flashed and we were off. I was right in the thick of it into turn one. Our team DTR rider lost the back and crashed, he was hit and both went down right in front of me…too late for any avoiding action but my angel reached down grabbed me by the scruff and kept me on the bike. The yellow flags came out and I expected to see the red flag. It never came. Everyone carried on at full pace. A little shaken and feeling rather lucky I brought the bike back last over the finish line. Technically I was not last because I’d managed to stay on the bike.
I am sure that I got a wink and smile from the lady waving the flag for me as if I had won the world series. It certainly felt like I had. I came back to the pits to high fives and more smiles, none as wide as mine. The most epic un-expected adventure.
Speaking of lucky, after announcing the winners over the tannoy I heard them say that I had won a bespoke DirtQuake racing jersey from 250 London.
DirtQuake may be more about the people in the paddock than the irreverent spit and sawdust grass roots racing itself. Even the trophy takes the form of a plastic plate. I made new friends in the paddock. I have received several friend requests been tagged to many photos at the event on social media, the photos that I have shared have also been tagged by riders and they have tagged their friends There is a real community feel. Everyone had the best time and clearly share the passion.
In 1971 “On Any Sunday”, a racing documentary brought flat track racing to millions of people on the big screen. Flat track racing exploded and Honda poured tons of money into the sport and increased its media exposure but by the mid 1980s it was road racing and motocross that became more prominent.
More recently, flat track racing has been making a comeback with an atmosphere all its own. Most racing occurs at grass-roots locales like fairgrounds and speedway tracks.
The fact that riders compete against each other every year creates a high level of respect among competitors. Flat track racing also differs from other races in its accessibility to the riders. Riders often hang out in the pits and fans can approach and mingle. You don’t want to miss out on the Flat track racing comeback!