Race the Waves

Bridlington, Yorkshire, September 8 7 9th 2018, Words & Photography: Garry Stuart                   

There’s been a rekindling of interest in beach racing in recent years, with events such as the Race of  Gentlemen held at Wildwood in New Jersey and the VHRA’s (Vintage Hot Rod Association) event held at Pendine Sands in the UK. Gary Stuart went along to Bridlington to witness the latest event of this type to hit these shores…

Seaside motor racing and speed trialling in the British Isles has a long, rich history going as far back as the turn of the last century. In 1904, the first sand race took place on the Velvet Strand near to Dublin. Ireland proved to be a hot bed of early beach racing and speed trials in the early 20th century, with events at Magilligan Strand, Rosbeigh Strand and Rosslare Strand. Sand racing quickly spread to the British mainland and events were held in Southport, Salisbury, Redcar, Brean Sands, Wallasey, Weston Super-Mare and Porthcawl.

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            Beaches provided a relatively flat, consistent surface and long uninterrupted stretches of sand for high speed runs. With a national speed limit of 20mph and roads generally poorly surfaced, beaches provided a reasonably safe environment for cars that could already exceed 100mph. Pendine Sands in South Wales became a prime venue for land speed records until the cars became too fast and needed even longer flat stretches and the record breakers headed to places in the US such as Daytona Beach, Bonneville Salt Flats and dry lake beds such as El Mirage in California. Over the past decade or so, there has been a rekindled interest in this type of racing from owners of classic cars and motorcycles, especially those of the Hot Rod and Chopper genre. The Vintage Hot Rod Speed Trials at Pendine Sands is now well established, as is the Race of Gentlemen in the US.

            In East Yorkshire, petrolhead Paul Garbutt was planning on staging an automotive nostalgia event for cars and motorcycles. Primarily, it was to be for classic vehicles, but no cut-off date was stipulated as Paul wanted a bit of leeway to include entrants with the right style and attitude. Early in 2018, rumours of a retro/vintage event on the sands of Bridlington began to circulate. Paul intentionally kept the promotion of the event low-key, only printing off 1000 flyers and allowing friends and acquaintances to spread the word via their personal Facebook pages. Prospective participants were encouraged to send in a photo and details of their car/motorcycle for consideration and, hopefully, a request to enter.

            The event was christened Race the Waves, and was held on September 8, 2018, between 10am and 2pm, a four-hour slot before the tide came back in and reclaimed Bridlington beach. An eighth-mile, two-lane strip was marked out, as well as an eighth slow-down zone which led into the beach pit area. The event was controlled admirably by Paul and about half a dozen Oily Tyke marshals in white boiler suits equipped with red and green flags. Excellent running commentary was provided throughout the day by Graham Beckwith which kept the numerous spectators entertained and informed. Up to around 3000 spectators lined the seafront overlooking the free spectacle as pairs of hot rods or vintage bikes, flagged away by the leaping Susan Halls, roared up the eighth-mile strip, sending plumes of sand skywards. Fifty cars and bikes made multiple passes over the four hours, thankfully without any mishap − at least no more than a few nervy tank slappers for a few of the bikers.

            It was interesting to see that the sandy surface was a great leveller and that pure horsepower was not a guarantee of victory. Throttle control and power delivery counted, and a couple of scooters saw off much more powerful bikes. But this was not really about winning. It was about having a laugh, taking part and chatting to a wide variety of fellow petrol heads in the pits. There is no doubt that many new friendships were forged amongst the first participants of this unique event. Full marks to the local council for enabling the event to go ahead and become another attraction to this seaside resort − which brings us to the next staging of the races. After much consideration of tides and timetables, Paul Garbutt and Backfire Promotions will be running Race the Waves at Bridlington June 1-2, 2019. So, it looks like two days of sandblasting at Brid, which is just as well because now the word and photographs have circulated, enquiries and entries are coming in from all over the world.          We wish them the best of luck!

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