A little bit of history to refresh memories...
Since the invention of the motorcycle, folk have wanted to ride fast and test their machines to the edge of their limits. However the ‘global punch up’ that was the 1939-45 war, put paid to all motorcycle sport. During this five year interruption, dashing about hither and thither by the sporting motor cyclist was left to the lucky few who got to whizz about carrying messages for the powers that be.
The luckiest were those working originally with machines that they actually owned. That was until the men ‘up top’ decided that a standard machine would be the answer. Hence the Matchboxes, Beesas and the real old plonker the 16H Norton. A favoured few and in particular such as those in the RAF got real lucky and finished up with a simplified Velo 350, luxury indeed! The man who can properly tell this tale is of course our 'man at the top' “Tich Allen” and on that score I will leave well alone.
When peace was at last declared, the lads returned home, the sheds were cleared out and the sorry mess of pre-war devices were dragged out and the fettling began. But, and it was a big “but”, who was going to get the game back up and on its wheels again? And where?
Brooklands, not a chance. Vickers had put in trees and other obstructions all around the site to disguise it.
Donington was crammed full of army vehicles and it took some years before the government relinquished its clutches.
Machines had much lower outputs compared to today...
Sprints were an obvious answer, all one needed was a path, road, or even better a runway, little was required in those days to set up such a simple course.
I believe that it was the sheer enthusiasm of one man who realised that a sprint was the way to open up the sport. His name? Dennis Bates of the Sunbeam club. Dennis twigged that the army’s driving school site at Aldershot was made for the job. A virtually dead straight tarmac surfaced roadway tucked away in the forest surrounding the army headquarters.
The first post war sprint was soon underway, that machines had much lower outputs when compared with those of today meant that a quarter mile course was usable, usable that is until one character that was to stamp his mark in the sprint game came up to the start, his name was George Brown.
George who never gave quarter to any course that he tackled used all of the distance, which included some rather gritty moments when confronted with short braking distances! All of George’s skills and nerves were required to master his big Vinnie down to a halt on this track.
The sheer enthusiasm of one man opened up the sport
This skill is exemplified by any who have attended the current series of events still held on that same length of tarmac nowadays. Yes it is Eelmoor. Now reduced in its distance to a one eighth of a mile now, the lack of the other eighth is more than compensated for by the use of the back end of the track which brings into play the real fun bit, a “Twisty” event, which extends the actual distance. Some do in fact call it a “Flat” hill climb, whatever, it has its devotees and a source of really good fun for those brave souls who care to tackle a corner or three.
As time passed in those post war years one event that always drew a crowd was at Brighton and in those days at the invitation of the Brighton and Hove Motor Club Bemsee were very much involved, as was that man again - Dennis Bates, who carried the sprint flag for a number of years.
Other clubs events started to fill up the calendar especially as more and more ex RAF airfields became available for sprints which started to evolve to running over longer distances, such as the Kilo and half miler events. Carrying the flag were a pretty close group of chums held together by the man that did more than any other, a name never to be forgotten in the world of motor cycle sport, Len Cole.
Len, ever devoted to his collection of racing Douglas’s, paid little heed to the modern machines now filling a starving market, working up the performances of his flat twins and usually finishing up pulling off places in the first three groups in open competition.
Len Cole, always did his best to make sure that the vintage boys were fully involved
However, slowly the modern stuff began to overtake even Lens twins and they began to fall further back in the results sheets. It was then that another character began to appear on the scene Jim Parks, a short burly and heavily bearded character, a grass tracker from down in the Weald of true grass track history, decided to get into the game. Jim, a stalwart of the VMCC, complained that the sport was leaving not only behind the true vintage participants but effectively excluding them from true competition. In other words, there appeared to be no place for them.
Jim campaigned to get some vintage awards, so that the competitive spirit would not be denied that group of enthusiasts. All this was happening in the then turmoil of the birth of the National Sprint Association, with the NSA founded and established, by that man Len Cole, who always did his best to make sure that the vintage boys were fully involved.
I will not go into the years that followed when the individuality, that was endemic to the nature of the folks involved, caused a series of upheavals that ensued over the coming years. Sadly this caused the break ups of many long standing friendships.
Sprinting is a hugely enjoyable sport, we welcome, young and old (people as well as machines!)
So it was that the sprint side of vintage bike sport languished for a number of years, Len continued to do all he could to maintain the vintage involvement, but age was against him and the vintage group became more and more disadvantaged.
The only event over those years that held the small group together was the annual jamboree down at Brighton and due to some bad handling, which I will also not go into, that event was very nearly lost to the bike side. It was from this melee that Len proposed that we should form a proper sprint section within the VMCC, with the welcome aid of Paul Standing the sprint section was formed and accepted within the VMCC.
Sadly Len was becoming frail and the section slowly faded, and when Len passed on, the only thing that kept it alive was the Brighton event. For a short period the section was forced to withdraw from Brighton, which proved to be a disaster and it looked as if the section would die. It was at this point that I was asked if I would head up the section, I agreed to do it on the strict understanding, having witnessed the continuous mutterings and statements that appeared to bedevil the section, that it takes two to make a quarrel I would only agree if the section point blank refused to allow themselves to be involved in any squabbles or disputes. This was fortunately agreed by all involved and it has been on that basis that the section continues to run.
The sprint section exists to give you a great day of cost effective and hugely enjoyable racing
It has not always been an easy ride and the section to this day continues to cope with ever increasing costs from all and sundry. Sadly when money often talks louder than deeds we, like many clubs, can fall foul when the income from a single poorly attended event can disastrously affect the group’s finances. So when you join us, please be aware that any small increases that we may have had to impose, come not because we want to bleed you dry, but because in order to keep going, we have to at least meet rising costs.
We continue to do everything we can to keep people taking part and we work hard to continue to give you a great day of cost effective and hugely enjoyable days racing.
At the end of the day, the bottom line is, that as ever we continue to need your support. Without your attendance and the many willing helpers (who give their time generously and for no reward - you know who you are - thank you) we simply cannot survive.
It can be much harder to get the ‘perfect run’ than it may seem to the casual observer
Sprinting is a hugely enjoyable sport, we welcome, young and old (people as well as machines!) so if you are reading this thinking you’d like to think about giving it a go, why not come on board, take a look at the upcoming event regs and help us not just keep this part of our wonderful club alive, but to make it thrive for future generations of our fellow enthusiasts.
This is what we are and what we are about, so contact us to find out about how to come along to see an event, how to enter an event or even to help us organise, run and promote an event.
Phil Manzano - 2008
VMCC Sprint Section President
Kings of Speed from our sport: