If you only go to one meeting…. By Phil Hall
When I first started going to motorcycle road race meetings, there was an embarrassment of choices. There were C Grade days which were so well attended that they resembled Open meetings. There were National Open meetings run by private promoters as well as local tracks. Every state had its round of the ARRC (Australian Road Racing Championship) as well as State Championships. Being a NSW-based enthusiast, I also had the Castrol Six Hour and Bathurst within easy reach, so the opportunity to get to the races was huge. AND there were also Club Days, run by local clubs to which members of other clubs were invited and which provided a standard of racing that was often close to that provided by National Open meetings with A and B Grade riders rubbing shoulders with the novices.
As well, there were many more tracks. Amaroo Park was four hours away, Oran Park was three hours, Bathurst was two and a half and Hume Weir was four and a half. There was Winton, too, but it was a bit further and I actually never got there. When the Swann Series came, I would attend the local NSW round at Oran and also travel to Melbourne to see the Victorian round at Sandown Park. That round was always a highlight as it was always the last round of the series and it also provided the opportunity to renew acquaintance with Maurie and Betty Quincey, at whose house we used to stay each year.
Fast forward to 2015 and the scene is dismal in the extreme. All NSW tracks except the dreary Eastern Creek are gone. Bathurst is no more. No more production races, no more D Grade days or inter-club races. No more NSW championships and no international series like the Swann, now just a memory.
There are two competing Australian Superbike series, neither of which I would walk across the street to see, because of my total lack of trust in either of the organising bodies and because a steady diet of production-based racing by bikes that all look the same, sound the same and perform the same is, to me, about as interesting as watching paint dry.
‘Well, watch road racing on TV, then,’ some may say. Yeah, right, good luck with THAT.
There is an ‘up’ side of this dismal situation, however. While the 70’s would see me away from home attending, photographing and commentating at race meetings at least two weekends and often more than that every month, the dearth of races to attend has enabled me to spend much more time with my family than what I used to and, I must say, they are pretty nice.
But, what if you DO want a good meet to attend. What do you do? Well, as I noted above, I have no interest in the competing superbike series so I guess that leaves the bigger meetings. And, with my lack of interest in watching modern bikes, the decision has become easier and easier. Yes, Historic Racing has become the series that has attracted my interest more and more. Here there is still a better choice.
But before I explain my decision, let me give you my list of meetings that I DO attend and why.
Firstly, though Eastern Creek leaves me completely cold, the annual Barry Sheene Festival of Speed, held every March and promoted by NSW’s PCRA (Post Classic Racing Association) is always a must. Held over three days and providing a wonderful atmosphere and excellent racing for solos AND sidecars, the Sheene is so enjoyable on every level. Comprehensive scrutineering ensures that the P3-P6 bikes meet the regulations (yes, with all their loopholes and deficiencies) and the classes are combined cleverly and always with an eye to providing good racing in every race rather than subjecting spectators to processional racing. If you can’t find a hatful of races that get you up out of your seat and cheering, then you are in a sad state.
The meeting is well patronised by competitors, well supported by the trade and the club displays based on particular marques are worth the price of admission all by themselves. Then there is the popular Show and Shine and the lunchtime fang around the track on your road bike.
To add to the attraction, PCRA has begun to attract celebrity riders to the meeting, sometimes to compete, sometimes to do demo laps and sometimes to just be there. You’d have to travel to England to catch up with Phil Read MBE or the First Lady of Speed, Maria Costello. You’d have to travel to the USA to see Fast Freddie Spencer (my all-time hero) and the line-up of international guests for 2016 is off the scale for important and great names of the sport.
Your ticket buys you access to the pits and all of its attractions and, provided you do the right thing, it provides you with the opportunity to get up close and personal not only with the riders but also the wonderful bikes on which they are competing.
So the BSFoS is a locked in date. But it ISN’T my Number 1. Read on and I will explain.
Firstly, let me say that MotoGP is NOT on my list any more. I used to go (even though it is a 2000km round trip) But the small number of events to actually watch, the difficulty of getting around the track, especially if you have ridden down, and the very restrictive nature of ticketing that basically keeps most punters on the other side of the track, makes it an expensive and not especially attractive proposition. A MotoGP bike doing 330km/h down the straight becomes almost unrecognisable (yes, I know they have super screens but it isn’t the same) and the event has moved further away from being an ordinary motorcyclist’s meeting and become more elite than it used to be (in my opinion). So, for accessibility and enjoyment, I rate MotoGP at the bottom of my list.
Further up the food chain, so to speak, is WSBK. Far more accessible than MotoGP, providing the opportunity for you to bring your bike into the circuit and get around on it during the weekend, the more laid-back atmosphere is much more attractive to me. Yes, it is still production-bike based racing, but it is at an elite level and the overseas stars give it an atmosphere that lifts it above the local fare. Support classes provided local involvement and gives the local stars the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of the top teams.
A slightly increased fee gives you access to the Pit Walk, a guided tour of the pit garages and the opportunity to see the riders and teams at work. Another plus. For me, it is still a 2000km round trip but I try to do it each year.
Still at P.I. so with the same travel constraints, the Island Classic every January rates as the one meeting in the year that I ALWAYS attend. I guess it isn’t a surprise that I love my historic racing given my roots in the 1970’s. But, what makes me rate the IC above the Sheene? Well, the presence of the international riders competing against the Australian riders for a teams prize just lifts it to the top of the tree. As well as the internationals BEING there, they are there to race and try and lift that elusive teams trophy. Grand Prix, pure road racing and overseas short circuit riders rub shoulders with the cream of Australia’s historic racers and the excitement barely stops for the whole weekend.
But it isn’t just the racing. Your ticket gives you access to the paddock and the pits and you can walk in and rub shoulders with the greats of the game, Martin, Giles, McGuiness, McWilliams, Farquhar, Crosby, Phillis, Campbell, the list goes on and on. Now again it must be said that this situation may not necessarily continue for too much longer. 350 riders and 400 bikes makes it elbows-in-the-face at times and it maybe that, sooner rather than later, the organisers may bring in some rules that reduce the clutter, so, get in while you can. It must be said that I have never seen a spectator making a nuisance of themselves in the pits, but just keep in mind that, as the event gets bigger and bigger, these flexibilities may begin to be taken away.
There is so much to love about the Island Classic; if you haven’t been, you really owe it to yourself to go and see what the fuss is about. It’s my First Choice among a small number of worthy choices and I am already planning my 2016 calendar with the IC on the top of the list.
Editor’s Note: While I can’t agree with Phil about the P.I. MotoGP, and even more especially his views on our domestic road racing, which in the last two years has been epic and of a level not seen before this century, I am with him on the Island Classic being the one go-to meet on the domestic calendar. If I only did one meeting a year it would be the Island Classic. And at 43-years-old I am a lot younger than Phil, but still find the machinery and atmosphere at the Island Classic totally unique within Australia. Also, if you do go, try and book yourself into the dinner or any of the social events lined up with the Island Classic, the ticket price is always well worth it due to the stories told and the mirth that goes with those yarns. Even though our own Robbie Phillis and Kiwi Graeme Crosby are good entertainers, it must be said that even these colourful characters can’t match our Irish and British racer friends when it comes to keeping a crowd entertained with their tales. It’s worth going along for that alone.