The Brighton Speed Trials Adds To A Century-Long History Of Seaside Racing
Photography by Jayson Fong
Set on England’s South Coast for the first time in 1905, the Brighton Speed Trials certainly ranks in as one of the oldest motorsport events in the world, and it’s attracted competitors from all regions of it as they attempt to make their mark on its history. Although the event has endured a patchy past, last weekend saw Brighton and Hove Motor Club once again transform the arch-lined Madeira Drive into one a surreal drag strip once again as challengers on two and four wheels competed for top honors achieved through top speed over the quarter mile stretch of coastal road.
Over the years, the Brighton Speed Trials has evolved as much as the machines that make it happen at every meeting. Originally laid down as a motor racing track with a then-pioneering material called tarmac, Madeira Drive has hosted over 70 Speed Trials over varying directions, distances, and all amidst various political climates that have at times threatened its continued existence. However, one thing has remained constant over all these years, and that is its ability to bring motoring enthusiasts of all types together in pursuit of a singular goal. An event characterized by variety, the walk towards the starting line was flanked and defined by a mishmash of cars and motorcycles of all ages and genres, and this diversity has taken many forms by is a trait that has been synonymous with the event since its beginning.
Alongside ice-cream-eating visitors, supercars, modified road cars, and motorcycles, there were historically significant machines like the ex-works Aston Martin DB2 that in its past was driven by the likes of Stirling Moss. From morning until evening the array of machines took to the strip and captured the imagination of the crowd as they stopped at the line, waiting to go head to head with the stopwatch. Leaving the line in spectacles of burning rubber, smoke, and at times doing this semi-sideways, the crowd was treated to a sensory treat with each vehicle’s dramatic run.
Though everything was interesting on its own by sheer presence at this event, there were of course some extra notable entrants. For instance, turning heads throughout the day was a special pair of pre-war aero-engined mechanical marvels which were more than just static displays at Brighton. Eye-catching with their large and intimidating statures, the Handlye Rolls Royce Special and Napier Bentley took the crowd back to a time when such beasts were the pinnacle of engineering and motoring. Their impressive appearances extended even deeper into the crowd’s collective conscience once their bodies were shrouded in the smoky aftermath of their powerful burnouts, and the effect of the lingering streams of burnt rubber that followed them down the course was great to witness in person.
At the end of the day when the times and speeds were all recorded, it was the bikes that saw the fastest passes of the day, despite the valiant efforts of the cars. In an afternoon showdown between the two, a turbocharged Suzuki Hayabusa passing the quarter in 9.09 seconds was the fastest of the lot.
Looking down from Marine Parade onto Madeira Drive, I thought about the generations of people who have watched from the same vantage point over the years, and how the trials are more than just a motoring event, but an important part of engineering heritage and culture. Although the modern interpretation of the Speed Trials runs in the opposite direction to the first, it is without a doubt that continuing the tradition that is an important effort in preserving a little bit more of the world’s motoring history, and I hope Brighton will continue adding to that in the future.