From Turbo Sport Bikes To Humble Mopeds, This Is The Accessible Way To Race A Motorcycle
Photography by Will Broadhead
It’s hot, damn hot. The haze of heat pours off of the expanse of old concrete in front of me as the sun beats down on this disused runway, this long-abandoned airfield. Parts of the strip remain, scored by the grass and weeds that have forced their way up through the crumbling aggregate, and the perimeter of what’s left of the runway is now lined by farmers’ fields, their arable activities a far cry from the former RAF facilities’ war time use. RAF Weston Zoyland, as it was, once housed Gloster Meteor jets, but today the almost forgotten airfield is playing host to speed of a different kind. On this unusually hot Saturday, the National Sprint Association has taken up temporary residence here, and the runway will once again see high-speed action in the form of a wonderful array of motorcycles—and a scooter or two—that compete in the various classes of the NSA championship.
It’s my first proper sprint meeting, and I must admit I’m unsure of what to expect as I make the drive 120 or so clicks west of me, deep into the county of Somerset, and I’m wondering if a scorching day on a mostly not-scenic airstrip will be worth it. After all, Weston Zoyland is hardly Santa Pod or Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Thankfully though, the less than luxurious surroundings have no relation to the wonderful and varied array of bikes I find as soon as I drive into the paddock. I’ll admit, these aren’t top fuel drag bikes, but there are plenty of fast modern machines if you want them. My eye though, is taken by the more left-field and classic machinery strutting their stuff down the strip today.
There are vintage bikes a-plenty, with custom frames sporting old JAP engines (that’s JA Prestwich, not a slur) as well as modified street bikes and the usual phalanx of Triumphs, Hondas, Nortons, Ducatis, and Moto Guzzis. They’re all on display, being fettled and tinkered with under the awnings and umbrellas erected to protect the teams from the sun while they work. Japanese two-strokes from the ’80s are in the mix (the noise is unmistakable), as well as early-’90s sport bikes that are fast attaining classic status as of late, and there is even a class for scooters and mopeds. It seems anyone is welcome here. No judgement is cast, and it is a wonderful feeling to be immersed in a paddock where snobbery seems to be at a minimum if not absent altogether.
This isn’t just a “run-what-ya-brung” free-for-all though, even those with half an idea of what a standard road motorcycle looks like will quickly figure out that the guys racing this weekend have altered and amended their machines to get the absolute maximum out of them. There is a tremendous array of go-fast solutions from DIYs to a few pro jobs, from smaller fuel tanks to save weight all the way through to turbochargers, air shifts, and of course the obligatory extended swinging arm. Most of the equipment conversions seem to be homegrown, and if it all sounds a little Heath Robinson, well, in some cases it absolutely is! But for me this only adds to the experience.
We are here to go fast though, not to stand and stare at stationary machines, and as the first sessions get underway a terrific hubbub of noise and fumes are pumped into the atmosphere. As the bikes line up in their various classes (of which there are too many to mention), the zest of burning rubber is thrown into the mix of petrol smells as the burnouts are performed to prep for the runs down this quarter-mile strip. Even some of the classics are spinning their rears, and before long the air is awash with tire smoke and the concrete coated in melted marbles. It’s a wonderful place to be as the lights flash through their starting sequence, and the bikes are shot down the strip in a hail of sound and color. And beyond the aural experience, the speeds are equally impressive, especially some of the older machines that have clearly had their setups honed over years of competition. Indeed, some of the riders themselves appear to be of a fine vintage, but there is also a younger generation taking their first steps into this extremely accessible sport.
By the end of the day the BBQs have been lit and the sound of engines ceases for the sound of sizzle and conversation, I’ve got a two and half hour drive ahead of me, but I’m not fussed about it, not after the day I’ve had. I love motorcycles and motorcycle racing in any form, and my time spent in the congenial company of the NSA has opened my eyes to a whole new kind of competition. It’s relaxed, friendly, relatively cheap to enter, and a great spectator sport. I’ll certainly be back, and in the meantime I’m wonder if I could fit a blower onto my old Norton…