Having spent a weekend surrounded by old - often mouthwatering - 1950s metal, diligent, resourceful mechanics and some racing legends, it becomes clear that racing classic motorcycles requires a particular kind of spirit. Old machinery tests the soul, patients and mechanical nous more than most. The Goodwood Revival - home to more pomp and pageantry than most established racing series’ would even dare to dream of attempting - rewards these qualities with an aura of success quite unlike anywhere else. It also exposes the fragility of racing 70 year old mechanical parts with a clarity not afforded to their modern, electronically managed offspring.
Sitting with our road tester Adam ‘Chad' Child, who’s racing with MCN stitched onto his leathers and on a Matchless G80 CS that’s been expertly and lovingly caressed into racing shape by its owner, Stuart Tonge, it’s hard to dismiss the seriousness in his eyes. The day before - an hour or so after he had been sitting in the riders’ lounge laughing and joking with a certain, Kevin Schwantz, he qualified in eighth place. Not bad for a little classic race-bike meeting… Bloody incredible when you see that he starts just a place behind Michael Rutter and ahead of the American legend himself.
Today though, is race day. And the ‘Le Mans’ style start - meaning that each rider will run from across the starting grid towards their bikes - means that qualifying can often result in nothing if you’re ability to hop onto - and to easily pull away on - your bike isn’t up to scratch. As he screams away from eighth into fourth by the first corner it looks like his ‘cheeky little practice’ earlier in the day has paid off. After a spill from Jeremy McWilliams on his Norton midway through the race, Chad found himself in second place and riding the nuts - and bolts - off of his 500cc machine. But this is classic bike racing…
With a pitstop to change riders, the luck ran out. Exposed carburetors suck in air furiously - especially in the breathlessness of a sunny, Goodwood raceday and as Colin Ling - Chad’s riding partner for the weekend - mounted the bike, it began to choke and splutter; gasping for air. Something had blocked the airway and within the thirty or so seconds it took to exasperate itself back into life, the race was gone.
A fourth place finish in front of some genuine legends of motorcycle racing was a wonderful achievement - but to come so close to a podium and yet to feel so far away is as infuriating a feeling as anyone could experience. Classic bike racing can often be fickle - the lows and ‘nearly’ moments often outweigh the good - but it’s that sense of achievement when everything from man to machine works perfectly that delivers such an ecstatic and nostalgic high.
When it comes down to it, racing is racing, no matter what the level of competency of competitor or marque of machine. But today, under the aire of Goodwood and through the distilling lense of tweed, twin-sets and motor oil, it felt just that little bit more special.
The Goodwood Revival takes place every year towards the middle of September. See http://grrc.goodwood.com/section/goodwood-revival/ for more details.
And check out the upcoming issue of MCN for a feature-packed focus on classic bike racing and to see just what it was the attracted Kevin Schwantz to swing his leg over a Norton.
You can watch highlights of Saturday's race below:
On Sunday, after a little 'rider change' practice, Chad, Clive and the team finished in a podium standing third.