Still cock o’ the north

Published: 23 March 2016

The great and the good have been racing on mainland Britain’s only closed roads circuit for 70 years – and in the eyes of many riders and fans Scarborough’s rollercoaster track remains the finest in the country

hen Guy Martin won his first Scarborough Gold Cup in 2003, the Duke of Edinburgh turned up to present him with the famous trophy.

Prince Philip was on official business as the patron of the ACU and probably knew nothing about Guy’s now-famous spat with BSB officials that had led to the Kirmington racer swapping the short circuits for the roads of Oliver’s Mount and Ireland the previous year.

Royal appointment

Prince Philip awards Guy his first Gold Cup in 2003

From that first appearance at the Cock O’ the North meeting on a 600cc Suzuki in June 2002, the apprentice truck mechanic fell in love with the 2.4-mile Oliver’s Mount parkland circuit. As England’s only closed public roads circuit, the Yorkshire venue enjoys a special place in the hearts of thousands of racers and fans as it enjoys its 70th anniversary of bike racing this season.

Since the first meeting, in September 1946 just a few months after the end of WWII, Oliver’s Mount has been the scene of epic battles between some of the greats of the British motorcycle sport down through the decades. In the 50s it was Geoff Duke and John Surtees who thrilled tens of thousands of spectators who flocked to the seaside town.

No bales, just balls

Martin leads Goodings and Farquhar through the trees in 2008. When Michael Dunlop first saw this image he was astonished by the lack protective of straw bales

Weaving its way between the huge oak and beech trees that cling to the steep slopes of the Mount, the circuit is extremely narrow and littered with tight hairpins that make sidecar racing at Scarborough a heart-in-the-mouth spectacle. Throughout the 60s, the seaside circuit attracted Grand Prix stars like Bob McIntyre, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and Jarno Saarinen before 70s heroes Barry Sheene and Mick Grant fought out a series of massive duels during what is regarded as the Yorkshire venue’s finest era.

Sheene on the rise

Fans strain against the fence as Sheene hunts down Grant. This section would later be named in honour of the GP star

Never a fan of road racing, Sheene retained a soft spot for Scarborough and 30 to 40,000 fans regularly lined the circuit to watch him win his four Gold Cup races in 1973, ’74,’79 and ’84. Today the climb from Mere Hairpin is named Sheene’s Rise in honour of Britain’s last premier class Grand Prix world champion.

The end of an era

Sheene, Parrish and Rob McElnea line their 500cc machines up on the Oliver’s grid in 1983, in what would be the penultimate time Sheene came to the mount. Taking four Gold Cup wins, Sheene silenced those who accused him of not being man enough to race the roads and won the hearts of the Scarborough fans

In more recent times TT legends Joey and Robert Dunlop, Steve Hislop, Carl Fogarty, Phillip McCallen, Ian Lougher (the man with the most race wins at Scarborough), David Jefferies, Ian Hutchinson, Ryan Farquhar and John McGuinness have all placed their names on the winners’ trophies at Scarborough. But it is Guy Martin’s name that appears more frequently than any others in the venue’s history. Since winning that first Gold Cup race in 2003, the racer turned TV celebrity has dominated the event, claiming a record eight victories in the Gold Cup race and retaining the outright lap record of 83.898mph set on a Tyco Suzuki in 2013.

The Auto 66 Club, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, continues to host four bike races a year at Oliver’s Mount under the experienced tutelage of Peter Hillaby. This atmospheric and accessible venue gives race fans a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with their racing heroes both on and off the track and April’s Spring Cup meeting, the Cock O’ the North races in June, July’s Barry Sheene Classic event and the season-closing Gold Cup event in September are permanent fixtures on the road racing calendar.

Words: Stephen Davison Photos: Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press, Alan Horner, MCN archive