"No other track like it in the world”: Spectators celebrate racing's return to Oliver's Mount

The smell of petrol, food stalls and a faint whiff of nostalgia filled the air on Oliver’s Mount last weekend as motorcyclists lined up on the start line and took to the track once more to race in the Barry Sheene Classic.

By Corinne Macdonald
Monday, 29th July 2019, 5:58 pm
James Whitham in front and Carl Foggarty behind during the parade. PIC: Edward J Hall/ Oliver's Mount Racing
James Whitham in front and Carl Foggarty behind during the parade. PIC: Edward J Hall/ Oliver's Mount Racing

As the riders slide round the first corner, Mere Hairpin, and propel up Sheene’s Rise, the roar of the engines sounds like an enormous swarm of bees.

The sound reverberates around the trees, rattling the fences that line the course and humming into the distance as they disappear at the summit.

James Whitham in front and Carl Foggarty behind during the parade. PIC: Edward J Hall/ Oliver's Mount Racing

Over the weekend, depending on which way the wind blows, the quiet buzz of the track can be heard in the distance from all over town - a gentle reminder that racing has returned.

Oliver’s Mount is the only natural road race circuit in England - the undulating 2.43 mile track filled with tight and twisty bends hasn’t changed much since opening in 1946.

Stuart Shipman, from Leeds, has been coming to watch racing at the mount for almost two decades.

He and his family always come for the whole weekend and stay locally every year, apart from 2018 when the mount remained silent as road racing was cancelled over safety fears.

Carl Fogarty performs for the crowds. PIC: Edward J Hall/ Oliver's Mount Racing

This year, new organisers Two Four Three Road Racing Association have spent £100,000 to improve safety for the riders, spectators and marshals.

Over the weekend there was one small incident but no injuries.

Stuart said the familiarity of the atmosphere when he arrived back at the mount after more than a year away was “like putting a pair of old, comfy slippers on.”

“It’s unique,” he added. “There’s nowhere else you can get as close to the race and the racers.”

Celebrated rider Dean Harrison. PIC: John Margett/ Oliver's Mount Racing

The proximity to the riders, and their willingness to interact with the fans, is mentioned frequently throughout the day.

Kay Copeland had travelled from Grantham with her husband Nick and their friends David and Andrea Bellamy. They’re all veterans at the mount having visited up to 17 times.

She said: “When you go in the paddock it’s not them (the riders) and us, it’s all mixed in together.

The crowds watch the race. PIC: Dave Goy/Oliver's Mount Racing

“The atmosphere’s brilliant, year-in, year-out you get to know everyone.

“Even if you don’t know their names, you see the same faces, and people tend to stand in the same places. Everyone is so friendly.”

Walking through the paddock, it’s hard to distinguish between rider and spectator as leather jackets and branded clothes abound.

When they’re not on the track, star racers like Dean Harrison, Lee Johnston and Carl Fogarty mill around in t-shirts and jeans, signing autographs, taking pictures and chatting away to fans.

The crowd is varied, from die-hard racing fans who’ve travelled far and wide to young families and couples looking for something different to try for a day out.

As well as many locals, the occasion attracted thousands of visitors from afar, all equally thrilled to see racing reinstated.

Dean Harrison. PIC: Lee Davis/ Oliver's Mount Racing

Phil Rank, from Scarborough, the chairman of the Scarborough and District Motor Club, found a prime spot to watch the classic super bikes, his favourite event.

He said: “It’s fantastic to come back to the mount, it’s where racing belongs.

“It’s a great thing for Scarborough, it brings a lot of people to the town, and the people that have got it now have got it well organised.”

Though the threat of a downpour didn’t materialise, by Sunday afternoon sea fret was obscuring the course so persistently that the racing was called off early.

However even fog prompted nostalgic recollections.

Malcolm Woodall, from Scarborough - who has been coming to watch racing since the 1950s - recounted an event in the 1980s when it was so foggy they couldn’t race and Barry Sheene was sent into the crowd to sign autographs.

“I’m really pleased it’s back,” he said. “It’s a good thing.”

Barry Sheene himself made his Scarborough debut in 1970 and immediately stood out with a record-breaking victory in the 125cc race on his Suzuki.

In the 1970s he won two 500cc World Championships in 1976 and 1977 but always remained loyal to Oliver’s Mount, returning to contest numerous races.

In total, Sheene won 15 races at Oliver’s Mount and upon his passing in March 2003, the climb from Mere Hairpin to the footbridge on Quarry Hill was named as ‘Sheene’s Rise’ and the Barry Sheene Classic was set up to commemorate him.

Walking around, the history and pedigree of the track is ever present.

Many spectators had seen Sheene ride years before.

It is seemingly an event that draws people in and keeps them coming back for more.

There was a celebratory atmosphere in the air and when, during an interview between races the commentator suggested an applause for the new organisers, the whole site erupted.

The crowds were cheering once more when legendary racer Carl Fogarty returned to the track for the first time in 30 years during the parade on Sunday lunchtime.

Part racer, part showman, he delighted spectators with wheelies, punching the air and waving as he flew round the track.

Andy Cox, from Scarborough, a regular at the mount, is an example of how proud of this landmark the residents are.

He said: “I’m so glad it’s back. It must bring thousands into the town with people staying in guest houses and going to restaurants.

“If they’d have left it another year I think that would have been it finished which would have been such a shame.

“To have this on your doorstep is unbelievable. There’s no other track like it in the world.”

The next meet is the Oliver's Mount Gold Cup on September 27 to 29.

Find out more details via their website, Facebook and Twitter.