The Heritage Sprint

January 17, 2023

Although the calendar is full of events of all natures, there’s always room to welcome a new one... and that’s how Kev Riley found himself at Betteshanger Park in Kent one hot August weekend.

Diversity is a word that is much bandied about these days, but it’s not a term you would expect to hear used to describe a motorcycle classic show and eighth mile sprint at a country park on the site of a former colliery…

However, when you have bikes entered to race said sprint that range from a race-prepared Vincent Comet to a Hard Up Choppers Suzuki GSX-R by way of a Rickman Kawasaki, then diversity is definitely an accurate description.

If asked to imagine what sort of person would come up with the idea of holding a classic sprint in a country park, then I might presume it would be some sort of English eccentric who formed the idea while walking his labrador or spaniel. You know the sort of chap, made of the right stuff and who thinks nothing of popping off to the North Pole, flying a fighter plane without the use of his legs or who sees a large body of water and immediately thinks: “I know, I’ll run a boat on that at a vast rate of knots!”

Actually, the folk behind this have, as far as I know, never been to the arctic and are all still in possession of the correct number of limbs. But they do all have a love of any thing two-wheeled and have already established their credentials by holding three major motorcycling events in Kent; the Ramsgate Sprint Revival, Ramsgate Rev Up and Bikes at the Bay in Sandwich, as well as a regular Sunday meet at Betteshanger Park.

There also might be a little bit of self-interest in wanting to create a sprinting event in the South East for one of the Heritage Sprint’s number, Stephen Norton, owns a Ducati sprinter which you may have seen most recently in the Dover Transport Museum. Based on a 1959 Ducati 200 Elite, it had last raced in 1967 and was a non-runner, being used primarily as a promotional vehicle – not least for the first Heritage Sprint which was planned for 2020... but you can guess what happened then.

Since then, with a huge amount of work, the little Ducati has been brought back to life and if you’ve got a cool little sprint bike you really need a decent sprint event, so enter the Heritage Sprint!

The idea was to create an event which appealed to everyone – serious sprinters, classic owners, new and learner riders, families, people with bikes that cost £100 and those that cost thousands.

In short, just about anyone who enjoys motorcycles.

The concept was simple; use one of the concrete cycle paths that have been laid out in the Betteshanger Park country park and that have been designed to accommodate the electric buggies which are for hire. Then set out an eighth of a mile classic sprint with practise on the Saturday and racing on the Sunday and that would see everything imaginable hurtling up the track, from vintage Rudges to a 650 Dominator lump in a 350 Matchless frame (a Normat? A Matnon?) that the owner built simply because he had the two items laying around.

Away from the racing the pits was a treasure trove of bikes to admire and amenable owners to chat to about their various modifications, the history of the bikes and to generally chew the fat about old bikes, as we all do in these circumstances. I have to admit I spent most of my time in the pits and I would suggest that if you go next year you allow yourself ample time to do just that.

But, away from the pits and the racing action, there was also a bike show set up outside the mining museum which continued the theme of diversity with a Kawasaki Z900 with a turbo conversion, a Danish Nimbus next to a Hercules and, next to them, a modern Norton Commando, among others.

Moving around the show I stumbled on a real treasure, a 1954 Matchless G3LC with a history file attached that has been in the same family since 1958 and, in a really special touch, has been photographed with the same family members and location in 1964 and 2022. Further wandering brought me to a Bond Bug – yes, I know it’s not a motorcycle, but I’ve always wanted one for some bizarre reason. Inside the exhibition hall were various Japanese historic racing bikes including one of Barry Sheene’s mounts, adjacent to a pair of Vincent racers which were black menacing silhouettes in comparison to the brightly painted Oriental invaders.

There was a really nice down home atmosphere about this event; with the straw bales down the side of the track and the ‘let’s put the show on right here’ feel that was a real throwback to the days of sprint racing half a century ago. The weather provided the final touch with a hot sunny day that made an ideal site just that little bit better. As well as onsite traders, Betteshanger Park has a very good café, the Lamp Room, where I can recommend the cake (in the interests of research you understand) and where the staff were doing very well in coping with a very busy day.

Back outside, further ramblings found a very tidy Z650 among other machines and, on the Harley Riders' Club stand, a gaggle of modern Harleys including a smart Sportster Flat Tracker that caught my eye. And, on the subject of Harleys, after an excellent day it was time to find mine and head home with a mental note to myself not to miss next year’s Heritage Sprint.




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