It was billed as a demo run. But if you were there, and if you saw it, the Ramsgate Sprint Revival – yes, a motorbike event, but bear with me – looked like the real thing. It looked to me like closed-road motorsport.
From 1956 to 1968, the Ramsgate Sprint was run twice yearly on Ramsgate’s Western Undercliff, a short sprint a bit like Brighton’s Speed Trials, but for the past 47 years the cliff face has echoed to nothing but ordinary urban traffic.
Not so the weekend before last, when again the road was closed and crowds lined the start, the cliff top and the paths between the two to listen to and watch period machinery go through the motions.
Just a demo. Sure. Which is why a drag bike left a line of its back tyre the whole length of the gently curved sprint course, and a road-legal but highly tuned scooter pulled off the kind of smoking burnout that Ken Block would have been proud of. In the park on the cliff top, there was a mini-festival: music, a wall of death, stalls and people. Lots of people.
Some locals told me they’d never seen Ramsgate so busy. It was a brilliant event, free to get in, organised by volunteers from local bike clubs – can you imagine the paperwork? – and it raised money for an air ambulance. Credit to the council, too, who presumably saw the event’s potential and said ‘yes’.
It was a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come in other places. The law will soon change to allow closed-road motorsport to take place without an expensive and time-consuming act of parliament, which is what’s currently needed to suspend traffic laws. Otherwise, every vehicle that runs, even on a closed road, is supposed to be taxed, registered and so on – and abide by speed limits.
Soon local councils will get the power to suspend traffic laws, and it’s events like the Ramsgate Sprint – run on goodwill by locals for the benefit of spectators, local businesses and competitors, rather than the headline-making idea of, say, a London Formula 1 race – that will benefit.
The first stage of the law change was passed on the last day before parliament was dissolved prior to the election earlier this year. Now the Motor Sport Association is talking to the Department for Transport to thrash out the final details before it becomes law proper. There’s no set time frame on it, but the MSA is hopeful that it’ll be by the end of the year.
From next year, then, events like the Ramsgate sprint might not just be for demos only, and not just possible, but also common. Kudos to everyone who has made it possible. If you signed the petition that helped make this an issue, then that includes you.
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