Sub zero temperatures, deep snow and frozen mud holes didn’t stop riders competing in the oldest motorcycle race in the world…
Boxing Day is normally the day of recovery from the Christmas excesses… and the beginning of the turkey leftovers foraweek. not so for a small village in northants. Every year, the 26th December heralds the start of the oldest, still running motorbike race in theworld: theWild andWoolly scramble. now in its 85th year, the freezing temperaturesdidn’t put riders or the thousands of spectators off.
Normally renowned for its thick, suckingmud and deep waterholes, this year the Woolly’s course resembled a winter wonderland with a thick covering of snow. Riders who had prepared for bog-like conditions found themselves dealing with a frozen track more suited to ice racing. Wet and mud-caked riders found that the subzero temperatures sapped their strength, with frozen feet and fingers making already challenging machine control painfully difficult. Riders sliding off felt the full shock of the rockhard track. And this was just during the compulsory practice laps…
Time to race
During the second practice lap the ice covering the water crossings finally cracked,dumping riders into a freezing bog belowandmaking conditions very difficult. After the two compulsory practice laps,` chairman of the club, Fraser Law, made the controversial decision to remove two of the water crossings from the course as it was deemed that they were causing too much ofabacklog and itwas necessary to keep the riders moving.
The race then started on the stroke of 11am from a traditional dead-engine start. The bikes roared off with expertlevel Jack Lee leading onboardhis twostroke Gas Gas EC300, being chased by MichaelMcClurg, ex-British Champion Neil Prince, nine-times Woolly winner Ryan Griffiths and 16-year-old Kai Passmore-Jones.
It soon became apparent that Jack Lee’s trail riding experience on the softer-powered Gas Gas enduro machine was giving him the edge over the full-on approach of the motocrossers ridden by the other competitors.
Lap two saw McClurg slip to fourth leaving Griffiths to chase down and catch Prince. The two of them fought it out for most of lap four until a passing mistake by Griffiths on the railway embankment ended with him tangled in the ropes, leaving Prince in a comfortable second spot.
All the time this battle was going on, Jack Lee was pulling away at the front. Such was his pace that, by lap five, he’d lapped everyone up to fourth place.
He then caughtGriffiths on lapsix and also third-placedMcClurg by lap eight. Only Neil Prince, who’d lost none of his speed, was nowon the samelapas Lee. But, with two laps to go, the inevitable happened and Prince succumbed to the relentless pace of Jack Lee, who after 21 laps took the flag tobecomethe 85th winner of the Wild and Woolly.
Jack, (24) from Higham Ferriers, Northants, works as a mechanic at the family firm of John Lee and Sons Motorcycles. He rode a virtually standard 2010 Gas Gas EC300 twostroke to his first win, after placing fourth in 2008 and third in 2009.
As he crossed the finish line an ecstatic Jack said: “That was easier than other years, less muddy. I just tried to carry as much momentum as I could because if you stop, it’s game over.”
“For me the toughest part was about halfway though the race when the ground started to freeze again. Then riders started to fall a lot on the bog crossings and the hill. I had tomake my way around them and not make any bad moves that could give me problems.”
Jack, who started riding when he was four, normally rides trials and has been doing so for 19 years.He rode inhis first trials event when he was only five years old. He only started riding enduros as recently as 2008.
What exactly is the Wild and Wolly?
The Wild and Woolly scramble is the oldest, still running motorcycle race in the world. It’s been run every year since 1932 barring war and a foot and mouth outbreak. The history behind the race dates back to around 1925 when a few locals started riding their bikes around a field on Boxing Day. Each year more and more riders took part and in 1932 the wives and mothers of the riders donated a cup for the winning rider. The Ladies’ cup has been presented to the winner every year since.
The race has been held at Arm Farm, Blisworth since 2000 with the track being situated off the old A43 just outside Blisworth. The course is the same every year. The race is for one hour plus one lap and involves riders racing over the tough one-mile course with four river crossings, an old railway embankment, hills and rough fields.
The river crossings soon become deep mud holes capable of swallowing any unlucky bike and rider – depths of 3ft have been known. These are what make the course so difficult but are also the main attraction for the 3000-plus spectators who turn out every Boxing Day to watch. Those getting too close to the action are likely to get just as muddy as some of the riders, but it seems part of the attraction of the event for many.
All the riders have to provide a marshal for the event. The secret is for the riders to position them where they think they’ll need the most help. This is usually at the deepest water hole. Nine-times winner Ryan Griffiths has won the Wild and Woolly more times than anyone else. Organised by the Northampton Motorcyclists’ Club (www.nmcc.co.uk), the Wild and Woolly raises money for local charities and good causes.
Last year the club raised over £3000 from donations at the event, which were shared out between Blisworth Scouts and Guides, Blisworth Football Club, the St John Ambulance and Northampton Emergency Aid Team (NEAT).
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