Jack Burnicle - June 2023

The newly formed West Wilts Motor Club first ran ‘Farleigh Castle Speedway’ 85 years ago, on Whit Monday 1938. It attracted over 4000 spectators, who paid a shilling each and tuppence per programme! The track was an undulating field, one third of a mile long, and regular grass track meetings were held there up until the outbreak of World War 2. Racing restarted in 1946 and would continue into the early fifties, but motocross made its historic debut with the Wessex National Scramble at the end of January 1947, when Jack Stocker (Ariel) won round a tough two-mile course that boasted brooks, ditches and hills. Further scrambles would be held there in 1955 and ’56 before the course lay idle until 1960, when the combined Enfield and West Wilts clubs promoted another scramble. Then in 1963 West Wilts launched the annual ‘Maybug’ scramble and the sport finally took off at the venue, Don and Derek Rickman stars of the Wessex Centre Team races in September that year. A month later came a visit from the fabled BBC ‘Grandstand’ series, won by grand prix superstars Jeff Smith (500) and Dave Bickers (250) after titanic battles with Don Rickman and providing exciting viewing for 5000 fans and a few million households across the country!

The imperious ruins of Farleigh Castle overlooking the 1987 British 500GP

The following year attracted the National Inter-Centre Team event, newly-crowned world champion Smith leading a successful Midlands squad which was vanquished by the Southerners, the Rickman brothers joined by Jerry Scott and ‘Badger’ Goss to gain their fifth victory in the series. While the Maybug continued to attract big entries the BBC returned, attracting an estimated 12 million armchair viewers in 1965, Goss defeating Bickers by inches in an enthralling 250 contest. Then in July 1966 came the club’s first ever international promotion, the 500cc British Grand Prix, Rickman sharing the spoils with Smith, a race win apiece but Don victorious on time to record his first and only world championship win in front of a 21,000 crowd. Twelve months later the 1967 British GP was won by East German policeman Paul Friedrichs, who thus clinched his second world title while CZ team-mate Bickers won the second race. A year later, in contrastingly wet conditions, Vic Eastwood (Husqvarna) claimed his first grand prix win, before the world championship took a break, though the illustrious Motocross des Nations paid a visit in 1969, Belgium and Sweden dominating ahead of the gallant Brits. With no British GP held in 1970, Farleigh bravely promoted an August Bank Holiday international, attracting Roger de Coster and Joel Robert but won by reigning 500cc world champion Bengt Aberg. Both the British championship and the British 500GP returned to these grassy slopes in 1971, Swede Ake Jonsson (Maico) victorious at the latter after the burly BSA-mounted ‘Baron’ John Banks had a rear brake cable snap and just a few days later the BSA factory go bust! A year later ‘The Man’, Roger de Coster, controversially won despite accusations of outside assistance when his Suzuki threw a chain and Andy Roberton’s mechanic Tony Worthington held the bike while Roger replaced the offending item before motoring on to third place! He thus tied for the win with the unlucky Jonsson. De Coster and the Flying Finn.

Starting line for the 1989 British 500GP with winner Thorpe (centre, beneath the commentary tower) and his American pal Billy 'Bullet' Liles (Kawasaki 8) nearest the camera

Heikki Mikkola had arrived neck and neck for the world title that year. It was my first visit to this magnificent setting and my vivid memory is of Mikkola clipping a fence post on the fast downhill plunge and cartwheeling his Husqvarna end over end before picking himself up and leaning nonchalantly on another post to watch the rest of the race! The Maybug welcomed future world champions Graham Noyce and Neil Hudson for their first visit in 1973 before a change in ownership of the land resulted in West Wilts vacating for a while before staging a welcome return with the 1976 British Open Championship, won by Noyce from Hudson and Rob Hooper. The 1977 British 500GP returned to the shadow of Farleigh Castle’s majestic hilltop ruins and it was another drama-packed event, CCM in trouble when Bob Wright, sixth after holeshotting race one, was disqualified because obstreperous mechanic John Baynham refused to have the engine, rumoured to be a 600, measured by the FIM after a Honda protest. His team-mate Banks finished second in race two though, his wily spannerman Dave Nicoll ensuring that their engine mysteriously met the legal limit! Honda-mounted American Brad Lackey took the honours that day ahead of former 250 world champ Hakan Andersson and would repeat the feat in 1978, though beaten by Mikkola in race one. Heikki then came from last to third in a dramatic second moto recovery. A similar surge through the pack in 1979 saw de Coster fail to prevent Honda’s first ever world champion, the explosive Graham ‘Rolls’ Noyce, scored a memorable victory in front of a fantastic 35,000 fans in 1979. Belgium once more claimed the Motocross des Nations in 1980, led by new world 500cc champion Andre Malherbe, ahead of the Netherlands and West Germany, before mighty Swede Hakan Carlqvist (Yamaha) conquered his favourite circuit in the 1981 British GP ahead of Noyce and Gerard Rond. Brad Lackey (Suzuki) achieved a third victory in 1982 in front of first race winner, teenager Dave Thorpe (Kawasaki), though Andre Vromans’ 2-2 should have given him overall honours under FIM rules! Carla once more ruled the roost on his way to a heroic world 500 title in 1983, the event run on a Saturday to be covered live on BBC Grandstand! Hakan vanquished championship rival Malherbe and little Harry Everts while Laurence Spence made a name for himself. After a gutsy 4 th place ride in race one, Laurence had his Kawasaki’s gearbox seize when in sight of the chequered flag in race two. The hefty Irishman somehow dragged the stricken bike 50 yards to the flag before collapsing to a massive ovation from the huge crowd! Two years later the grand prix was back and after a narrow first-race defeat of championship rival Malherbe, Dave Thorpe crashed in the first turn of race two before bullying his way memorably through the pack from last place to take the lead. Then he fought a colossal duel with Andre before the Belgian snatched a late win and nicked the overall verdict. David’s friend Jem Whatley also shone a year later when Farleigh welcomed it’s only British 250GP, Jem winning race two on his Cagiva to finish second overall to champion elect Jacky Vimond (Yamaha).

Andy Nicholls (Yamaha 6) and Gert-Jan van Doorn (Honda 3) holeshot the 1986 British 250GP

The 500s returned a year later and Georges Jobe (Honda) edged out Kurt Nicoll (Kawasaki) in another Anglo-Belgian contest, with third place Spence achieving his only career grand prix podium. And in 1988 the world sidecar championship showed up, with British Open races in

support, but a disappointing crowd made it their only visit and the 500s were back for the final time in 1989. 25000 excited fans turned out to see Dave Thorpe finally seize victory for the first time after so many near misses across the decade, mounting the rostrum with Aussie Jeff Leisk and his pal Kurt Nicoll, on a blazing hot mid-summer’s day. Since when world championship racing has never been back, but in 1992 a fabulous ‘Classic’ grand prix, starring greats like former world champion Jeff Smith (who delivered a hilarious speech from atop a trestle table outside the beer tent on Saturday night) set up the past thirty years of legendary motocross names from around the world being welcomed by enthusiastic crowds at an iconic venue. And this year, on the weekend of August 19/20 th , the World Vets will arrive to continue that captivating sequence!

The great Swede Hakan Carlqvist (Yamaha) won every race he rode at Farleigh in the grands prix of 1981 and this one, 1983, on his way to the 500cc world title