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Feeling the need for speed over the decades
Buy this photo » One of the cars from the 1936 Brighton Speed Trials
Brighton has been a Mecca for petrol-heads for more than a century. Bill Gardner looks back at two of the city’s most famous motoring festivals.
The Brighton National Speed Trials is the oldest continuous running event for cars and motorcycles in the racing calendar.
Although the idea for the speed event was first suggested in 1902, it wasn’t until 1905 that Brighton man Sir Harry Preston persuaded the Town Corporation to lay a motor racing track between the Palace Pier and Black Rock .
With its newly invented Tarmac surface, the road was considered to be ideal for speed testing cars and motorcycles.
After just two events, a ban on motor racing on the public highways came into force, scuppering future competitions.
But in 1932, the newly formed Brighton and Hove Motor Club discovered to their delight that Madeira Drive was actually owned by the Brighton Corporation.
The road could therefore not be considered public and the Speed Trials were back on.
The 1932 event attracted a huge crowd of more than 100,000 and the star of the day was Sir Malcolm Campbell in his supercharged Sunbeam Tiger, who reached 120 miles per hour over the half mile course.
Initially car races were run over a flying kilometre and motorcycles competed in handicap races over a standing start mile.
Competitors ran side by side but in later years they ran individually for safety reasons.
From 1932 onwards the event was run every year apart from during the Second World War.
Dragsters and novelty cars were invited during the sixties and seventies and in 1978 motorcycles were allowed to take part for the first time.
In 2005, racers reached speeds in excess of 150mph even though the course had been halved to a quarter of a mile.
About 200 cars, including vintage models, and 58 bikes from all over Europe battled it out in various classes to see who could go fastest.
Retired teacher Jim Tiller, 71, from Ringmer, broke the ten second barrier in his Allard J2, notching up 140mph.
He said: "I am elated. I spend a lot of time working on this car and it seems to have paid off.”
One of the biggest cheers was for veteran driver Norman Goodman of the Brighton and Hove Motor Club, participating in the veteran class, for cars built before 1959. Norman, who was nine when he first attended the Speed Trials, jumped down from the commentary box and straight into his Burette racer, reaching 96mph.
He said: "When the sun is shining and the sea is calm, this event beats the Grand Prix at places like Silverstone."
Other high octane events in Brighton include the annual Ace Cafe reunion where thousands of bikers gather to show off their gleaming machines.
In 2006, crowds stretching from Black Rock to the Palace Pier looked on as hogs, sports motorcycles, custom made bikes, street machines, minibikes and trikes roared by.
Among the attractions was the world’s first mobile drag strip, the Mad Strip, where two bikers compete side-by-side on motorbikes fixed to a floor, reaching speeds of above 140mph.
Stuntman Andy Madcourt, 41, who owned the Mad Strip, said: "You go through the gearbox very quickly. It’s like riding a bike on nitrous oxide but instead of using drag lights, we use traffic lights."
Organiser Mark Wilsmore said: "We’ve got a huge number of mods and rockers enjoying their heritage and enjoying Brighton. There are people here from all over the world."
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