On Boxing day morning bright and early, the 87th Wild and Woolly Charity Scramble, organised by the Northampton Motor Cyclists Club was about to begin!
With blue sky, sunshine, and a temperature hovering around five or six degrees; enthusiasts had come to witness one of the oldest and most outrageous motorcycle races devised by two wheel and an engine afficionados.
They came in their hundreds across the fields, through glutinous mud churned ankle deep by farm and other vehicles; and were as enthusiastic as a Glastonbury audience slogging determinedly towards the main stage.
Most had come prepared, clad in motorcycle boots or wellies, but a worrying number were trying to keep their footing in trainers that would need to be hosed or destroyed after the event.
A Very muddy Xmas
Scramble is the correct name for this event - the original title given to off-road races now labelled Moto Cross - and readers whose motorcycling limbs may not be so nimble these days will remember the prestigious race championship series screened on BBC Grandstand on winter Saturday afternoons in the 60’s.
Having signed up for Boxing day 2012, the competitors could have no illusions as to what was likely to happen to man and machine, given the amount of wet stuff that has covered the land over the past weeks.
At one point when the race was underway, the commentator remarked that this was the most difficult course that had been laid out since 1936 - whether he was actually around at the time he did not divulge. It didn’t look too punishing until you walked to the areas where most of the spectators had gathered: the four points on the track where the riders had to cross a water course; swelled by the aforementioned rain!
Mayhem at the water holes!
For the forty seven entrants the deal was an hour’s practice, during which time they should complete at least two laps.
Within seconds the riders were muddy, and within minutes most were covered and caked and probably at a stage beyond caring or comprehension. And it wasn’t long before mayhem ensued at the ‘water holes’, with those riders who didn’t make the crossing having to rely on the volunteer marshalls wading without hesitation into mud and water to haul out bikes that were buried up to the cylinders.
While watching, it is easy to be an ‘armchair’ rider after repeatedly wincing as the clearly suicidal front wheel dives into the morass. As a spectator it became clear that the way to go was fast, keeping the front end as light as possible. Easy…it only requires, experience, nerve and expertise!
An orderly queue at Chubbies
With ‘practice’ over and an hour before the race was due to start, many spectators chose to increase the muddy straggle stretching out from Chubbies burger van, as the commentators ran through some of the likely winners and other information about the entrants.
There was a lot of experience in the expert category, and a couple of riders who were at the back end of forty years had notched up wins and championships. The consensus seemed to be that the two young Gas Gas riders Jack Lee (26) and Alex Wigg (23), who brought their works bikes to the event, would be near the front. They are both trials and enduro experts and junior champions, and this experience should enable them to navigate their way through the worst sections, and the inevitable obstacles of horizontal bikes and riders.
Jack Lee took third place in the 2011 ‘Tough One’ a three hours extreme enduro held in a quarry in Rochdale. While Alex Wigg has distinguished himself in many events; his third place in the 2011 (famous) Scott Trial, a timed event in the Yorkshire Dales put his antecedents into the frame too.
Charging towards the water
The Northampton club has a full programme of moto x events through the year, but entry to the Wild and Woolly is limited to club members. As the riders were flagged off at the eleven o’clock start and charged towards the first water crossing, it was clear that any more entrants riding this course would require a regiment of Royal Engineers and requisite lifting gear in attendance.
The attrition rate was high!
The race length was an hour plus one lap, and in these conditions it was probably as much as the riders, bikes, pressure washers and home washing machines could cope with once the adrenalin stopped pumping.
The attrition rate was high, knackered bodies and mud-clogged, steaming machines were parked at various points, once the attempts to re-start had failed to coax ignitions back to life.
One of these casualties was Alex Wigg, while his team mate Jack Lee in the manner of top class competitors, made the conditions look ordinary as he flew around the course, lapping the rest of the field and ending the race as easy winner.
Watching those who were clearly struggling to put in a lap without some kind of tumble or muddy mishap, it was tempting to ask. Why? But it’s simply that across all motorcycle activity, whether choosing to compete, being an enthusiastic road rider (some spectators did arrive on two wheels), restoring and rebuilding machines, we love to be on and with our bikes.
Go next year - free and fun!
The Wild and Woolly is a free event for spectators, and the Northampton Club members put a lot of time in preparing the course and safety fencing beforehand, and on the day organising and marshalling the race in unrewarding conditions, and shaking buckets for their chosen charity; Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. They should be congratulated - big time! If you are wondering what to do and want to get out into the fresh air next Boxing day then go along it's a great fun event for all the family!
For Wemoto News