Brighton Marina. Home to sea, sand and – for the next few hours at least – my little Japanese import. Usually it’d stick out like a sore thumb here, but this isn’t your typical beach day.
At first everything feels quite familiar. There’s a smell of pee in the air, graffiti on the walls and ice cream vendors selling 99p cones for £1.50. Inflation at its finest. But in the background is the sound of unrestricted engines with the promise of something spectacular…
Yup, it’s the original oil-soaked, bare-knuckled godfather of filth – the Brighton Speed Trials.
In 1905, a mile and a half of the newly-developed surface ‘tarmac’ was laid on what we now know as Madeira Drive, for one purpose: grassroots British drag racing.
That first event lasted a week, broke three world records and attracted huge crowds. The event in 1923 saw 10,000 spectators and in 1932, 100,000 turned out. Today, an eclectic mix of wild machines race to smash records down the original strip on Brighton’s seafront.
Most are still trying to break the 8.9-second record pass set in 1993 by a Judd V10, although many are happy to just blow the cobwebs out of their classics. However, despite the petrol-rich atmosphere and proximity to ice creams, crowd numbers have shrunk like Lewis Hamilton after a race in Bahrain. These days, just 3,500 people (including drivers) attend on average.
From the top terrace, there’s a great bird’s-eye view of cars thundering along Madeira Drive, with glistening white Victorian terraces to one side, and the pebbly beach, iconic pier, and green-blue ocean stretching to the horizon on the other.
The sun beats down, seagulls screech and swoop, ice creams hit the pavement and dogs pant with excitement.
As I wander freely around the pits, snapping photos and chatting to drivers, I can’t understand why the crowds aren’t bigger. Trackside seating and grandstands are half full and only extend a hundred metres or so down the track. The original viewing terraces are closed off and have been for some time.
The free viewing from the street, (with at least 1,000 freeloaders watching the event) really needs to be a paid area, otherwise the event is losing potential income. It seems a vicious circle; attendance is declining therefore council cooperation is too.
Whether it’s the decaying Victorian viewing terraces, a generational thing, or just the terrifying number of chip-stealing seagulls, people just aren’t showing up to enjoy this iconic event.
With inner city events like this there will always be opposition from residents. In fact, as I was buying my ticket a middle-aged woman in a scarf was arguing with staff that closing this part of the beach was illegal and the council should compensate her for the inconvenience. I suspect that revenue from the event far exceeded the number of ice creams sold on any other day in September, though.
I’ll see you all there later this year.
How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.