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Saturday, May 16, 2009


Grand Prix in a Car Park...

Every now and then we get chance to do something extraordinary, and last weekend was one of those occasions...

First, on Friday, we went to the pictures to see the new Star Trek film. This is part of our ongoing quest to get the most out of the time we have together before the Trans Am, and as we went to see Wolverine the week before with Carlie, we thought we'd become cinema regulars and go again. I used to love the original series of Star Trek, but would hardly call myself a Trekkie (I don't speak Klingon!), and neither would Tracy, but the new film looked good in the trailer. And it's well worth going, as it's really good - and had us laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Simon Pegg as Scotty is a particularly inspired bit of casting, as is Karl Urban who plays Bones (and looks just like a young DeForest Kelley, the original Bones). But enough of the movie buff stuff, on to the weekend...

Saturday we headed to Northwich for the first day of the Thundersprint weekend. Once a year this simple Northern market town is transformed into a "mini Isle of Man TT", but with a much more family oriented flavour. The entire town is taken over by all that's best with the biking world - classic bikes, classic bike races (more of that later), modern bikes, funfairs, face-painting stalls, trade stalls, famous old bike racers, famous modern bike racers and a real carnival atmosphere. The Saturday is much like any other Saturday in the town, except with a classic bike show in the square outside one of the council buildings and a lot more people. We went over in the car and spent a happy couple of hours milling about taking photos and looking at the bikes... here's a selection to whet you appetite...

The classic bike show attracts a large crowd

A beautiful classic MV Augusta race bike

A stunning custom bike

An immaculate Kawasaki z900 just like my brother Kevin used to have in the late 70's

Having ruined all that chrome by drooling all over it, we went for a wander round the town to try and find the "race circuit" that will be used for the main event on Sunday. Now, for those that don't know, the Thundersprint is a sprint race for motorcycles, mostly old classics from pre and post-war. A sprint race is held over a short course, in the case of the Thundersprint some 440m, with riders setting off one at a time, with fastest time winning. Only Northwich doesn't have a race circuit. And draconian UK legislation prevents the closure of public roads for racing (the Isle of Man TT is held under IOM legislation). So they use a car park at the back of Marks and Spencers instead. And on the Saturday, the car park is a car park, full of cars, parked... and it's bumpy with potholes everywhere, except on the "racing line", which starts at one end, heads along one side, through a 90-degree right and down another side before a long sweeping right-hand bend round the top end of the car park, then down the 3rd side straight, into another 90-degree left and back to the start/finish line. They'll have to move the cars first, though...

Having wandered round the town some more and eaten a large fish-and-chips lunch, we headed back home. The following morning I set off on my bike back to Northwich to catch the cavalcade and racing. The cavalcade is held just before the racing starts and is a parade of race and classic bikes down the dual-carriageway that rings the town, with the road being closed for the 15 minutes it takes (and this isn't a race, of course, it's a parade). The sight and sound of around 100 bikes burbling past is quite something and the route is lined on both sides about 5 deep - the town is literally packed full of people, with estimates of 100,000 flooding in for the day. James Toseland, britain's double world superbike champion and current MotoGP rider, lead the convoy, which contained some of the bikes from yesterday, as well as others including 2 bikes from the British Superbike championship and one rather special bike...

James Toseland heads the cavalcade through Northwich

Forge Formby and the Shuttleworth Snap

With the convoy over with I wandered over to the "circuit" and was amazed at how the area had been transformed. Where there were rows and rows of cars yesterday, now there was an empty car park, surrounded by wire fencing, with 2 large grandstands, a PA system and commentator's cabin, and the surrounding area had become a fun-fair. I had a wander through the paddock, where the racers and their steeds were relaxing in the sunshine (yes, even the weather was good), checking out the bikes and trying to recognise the riders. I saw a couple of old boys in their leathers and then realised who they were - Jim Redman the multiple world champion and TT winner from the early 60s who's now 78; and Sammy Miller, now 75 - both of whom would be racing round the car park later that afternoon...

Just before the racing started, there was a fly-past by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain memorial flight, a sight that still stirs the soul of all those present, despite very few being old enough to remember them being used for the purpose for which they were designed.

And then the racing started. I managed to find a place near the front and the sight and sound of an old race bike giving it maximum round this tiny car park was just stunning - check out the video of an old Honda below (but turn the sound up as high as it will go for maximum effect!)...

The second batch of bikes were "personalities and guests" and included James Toseland, some bloke from Coronation Street (who got a bike cheer from the women in the crowd, although I've never heard of him), a journo from Motorcycle News (who did a rolling burnout - spinning the back wheel generating a massive cloud of tyre smoke - all the way round the course). The real star of the event was Toseland, who played to the crowd and finished last with a time of well over a minute, whilst the quickest bike completed the course in just 20 seconds!

James Toseland destroys his rear tyre for the crowd

MCN journo Adam 'Chad' Child showing off...

Well worth attending, and it's all completely free!

On Monday evening we continued the excitement, heading to the MEN Arena for the 2nd time in recent weeks, this time to see the Counting Crows. We were a bit concerned that this wouldn't be as good as the last 2 times we'd seen them, as their new album is a bit weird, but we needn't have worried. When they started by saying they wanted to put on a special show, we should have guessed it was going to be just that. Unlike most bands, who try to replicate the sound of their album on stage, the Counting Crows are genuine musicians and improvise (they have to, as Adam Duritz, the lead singer, goes off on tangents all the time!), and the show they put on for us was nothing short of spectacular. They played completely different versions of our favourite songs, with a much more acoustic sound, and left us open-mouthed at their musicianship. If you ever get chance to see them, take it. They're simply spectacular.

The rest of the week didn't quite live up to that excitement, though, with work and a couple of days in London making it seem like a very long week indeed. Yesterday we made it a hat-trick of Fridays at the cinema, as we went to see "Angels and Demons", which was very enjoyable even if, having read the book, we already knew the ending so it had no surprises for us...

A pretty good end to a very enjoyable week!

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