Davida went to Sideburn’s Dirt Quake IV on Saturday 18th July and for those that have experienced it, you’ll know why Dirt Quake is the highlight of Davida’s biking calendar, it oozes a quintessentially British madcap sense of humour, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, though much of the dirt-track racing itself is tackled with absolute intent. It is the joyous antithesis to the exclusive and reactionary bike events that have traditionally typified the British summer calendar.
The brainchild of Sideburn Magazine, the event’s origins actually lie in another country with a few left-field ideas of its own: Finland. Not content with invigorating inventions such as the sauna, and its ice-water immersion companion, and the Molotov cocktail (used to great effect against the Russians, if great is the right word), they also decided that racing hard-tail choppers on dirt-tracks would be a diverting bit of fun, they weren’t wrong, batshit crazy idea but nonetheless an irresistibly cool notion.
The Kaanan Kahinat event was the seed for our very own Gary Inman, Ben Part, Dave Arnold et al to create the ever growing phenomenon that is Dirt Quake, they have long been friends of Davida, going back well before Sideburn Magazine even, and Davida have been closely allied to all of their projects from the magazine’s inception, Sideburn’s first event on 2011, ‘Rollerburn’ and through Dirt Quake’s rise to fame since 2012.
The big difference with Dirt Quake is: if you’re gonna race bloomin’ choppers on dirt, why stop there? Why not classes for all sorts of bikes? The more inappropriate the better, it’ll be a hoot and perhaps more importantly will give anyone with a bike the inclination, inspiration and facility to race on dirt (an epiphany in itself) and hopefully spread a passion for dirt-track racing far and wide.
This isn’t just a noble ambition, I’ve met plenty of riders over the years who, having raced their first Dirt Quake, have dived into the world of DTRA racing , people like Mike Johnson who raced his chopper at an early Dirt Quake and, having blazed a trail of wins through the rookie classes, is now racing in the fiercely competitive ‘restricted’ class, the penultimate class before pro.
Perhaps the best example this year though is young racer Sean Kelly who having raced at last year’s event got the bug and has spent the previous year blowing all his spare cash and holidays on DTRA racing which culminated in him winning Saturday morning’s DTRA Rookie class, he gave everything he had to get it, a true Sideburn Dirt Quake hero and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Also back for more thrills and spills this year was El Solitario’s David Borras who, having piloted one of his little 80’s neon ‘rock!’ creations to a podium finish a few years ago, this year also raced in the DTRA Rookie class, he spent the rest of the day in his usual reverie with his arm in a makeshift sling and a huge smile on his face, though when does he ever not have a huge smile on his face at these things?
He told me one evening how, when not far from the Bonneville Salt Flats, he and his El Solitario brethren were taken to be ‘gypsies’ and told they weren’t welcome at some such motel or other, some fellow Salt Flat guys explained that the proprietors would never have come across a gypsy in their lives, simply the fact that they were European and bohemian looking was enough for them to be considered undesirable folk-devils, crazy how such previously unknown prejudices can suddenly manifest out of nowhere in the middle of Utah, of course El Solitario embraced the moniker throughout their travels there, ‘You want folk devils? We’ll give you folk devils!’ Also racing in that rookie class was Sebastien Lorentz of the Lucky Cat garage, the experience being a very different proposition I would imagine to drag racing his ‘Sprint Beemer’ at Glemseck and so triumphantly at this years Wheels and waves’ Punk’s Peak races.
One racer who will always be back for more is Dirt Quake champion (in both senses of the word) and its greatest ambassador, Guy Martin who not only raced in three classes; DTRA rookie on Friday and Chopper and Harley on Saturday, winning them all, proving that his skills are all too transferable, he also brought Ken Fox’s thrilling Wall of Death to Dirt Quake for the first time. Presumptuously, I thought I knew what experiencing it would be like having seen it on the telly but, really, the pure visceral thrill of 90 year-old Indian scouts slaloming round that creaking cylinder no-handed, inches from you, is both terrifying and thrilling, a bit like racing at Dirt Quake. It’s real old school thrills, the wall itself made of 20 tonnes of good old Oregon Pine, if it was conceived nowadays it’d probably be banned.
Next to the wall was another Oregon connection, a replica of Ken Kesey and the Merry Prankster’s school bus brought over by Davida Dealers in Germany, W&W Cycles & who sponsored the new Harley class this year. I was chatting with Thomas who was racing the W&W Panhead he’d ridden through Central America about the Wall of Death and how I’d love to try it, he said we should come visit them and try it as they’ve built one over there, one for the bucket list there then.
Friday night involved a lot of catching up with Dirt Quake veterans at what now feels like a longstanding annual reunion, the soundtrack was a great little band out of Bury St Edmunds called The Vitamins who produce some fine, dark and dirty riffage. I heard some great tales from Mike Johnson and Ben Part about their recent Sideburn adventures riding the Sahara on KTM’s, another one for the bucket list there then.
After the bar closed the ‘Trailer Trash’ campsite became the venue for a few after-parties with the French contingent again at the heart of the party, Hubert and Max, who do bespoke work with Clutch motorcycles of Paris, and the legendary Serge Nugues really upped the entertainment level last year with their antics on and off the race track and this year was no exception, James Jordan of Kingdom of Kicks provided some great 90’s tune-idge from his camper till the wee hours.
The campsite was particularly well organised this year by Sharon of Davida, it kinda had to be as last year the temptation to test-ride Dirt Quake bikes round the camping field proved to be too much for some and nearly led to disastrous consequences. The team manning the campsite did a sterling job of keeping the site and its many magnificent machines secure and gave the place a very relaxed and sociable vibe though that’s pretty much a given with Dirt Quakers; everyone goes out of their way to help each other out. The formidableness of one of the team member’s giant Bull Mastiff was certainly enough of a deterrent to any would be unwelcome visitors. It was Sharon’s first venture into running a campsite like this and she assures me she has plenty of ideas to make it even better next year.
This year my traditional Dirt Quake racing steed, a Cagiva Gran Canyon, threw it’s chain off a day prior to the off but thankfully my girlfriend Lujah offered to share the bike she’d prepared for racing herself and so I found myself on the start line on Saturday on a little old Suzuki DR125, unprepossessing yet well fettled, it was actually a lot more fun to race with, being small and light whilst my Canyon can be a big, bucking, terrifying thing on dirt for a novice like me. I ended up in the street-tracker class racing alongside the likes of Charley Boorman and Nick Ashley on much more powerful and pretty dirt-oriented bikes so I was never gonna trouble the podium though I held my own on the turns, even losing the front wheel once and saving it, I basically gave it the best I could on the corners and ragged that little engine ragged on the straights and bless it, it never missed a beat, someone should tell Lord Sewel, you don’t need to jeopardise your career to get your kicks.
There was one sobering moment however when a few bikes all crashed in front of me in a corner. Slow motion time. I managed to get on the inside of the wreckage at the last second (it was a bit of a ‘well either I make it or I don’t, whatever’ moment). As we came back round the track, red flagged, to the crash site, we had to witness a fellow racer being attended to and clearly in some pain, Nick Ashley was next to me and we mused on how you just have to accept the dangers involved in racing like this, could so easily of been any of us lying on the deck, as Dave Arnold put it later: “Dirt Quake IV was a real hoot but please don’t ever lose sight that motorcycle racing is dangerous.”
Indeed it is, thankfully that guy wasn’t seriously injured, the worst injuries of the weekend befell Lennard Schuurmans, a renowned artist from the Netherlands, creator of the Sideburn #19 cover and general motorcycle thrill-seeker (I seem to recall him scraping his knees up pretty bad at Wheels and Waves a few years ago dropping an SV650 on a tight corner in the mountains and his idea of first-aid being to cut his jeans into shorts above the damage, respect). He bashed himself up pretty good in the penultimate final, ending up in the unofficial Dirt Quaker nitrous oxide after-party that was the local A&E with a broken collarbone and rib but thankfully nothing worse, from the sounds of it he’ll be back for more next year and he only has good things to say about our NHS.
Meanwhile in the Ladies class, Lujah, having shown form last year with a 3rd podium finish, got all serious on the track whilst wearing a novelty parrot outfit and confidently took 1st place in the first two heats on her DR 125, much to the crowd’s enjoyment (her and Serge Nugues, the ‘Fairy’ on his TT-raced R1 were the clear crowd favourites this year), the commentator decided she was “The Frog”, shoulda gone to specsavers. In the final it all changed however as young Edie Ashley found her form on a Cheney Triumph (you know, like Steve McQueen or somebody used to race) and took the lead early on and, despite ‘the Frog’s’ wildest riding manoeuvres, held it to take the 1st podium. Having a Ladies class in itself runs the risk of appearing like a ‘token’ class but that couldn’t be further from the reality, it’s one of the absolute highlights of the day and as hotly contested as all the other classes, of course female racers can race in multiple categories and I hope to see twice as many next year, hint hint.
Lujah didn’t help herself with an over-eager start which involved no small amount of barely-controlled and inadvertent wheelieing, a stunt that was simultaneously mirrored by Davida team’s Jasmine who, although having been the flag girl last year, is a total virgin to racing bikes or racing on dirt for that matter, she’s only got into riding bikes at all in the last year and yet she attacked the track with no small amount of attitude and, well, she’s bust her wheelie cherry with aplomb, in front of a huge crowd no less and saved it in style, who of us can say that about our first wheelie? Ok, yeah, well, most of us, wheelie attempts exist to entertain and hopefully impress after all, they’re usually accidental for most of us as well. Kudos to you Jasmine, you could well be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Between races there was the usual eclectic mix of entertainment to the soundtrack of classic British TV themes performed by Dream Themes (quite surreal racing to the theme from Juliet Bravo I can tell you), Alan Birtwistle was the only competitor in the motorbike ‘limbo’ contest displaying some horizontally mad skills and the motorbike/scooter ‘tug of love’ was apparently hilarious.
I say apparently because I missed it, being busy in the pits helping to try and get another racer, Tarek’s, Spirit of the Seventies XS 650 to fire up, we gave up eventually though Tarek did get to race on a Honda street tracker lent by Liverpool bike builder Pasha only for Tarek to put it into the wall breaking his hand, though he was far more concerned with the damage to Pasha’s bike. Of course Pasha was totally sanguine about it, having had the best day of his recent life by the looks of it, it was a good example of how everyone goes out of their way to help each out at Dirt Quake and forges many firm friendships.
The Inappropriate Road Bike class was again the craziest assemblage of racers of the day, Richard Baybutt on his ‘Skidoo’ and Frenchmen Hubert and Max on their pizza delivery bikes were inexplicably dressed as Mutant Ninja Turtles and Maxwell Paternoster opted for the knight in armour look, but again the most flamboyant racer was undoubtably Serge Nugues who, having won last year on an unprepossessing little bike with road tyres, this year raced a tricked out R1 that he’d raced at the IOM TT, this time sensibly with dirt-track tyres, he drifted that 200-odd bhp beast all over the place, toying with the other riders and really taking the mickey by crossing the finish-line ‘skiing’ alongside the bike, a born entertainer.
After the prize giving and a really rather sophisticated Davida feast back at the campsite, we headed back to the arena, with David Boras leading the way, to catch Dave Arnold’s band Davros & the Deep Space Deviants who frankly blew the roof off the joint in a bizarrely restrained manner, the theatrical adopting of sci-fi personas, reminiscent perhaps of Dave’s old friend Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom and his papier-mâché head persona, along with a really inspired and unexpected choice of repertoire got everyone to let it all hang loose and go completely nuts, crowd-surfing, slamming, stripping, I haven’t seen a gig like it in a while, come to think of it I’ve never seen a gig like it, if they’d played Silver Machine for another half-hour I don’t think the crowd would’ve lost any of their enthusiasm. I didn’t want the band to finish but thankfully DJ’s Dave Taylor, Johnny Alpha and The Real Katy B were on hand to spin some old gems till late.
I’d have to say that despite the disappointment of not being able to race my usual bike this year, Dirt Quake IV has been the best yet, I really can’t thank the Sideburn guys and girls enough for this one, really well put together and a great vibe from everyone, Dave Arnold and all the Sideburn entertainment team did an amazing job this year. I’ve no doubt that the legend of Dirt Quake will spread far and wide and next year’s event will be really quite something, it’s become something really quite special and there’s really is nothing else like it.
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