Guest blog post from Gareth Howes.
Covid , Brexit and time surely these three small problems could be overcome so I could ride at one of my favourite events of the year, Wheels and Waves. This was the tenth edition of the event, and although I got onto them later, I love it!
This year was the ‘Ghost Edition’, all very low key and hush-hush, because the local authority pulled the plug on the full event only a few weeks before it was supposed to go ahead, due to Covid worries. But, with two weeks before W&W El Rollo dirt track race, I somehow I managed to get an invite for myself and two mates (I think the organisers needed numbers making up).
After a solid twelve-hour drive from southern England we stumbled upon the track and were some of the first people in the car park. For 2021, the El Rollo dirt track race had a new home, taking place at a venue called the Bud Racing Training Camp, not within the San Sebastien horse racing track, as all previous years. Normally home to enduro and motocross events, the facility had carved a brand-new track into the sandy surface. Within the hour, bikes started to be wheeled out of vans. The delightful looking and sounding machines distracted us from the sleep we had promised ourselves upon arrival. The bikes had come from all over Europe. Our party of three were the only British representatives, but there was a large amount from the host country of France, but with almost equal entries from Spain, a strong Italian presence, a sprinkling of German racers and some enthusiastic riders from the rest of Europe.
Sam and Ben (all regular DTRA entrants) and I had entered the Pre-74 class, that happened to be the biggest field. I was riding my 1970s Yamaha MX360 Staracer Playboy framer, Sam’s was on his just-off-the-dyno AJS 370 and Ben was racing his faithful Bultaco 250.
As the heat race grids were posted came out we saw that Sam and Ben were pitted against each other, and I against a mostly two-stroke field.
Practice started first in groups then open. The track has to be the best El Rollo track I have ridden. It may have been dusty, but it was consistent all the way round.
The racing started and it was clear to see the level of the average European rider has improved massively; Sam got a third with Ben behind with a fifth. Highlight of their race being a man wheelie his Harley XR750 down the straight at beyond vertical, landing it and winning the heat!
Second and final qualifying heat started. Sam high on his third place found the other side of vintage racing, the lows. A suspect crank seal meant his bike could no longer race. Ben on the other hand having a somewhat below par race seemed to step his game up as he finished in a very respectful third. My final Heat race again was madness trading places this time having to settle for third.
The top two from each group made the A final, 3rd and 4th the B and the remaining the C final. I missed out on the A final as the racer I tied with finished better than me in the last race. I was disappointed but this opened up a new challenge beating my mate Ben. As we lined up, engines revving, fingers on the clutch waiting for the flag to drop. Turn one was its usual manic operation and coming out of turn two saw me behind Fiete on his gorgeous Norton tracker. Fiete and myself must have traded place three times on lap 1 before I settled in the lead. Behind me saw a mad battle for 2nd/3rd/4th with the rider in second going through the tracks fence on the final lap! Me first, Fiete second and Ben sneaking onto the last podium place.
The Friday night saw us make our way to Biarritz, the spiritual home of Wheels and Waves. We ate good food, drank good alcohol and soaked in the madness or Biarritz at night. Although Wheels and Waves had been blocked, bikes where still everywhere, in all shapes and forms, from modified Ducatis and Harleys tearing around the small streets ensuring everyone could hear them, to the Tomos moped gang, at least 12, strong racing up hills at jogging pace, if I'm being kind.
Saturday saw the Swank Rally an off road ‘race; day where vintage bikes, classic motocrossers and customs race around the woods while completing the odd jump. Laps can take anywhere from five minutes to ten depending on how fast you and the bike are willing to go. Watching some wartime Harleys to early-90s two-strokes was great fun. The mix of smells and noise to any motorcycle fan is almost a sensory overload as I found my neck snapping left to right watching the mixed bag of machinery sprint off and weave its way through the forest course.
The author, Gareth, on the top step
Unfortunately, we had to leave early as we had a Channel crossing to catch, the blow was slightly easier as we listened to the football on way home.
Will I go next year? The planning has already started.
Photos (except podium): Yannick Jorquera