Rumours of Mablethorpe Sand Racing demise have been circulating in the pessimistic corners of the cold paddock for years. The organisers, John and Marie, had been in charge of the series, a full 40 years, and the club itself had been operating for 50 years. The anniversary coincided with the arrival of Covid and the series halted before the 2019-20 season finished.
Now the good news: Steve Nicholls and 'Greenfield' George Pickering (38 above) are ready to bring the grassroots racing club back to life. Sideburn interviewed George to find find out why, how and when. Photos: Braking Point Images
SIDEBURN: You have a full-time job running a large arable farm, plus you run Greenfield Dirt Track, the practice days, the minibike motocross track, what made you want to take on a whole race series?
George Pickering: Mablethorpe Sand Racing has been a big part of my life. I’ve raced there for around 15 years, and without looking I think I’ve won 12 championships in various different classes: junior classes, road bikes classes and all the different motocross bike classes. It’s been the main thing over the winter months for my whole adult life really, so the chance to help the club out by taking on the running of it with Steve Nicholls was something I couldn’t say no to. It’s been too big a part of my life to see it just stop.
The organisers before you ran it for 40 years, with a lot of help from volunteers. What can you tell us about the couple who were keeping it running?
That's a very impressive feat, especially in this day and age. I have a lot of respect for the amount of effort they’ve put into keeping Mablethorpe Sand Racing going for such a long period of time. They have had a lot of different volunteer helpers throughout that time, so they too, deserve a lot of credit. It isn’t easy turning out to so many events over winter when the weather is poor.
That said, we’re obviously going to need a lot of help from lots of different people too, and we’ll be aiming to keep as many of the old faces as possible and still keep in touch with John and Marie for advice when we need it.
You're partnering with Steve Nicholls (above). What can you tell us about him?
He has 20 years of racing experience at Mablethorpe Sand Racing mainly in the MX classes. He's always been passionate about the club and agrees with me that it needs to continue in the best possible way.
I wouldn’t want to take on this task without Steve. He’s actually related to John and Marie, who have been running the club, so he’s probably the main reason they’re happy to hand it over to us. Steve started me racing at Mablethorpe when I was 14 and helped me out at my first few meetings, so I’m really excited we’re now taking this on together.
Steve has been coming to DTRA race meetings and helping me out for a number of years too, so the way we view things at race meetings and running race events are very similar, which should make us a good team.
With all respect, the club has had the feeling of limping along for a few years, in need of some new ideas. What are you going to bring to it?
Yes, I totally agree with that. It’s no secret that it’s been declining for the past few years. Me and Steve are still discussing lots of different ideas we plan to implement but we plan to keep the core of it the same.
We like the amount of classes there is and the large variety of different bikes. We may run a few less meetings per season. As much as it’s good for the town for us to host as many events as possible, we feel it’s very difficult for people to commit to attending Mablethorpe every fortnight all winter, especially if you’ve been racing in the summer months as well. Surely a lot of peoples family life must become strained. So we believe people lose motivation for the championship because of the number of events you need to attend to do well.
From the safety side, we have already discussed a few things we would change, mainly around the pit area and vehicles getting on and off the beach. We’ll obviously be in discussions with the insurance company we plan to use to make it as safe as possible for everyone involved.
As for entry fees, we’re hoping we’ll be able to keep them the same, but the medical company that has been used at Mablethorpe for a number of years isn’t on the go anymore, we’re going to have to change the insurance company, and the lap scoring van needs replacing etc.. but we’re planning to keep it as cheap as possible for everyon,e but also needing to make a certain amount to cover the costs of everything involved.
How long have you been thinking about the possibility of organising races at Mablethorpe?
I’ve obviously been running Greenfield Dirt Track for a few years now, so naturally since Mablethorpe Sand Racing has been in decline a lot of people have asked me what I’d think about taking it on, so it’s always been something I’ve thought about but never seriously because it hasn’t been an option, and I never thought it would be. I’m pleased we’ve been tasked with taking it on and hopefully we’ll make it successful again.
What are the opportunities for growth?
We just need to get people back racing, then it’ll grow itself. It would be great if we could get the quad bike and sidecar classes up and running again, the number of entries for these classes have dropped right off in recent years, and it would be great to be able to reintroduce them. I’m told back in its heyday Mablethorpe would attract around 180 entries, but over the last few years it’s been around 50 entries. That, along with the fact it now hasn’t even run for two years, most people have started believing that it’s never going to happen again. I’m including myself in that to be honest.. So we need to build some hype back up. Social media has been used very poorly by the club, and it’s such a powerful tool, we plan to re-brand, have a new logo, merchandise, website, and really push it and let people know it’s going to be happening again.
George on his two-stroke KTM. Clearly has no idea what he's doing
What are the threats to its success or survival?
The main threat to whether we’re going to be able to make it successful or it’s going to continue to fail is simply if we can get enough riders back to compete. The local council are very keen for it to continue to happen, we believe we should have enough people willing to help us on the race days. We just need to get a higher number of entries to make sure the meetings are financially viable to run themselves and then we can push on from there.
You're heavily involved with the DTRA, do they have ideas you can use?
Yes, of course. We really like to way the DTRA is run and we plan to work with them to help Mablethorpe Sand Racing grow, but also to offer DTRA riders a form of out of season racing. We obviously now have some experience with running events at Greenfield Dirt Track, so we’ll be using our knowledge from there as well, but for sure we’ll be working with and using some of the DTRA's ideas.
What would you say to try convince someone who has never raced in this historic championship but are tempted?
Where else can you legally race on a big oval, flat out in top gear on a public beach? Even just saying that makes me excited. Also, it’s obviously a winter championship in the UK, where the weather is often poor, there isn’t much motocross, flat track, speedway, grasstrack etc happening because the weather doesn’t allow it. There’s never been a rain off at Mablethorpe. Once the tide goes out, the sand doesn’t care if it’s wet or raining. We’ve got nearly guaranteed, flat out, competitive, multi-disciplined racing for you all winter long. If that doesn’t excite you, then I don’t know what will.
Minibikes are a great way to get involved
What is the ideal bike for someone who wants to do a season of Mablethorpe?
Nearly anything, but I guess the easiest way to get going would just to have a standard motocross bike. We’re going to be running three or four different capacity motocross classes, and a standard motocross bike is good to go.
You could also go down the route (which I believe you have done yourself) of modifying a road bike.
We’re going to continue to run four modified road bike classes, again depending on cc so there’ll be an option for nearly everyone. When our website is up and running all the class rules and specs will be on there.
What tips would you give a Mablethorpe novice?
Keep your head up and keep the bike high in the RPM. The beach can get quite deep and rutted through a days racing so it’s important you keep the engine revving high so it doesn’t sap the power, especially on smaller cc bikes.
Also, keep a keen eye open for when you’re out for your next race. Classes move through quickly and we’d hate for anyone to miss a race.
When do you think you will host the first race of Mablethorpe's comeback?
If all the paperwork we’re having to exchange at the moment moves swiftly we’d love to host two non-championship races in March. If this transaction period takes longer than we’re hoping, then we’ll have to start with a new season in October.
Unlimited road bike class monsters. Photo: Dave Bevan
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Below is a film from 2015 I made with James Cheadle when I first started racing at Mabo. I got a bit better (and even won in the unlimited road bike class once or twice). GI