Go fast! Turn left! Dirt track is cool.

In the world of new skool customs the “street tracker” is now firmly established alongside the once all-conquering café racer as a staple design.

If you were at either of the BSMC shows in Paris or London, or at Wheels and Waves down in the sun (well, okay, rain) of Biarritz, trackers were all over the place. They look great, they’re practical for both urban and rural riding and they soak up the brutality of Britain’s awful roads better than just about anything else which counts as a “custom”.

But behind the custom bikes you see on the road, the sport which gave birth to them, dirt-track racing (often called flat-track too), is enjoying a huge resurgence.

Dirt-tracking is cool. Most American MotoGP racers have a background in it, notably former world champion Nicky Hayden, and superstar Valentino Rossi has his own private track on his ranch.

Here in Britain the custom scene and the racing come together most famously at the wonderful Dirt-Quake event in Norfolk every year (and now at its American cousin Dirt-Quake USA too) in which Real Road racer Guy Martin raced a chopper in the “Inappropriate” class last year (he won, of course).

And how about this for news? You can buy a top end, custom built street tracker for the road for anything between £3,000 and £10,000, but did you know you could be aboard the real thing on a UK racetrack, hurling it sideways in to corners whilst throwing huge rooster tails of dirt and looking cooler than you ever looked before, for less than £2,000?

 

So what’s what?

Dirt-track is raced on a short dirt oval. The pros, and serious amateurs, use converted motocross machines known as DLX bikes which are not only the most effective weapons for the job but also, surprisingly, often the least expensive. However, one of the joys of dirt-track is that it also plays host to other classes, including Vintage and, most enticingly for those of us with custom blood in our veins, Thunderbikes (converted or purpose-built machines above 600cc – or 500cc for twins and strokers).

Most classes in the UK scene have subsections too, which means someone with no racing experience can get out there and have fun from the same paddock as factory-sponsored pros. There’s also a growing youth class.

In the UK the series is governed and organised by the Dirt Track Riders Association (DTRA) which is a mix of governing body and bike club (and organises the Dirt-Quake event along with the excellent Sideburn Magazine, the UK dirt-track bible). This year DTRA has 120 members, making it the largest such organisation of its type outside the USA, the sport’s spiritual home. What this intimacy generates is one of the friendliest, least cliquey, most welcoming paddocks in bike sports. A day out as a spectator at a DTRA race is a hoot, with open access to the paddock and many a cheerful greeting from the regular faces. It’s free too. Click on the poster pic in this article for details of the next UK round, on July 17th.

DTRAJuly

The association is always looking for marshals as well, which is a great way to experience the racing close up (no experience required, just the ability to listen, and know your red from your yellow).

The pictures in this article (all taken by, and copyright of, the excellent Ian Roxburgh) come from round three of the 2015 DTRA championship held at Eastbourne.

We asked Anthony Brown, one of the bosses at the DTRA as well as one of the owners of Co-Built Motorcycles in Oxford, about the sport in the UK, why its popularity is growing so fast and how people can get in to it.

 

MotoDLX: What appeals to you most about dirt-track racing?

AB: “I have raced most things but I enjoy simple oval style racing. I was a speedway rider in my youth and always wanted to ride dirt-track since I watched and read about it as a kid. It’s a great feeling to tip a bike into a corner at the end of a straight.”

 

MotoDLX: When I came to a round of the DTRA championship in Wales last year I met people who said they were in their second season and always at the back and insisted they didn’t know what they were doing, but were deliriously happy to be there. You don’t find this in short circuit racing or even these days in MX. What’s so special about dirt-track that it engenders this kind of feeling?

AB: “It’s really accessible. I think that’s what people enjoy. We have a great mix of abilities and it’s a sport where you can give yourself a real thrill without being right at the front. The race for last place in the Rookie class can be just as fierce as the Pro podium. We are tempting people who have never raced before into a world they don’t know exists. Once you have tasted what it’s like to be part of the motorcycle racing family it’s hard not to like it. I have raced many types of motorcycles and I have always found people to be great fun and enjoy making new friends but I think that the dirt-track scene is special in the UK right now as it’s still small, although it’s growing. We all know each other. Actually it’s pretty small all over the world. I was buying a frame from a guy in Washington State and he knew who I was and what we were doing in the UK.”

 

MotoDLX: So Anthony, is it “dirt-track”, “flat-track” or both? What’s the difference?

AB: “I like to use dirt-track as I think it encompasses everything that we do. For example I want to build a TT course with a jump and that’s not flat! I think that there is lots going on in Europe now and most people are using the term dirt-track. I have steered away from short-track as that again is just one discipline. So to summarise I think flat-track is a discipline within the dirt-track arena. Make sense?”

 

MotoDLX: “Tell us something about the bikes, the classes people can race in, and the costs. Is it expensive?”

AB: “Our classes are Open, Pro, Restricted, Rookie. You can ride any bike with 19″ wheels. Most riders choose to ride DTX (modified MX) bikes. These are the cheapest and easiest way into the sport and also what our friends in the USA ride on short-track. The Open class is split into 3 groups depending on experience. We started a Rookie group two years ago and this has really flourished. The Pro group is populated by some serious riders some of whom are good enough to take on pro riders from the USA. 

“The Thunderbikes are 600cc and above (or above 500cc for 2-strokes and twins). They’re mainly purpose built framers in this class. Especially popular is the Rotax engine as it’s well suited to dirt-track applications (they were very popular in the USA in the 90s). There are some garage built bikes in this class. Some work better than others. It is probably a mistake to think that the cheapest way into the sport is with a own build. More often than not they are a compromise and just don’t handle right. You’d be much better modifying a MX bike as a beginner.

“We just started a Vintage class last season and this is getting a lot of attention right now. We plan to have a separate 2 stroke vintage class soon. On the youth side we have a great class for ages seven and upwards.

“In terms of cost, I think the cheapest I remember seeing a DTX bike for sale was £1200. I have seen shed built specials around the same money. Some of the really well thought out own built Thunderbikes that work great have been built for a budget of around £3K. Our Co-Built bikes start at around £6K for a complete bike, but we only build very occasionally now.

“In motorsport terms it’s not at all expensive. There are a couple of guys who will rent you a bike for around £120 a meeting and to join DTRA is £65 per year and each race is £45. A tyre is £110 and may last a whole season if you want it to.”

 

MotoDLX: “Finally Anthony, what would be your best advice to those who think they might like to get involved?”

AB: “Don’t bother reading another word! Just come to the next round, talk to the racers and find a way to get involved. Even if you can’t race come and help out at the club. We are a small tight group of doers who are making things happen and its really good fun.”

 

If you like the look of a bit of dirt-track, either as a spectator, helper or participant, here are a few useful links. In our experience you’ll be very glad you went along.

 

DTRA – www.dirttrackriders.co.uk

Sideburn Magazine – www.sideburnmagazine.com

Co-Built Motorcycles – www.co-built.net

Survivor Customs – www.survivorcustoms.com

Ian Roxburgh – www.ianroxphoto.tumblr.com

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