Brighton Speed Trials

History of the event

By Len Wooller

Oldest event in the racing calendar

The Brighton National Speed Trials are the oldest and continuous running event for cars and motorcycles in the racing calendar. The idea for the speed event at Brighton was first suggested in 1902.  However it wasn’t until 1905 that local Brighton man Sir Harry Preston persuaded the Town Corporation to lay a motor racing track using the newly invented “Tarmac” between the Palace Pier and Black Rock.

Brighton Motor Week

Photo:Brighton Speed Trials 1905

Brighton Speed Trials 1905

From the private collection of Len Wooller

The Town Council proceeded to get together with the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland (later to become the RAC) to organise the Brighton Motor Week.  This was a series of motor races run from Wednesday 19th July to Saturday 22nd July 1905.  The event was not run again until 1923, when the Brighton and Hove Motor Cycle and Light Car Club, got things going again with what was intended to be an annual series of races, with riders competing against each other along the sea front.

Annual event

Two such events were held before a ban on motor racing on the public highways came into force, scuppering future competitions.  In 1932 the newly formed Brighton and Hove Motor Club dug deeper into the legalities of the situation and discovered that Madeira Drive was in fact owned by the Brighton Corporation and could therefore not be considered a public road. From that year hence, except during the Second World War, the speed trials have taken place annually. Initially car races were run over a flying kilometre and motorcycles competed in handicap races over a standing start mile. At that time competitors ran side by side but in later years they ran individually for safety reasons.

Unique and famous

The Speed Trials was incorporated into the National Sprint Championship in 1978. Also from this year the motorcycles were organised by the Vintage Motorcycle Club at the invitation of the Brighton and Hove MC. The sixties and seventies saw dragsters and funny cars running at the event but these do not run today. ‘Frosts Cars’ Ltd made their Speed Trials sponsorship debut in 1991.  Their support is not only financial but they actively co-operate with the organisation of this unique and famous event along with countless volunteers from the club, Brighton and Hove City Council and other organisations. Twenty years on and Frosts are still providing great support for the event.

Famous competitors

Photo:Brighton Speed Trials 2011

Brighton Speed Trials 2011

Photo by Len Wooller

Many famous drivers have competed at the event and these include Sterling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Ken Tyrell, John Cooper, Derek Bell and Sydney Allard. Today the event is run over a standing ¼ mile course and an amazing variety of cars and motorcycles can be seen on the day.  These vary from vintage machines, standard road going cars and motorcycles through to single seater racing cars and super-tuned specials. The current course ¼ mile record for a car was set up in 1993 by John Grey in a 700 bhp SPA Judd V10 at 8.90 seconds and the motorcycle record was set up in 2009 by Roger Simmons on a Suzuki Hayabusa Turbo at 8.73 seconds

 

This page was added on 24/09/2011.
Comments about this page

I recall going to the speed trials in the 1950s. There was a horrific accident when a rider on an Ariel Square 4 bike accelerated fro standstill so fast that the bike's back wheel went under the front and fatally squashed the rider. Also saw there the special with 2 Rolls Royce Merlin aero engines I think it was called the Swandean Special.

By John Snelling (25/12/2012)

Nice quick history of the event, Len. Hopefully the people on this site will also rally to save this historic event!

By Phil Drayton-Morris (07/01/2014)

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