Oliver’s Mount – Circuit History
Nestling beneath the green and peaceful wooded slopes of Oliver’s Mount, lies one of the most beautiful and most challenging road racing circuits in Europe. Over the years it has presented a challenge, not only to the riders, but to their machines and the men in the pits.
At the very first meeting in September 1946, it was reported that the circuit called for some thirty-four gear changes, with its twists and turns, presenting hazard after hazard, the1-in-9 ascent of Quarry Hill, a ‘flat-out’100 mph straight, not to mention the ‘Hump’ whereon both rider and machine leave the ground. All of these features of the 2 mile 780 yard course, instantly earned it the name of the miniature mountain course.
After the meeting, riders were invited to offer their criticisms with the organisers. Real criticism did not arise apart from greater width being wanted at the start and along the bumpy lower straight. Even the severe Mere Hairpin, with its adverse camber was not wholly condemned. “Leave it severe, “ said the riders, “but try to hollow it out a bit on the inside so we don’t have to tackle the 1-in-9 of Quarry Hill from a ‘standing’ start.”
Most of the machines were in Manx trim and as there are no severe climbing gradients on the TT course and no “stop and restart” hairpins, the gear ratios were not wide enough. This meant that Mere Hairpin and the start of Quarry Hill demanded a special technique so as not to destroy the clutch plates and bottom gear. New clutch discs were in urgent demand and it was said that after the first meeting had finished there were no spare clutch plates left for miles around Scarborough !
One solution was to fit a wider-ratio gear box that would get over most of the clutch trouble, although the most common solution was to fit a smaller engine sprocket, known as the “Scarborough cog” to drop the whole of the gear ratios. However, this was far from ideal because the top Café straight was capable of taking machines up to 100 mph. Also the violent acceleration when climbing on the lower gears and some under-gearing on top accounted for so many bits and pieces falling off.
The following is one of the first descriptions made in August 1946 by “Wharfdale” of the new Oliver’s Mount circuit :
From the starting point, (which was on the top of the circuit in the middle of today’s Esses) there is a level straight of just over 200 yards which has been widened from 30 to 39 feet between the grass verges. A right-angle turn to the left is made at a T-junction where there is a straight and level road 15 feet to 20 feet wide and perhaps a shade over half a mile long.
At the end this begins to sweep left away from a café on the off side which is somewhat reminiscent (on a small scale) of the Bungalow on the TT course. The bend sharpens into a wide hairpin, with the 1914-18 War Memorial on the off side and hairpins some more until it is running back parallel with the previous straight, which it does for a third of a mile or so.
Then there is a right-hand hairpin of considerable width and radius, when the ridge is left for a third-of-a-mile descent through the woods. The width is comfortable, the surface is excellent and the gradient is about 1-in-15 or perhaps slightly steeper. The descent is through a wood, but the slight and continuous bend does not limit forward view too badly until a slight S-bend is reached on the still falling grade, from which an extremely acute left hairpin turns on to a “straight” nearly ¾ miles long. This section is level or at most is slightly falling and it does in fact involve a slight S-curve, the kind of thing that calls for banking the model over, from one side to the other, but is not a bend in the strict sense of the term. This stretch is about 10 to 11 feet wide in its narrowest parts.
Another acute left hairpin leads into the next section, which is a 1-in-10 to 1-in-9 climb through the woods. The gradient is steady for six or seven hundred yards, as the gradient eases, a 90-degree right turn is made to the starting point and end of the circuit.
The width throughout the circuit is just enough for safe overtaking providing there are not three people abreast, there are places where that wouldn’t be too healthy !
Over the years to stay on terms with the ever increasing lap speeds and progressively quicker machines, the circuit has undergone a constant series of improvements which have always been with the accent on safety and not on making the course easier for the riders.
September 1947 : Start/Finish Relocation
Within a year of that first meeting rapid improvements were being made, seven thousand pounds had been invested in the circuit by the end of 1947, not an inconsiderable amount, for road widening and enlargement of the car park. Also for the start of the September 1947 races, the start/finishing line had been moved down to Weaponness Farm (its present day position) at the bottom of the circuit, overlooking the Mere, also an approach had been made to the BBC for live broadcasts.
September 1951 : Major Widening for International Classification
Over the winter of 1949, the Scarborough Corporation began a two year improvement plan, which involved spending £8,600 to upgrade the circuit to meet the standards required to gain an International permit. Initial work showed dividends when Ted Andrew recorded the first over-60 mph lap at the July 1950 meeting and BBC commentator/ex-TT rider Graham Walker (father of Murray Walker) said he believed the Scarborough track to be “a mixture of both Donington and the Isle of Man TT course.” It was also commented that Oliver’s Mount was the finest and most arduous training-ground in England for IOM TT aspirants.
Course improvements were completed ready for the start of the 1951 Oliver’s Mount season and the July meeting was run over a course complying with “International” regulations. Considerable widening had taken place, at certain points the surface had been improved, corners banked and the famous hump on the fast bottom straight had been toned down. Also a new wide footbridge constructed over Quarry Hill, the wooden fencing around the track particularly on the bottom Mere Straight had been strengthened to prevent over eager fans from sagging forward and overhanging the track, and the inclusion of ‘lap-leaders’ positions on the scoreboard.
Along with the improvements the circuit length had increased from 2 miles 780 yards to 2 miles 800 yards and nowhere along every inch of the track, did the width fall below the required five metres. These five metres in width meant an International classification granted by the ACU, for the News Chronicle Trophy International September 1951 meeting and Scarborough was now open to all comers, and the emphasis was on all. From Belgium was welcomed Auguste Goffin - the Belgian 500c Champion, from France - short circuit star Jacques Collot, from Holland Lous van Rijswijk - the Dutch 500c Champion, from Germany Georg Eberlein and Southern Rhodesia was represented by Ray Amm. These champions used to the fast, tricky continental circuits, came across the water to this small new Yorkshire track to challenge our own champions, men like Geoff Duke, Sid Barnett, Dickie Dale and Bill Doran.
July 1954 : Re-Profiling of the ‘Esses’
The next significant change to the circuit was the re-profiling of the ‘Esses’ ready for the July 1954 meeting, which reduced the circuit length from 2miles 800 yards to 2 miles 728 yards. Phil Carter (Norton), of Northwich, took full advantage of the improved track, setting a new outright circuit lap record of 2m 14.6s, hacking 2.8 seconds off the old mark and raising the lap speed to 64.55 mph.
July 1956 : Control Tower
A new control building was completed in time for the July race meeting of 1956. The building was erected directly opposite the start and finish line in only nine weeks at a cost of £800, its plastic floor covering was a gift from a brake-lining firm. It meant that all the officials, stewards, time keepers, chief marshal, results announcer, press and clerk of the course could work together under one roof instead of two buses which had been used in previous years.
June 1958 : Major Resurfacing
On the morning of Saturday 14th June, workmen were finishing the resurfacing work on the track, ready for the afternoon’s racing and it was reported that : “The slowest vehicles ever to use the track, on which machines have reached more than 100 miles per hour, were out. They were two 10-ton rollers being used by the Scarborough Corporation workmen to “iron-out” the track for the weekends racing.”
September 1959 : Bottom Straight Resurfaced
All riders were full of praise for the resurfaced bottom straight. They said that the £450 spent was well worth it. The track was improved out of all recognition.
September 1973 : Complete Resurfacing
During the month of August 1973, nearly half of the 2.4 mile track had been resurfaced to level out the bumps and the improved times of the solo events at the September International Gold Cup meeting, proved that this had been a worthwhile investment.
September 1979 : Scarboro’ Will Live On !
In the late seventies the future of the Oliver’s Mount races was not a certainty, after a series of loss-making meetings and a spate of negative publicity in the National press. In an interview with the Motor Cycle Racing press Peter Hillaby, the Oliver’s Mount Clerk of the Course, Secretary of the Meetings, Director of the organising Scarborough Racing Circuits Ltd and the man who was ultimately responsible for staging the Scarborough meetings, said he had no doubts whatsoever that the Scarborough circuit would continue to be used for all capacity of machines for a long time to come in spite of prominence given to the casualty rate by the National press over the years.
The Scarborough race circuit is different from other race meetings in that the circuit is hired off the local Scarborough Corporation , although Scarborough Racing Circuits Ltd (Combine of the Auto 66 Club & North East Motor Cycle racing Club) are responsible for providing toilets, extra fences, water, pathways, paddock facilities and a compensation payment has to be made to the municipal café at the Memorial that cannot open during race days. In addition 3,000 straw bales have to be brought to the circuit and then taken away afterwards. It’s a £9,000 outlay each time, making it essential to attract a large influx of paying customers for the three annual events.
Having run the meetings since 1971 the Scarborough Racing Combine inherited a circuit which was in need of a major face lift. “When we got involved we had to attend to what had not been done from 1958 onwards. The fencing was rotten, the toilets were broken down or non existent and certainly not fit for National or International meetings. “ By the end of 1978 the Combine had spent £45,000 on the Mount. Paid for was a new bridge at the Esses, repair work on the paths and steps, new brick toilets in the paddock, start area and top car park. Half the length of the circuit had been re-fenced, the exterior of the control tower had been rebuilt, the paddock had been levelled, a new extension paddock has been provided and an improvement made to the run-up area to the start. On the track the start area has been widened.
“Unfortunately we have recently had four wet meetings in a row and so we are now in the red, “ said Hillaby. “To make matters worse the June Cock o’ the North meeting coincided with widespread publicity about non-availability of petrol in the district which meant the Saturday attendance plummeted to an all time low.” “We’re hoping for between 30,000 and 35,000 for the 1979 September International meeting.”
The 1978 September International meeting was badly hit by constant rain which had spectators sliding helplessly in the mud but the attendance still reached 26,000. At the time the attendance record stood at 41,000 for the 1976 sun-kissed International meeting.
In the seventies, Barry Sheene’s presence at the meetings was a key factor in drawing the crowds and ensuring long-term financial security for the event. It was a major coup to get Sheene to compete at a British meeting, as at the start of the season he stated categorically he would only ride at a handful of selected events in Britain.
At first the organisers could not meet his start money demand but local businessmen, many of the hoteliers, realising the extra trade the motorcycle racing followers bring into the Yorkshire seaside resort over the end-of-holiday season weekend, knew they wanted the superstars entry. “We just couldn’t have afforded him on our own and we’re pleased these local businessmen have come up with the money. “ said Hillaby.
Any profit raised is ploughed straight back into the organisation’s development programme of the track which included a new toilet block, improved walkways on the hillsides, better car parking facilities, riders’ showers and undercover scrutineering bays.
With Sheene once again at the top of the bill for the September 1979 International, more than 30,000 racing fans flocked to the circuit, helping the organisers bank balance out of the “red” and keeping the popular road races alive.
May 1991 : Introduction of Farm Bends complex
In the 1980s the North East Motor Cycle Racing Club (NEMRC) dropped out of the Scarborough Racing Combine and the Auto 66 Club bought their shares, taking total control of the Oliver’s Mount venue from 1991. In the interests of safety, the organising Auto 66 Club introduced a new chicane to the circuit; to reduce speeds on the fast down hill approach towards the start/finish line. The new ‘Farm Bends’ complex with it’s roller coaster combination of right-left-right bends increased the circuit length from 2.4136 to 2.43 miles.
Prior to the introduction of ‘Farm Bends’ the outright circuit lap record was held by Carl Fogarty, which he set on his way to winning the first leg of the ‘International King of the Roads’ (400cc-1000cc) race, during the September 1989 International Gold Cup meeting. Riding a 748cc Honda RC30, ‘Flying Foggy’ tore around the circuit in a time of 1m 45.1s, a speed of 82.67 mph.
Mount Hairpin was renamed to Drury’s Hairpin in 2001, in memory of Peter Drury, a Bank Manager who travelled from Harrogate to carry out his voluntary duties as Team Leader at Mount Hairpin for many years. Peter also had a major role in the recruitment of Officials and Track Marshals for the Auto 66 club.
In 2003, the climb from Mere Hairpin to the footbridge before the Quarry was named as ‘Sheene’s Rise’, in memory of the Cockney Superstar, who lost his life to cancer.
Auto 66 Club clerk of the course Peter Hillaby explained: “This is where many of his fans used to stand and cheer him on, so it is an appropriate place for him to be recalled.
Barry Sheene was always a big supporter of racing on the Oliver’s Mount circuit, he won the Gold Cup International four times in 1973, ’74, ’79 and ’84, each time on a 500 Suzuki.
He ended his Scarborough race career with 15 race wins, including the last one of his professional career in 1984. After retiring he delighted his loyal fans by making a further two guest appearances at Oliver’s Mount.
In 2004, the largest jump on the Bottom Straight was renamed ‘Jefferies Jump’ in honour of David Jefferies, who never failed to thrill the crowds with his spectacular high-speed wheelies along this part of the track.
‘DJ’ loved riding at Scarborough and was a record five times winner of the Gold Cup International Trophy, his first in 1992 on a 750 Yamaha, again in 1994 & ’97 riding a Ducati and back-to-back victories in 2000 & ’01 on a 1000 Yamaha.
In 1999 a new pedestrian foot-bridge was built over Quarry Hill, replacing the old bridge which had its support struts located very close to the race track. Trees have been removed from along the bottom straight, safety fencing replaced/relocated and continuous widening/resurfacing work around the circuit.
Along with the circuit improvement plan, the Auto 66 Club has had more than their fair share of problems to sort out. At the start of 2001, a landslip on the circuit gave organiser Peter Hillaby a pre-season headache. The slip caused by heavy rain, in the start-finish area had to be cleared away and new fences erected before the season's opening meeting on May 7th. In 2002 the Spring National meeting was cancelled after a fogbank descended on the circuit, causing a major financial blow to the Auto 66 Club.
Then in January 2005, Oliver’s Mount was hit by a huge storm, which ripped out trees by their roots taking down fencing and causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to the paddock café and toilet block buildings. Unfortunately a lot of the damage was not covered by insurance and if it wasn’t for volunteers coming forward and helping with the rebuild work the circuit would never have been ready for the 2005 Spring National meeting.
In a recent interview (March 2006) with Bike Sport News, Peter Hillaby, the Auto 66 Club Secretary, National Grade A Clerk of the Course and ACU Director, said the following regarding safety improvements at Scarborough :
“I hear the critics say that modern bikes are getting too fast for the course, but I bet most of those critics have not been for many years to see what we have done on safety improvements with the proviso of keeping the landscape right. For example, where there were 39 trees on the bottom end of the course, there are now just seven.”
“The speed/danger factor is relative to the nature of the surrounds. A rider can go haring through an S-bend at Cadwell Park at 100 mph, but wouldn’t reach 50 mph in a similar bend at Oliver’s Mount. The number of entries continues to rise and we are now having to turn entries away. These people just want to road race – they enjoy riding around to the best of their ability.”
Since the Auto 66 Club took control of the Oliver’s Mount venue in 1991, the club have spent in excess of £500,000 on the place.
“When we have had good meetings, the profits have been used to re-invest in the facility. To safeguard the future, we leased the farmland at the top and bottom, so as well as road racing, we have extra roads that make the hill climb and these have now been expanded to form the supermoto track and make more use of the paddock, café and showers we recently put in. At the top we have a full campsite with permanent toilets and a motocross course which will come into its own for the first time this year.”