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Will Big Money Ruin Dirt Quake?

Date and location change for popular event sparks concern that homegrown feel may be lost

I spotted some info today that has me a little concerned about the future of one of my favorite motorcycling events: Dirt Quake.

READ MORE: Racing at Dirt Quake Was More Fun Than I Could Have Imagined

The event’s date and location has changed, and that may be a sign that it has lost some of its homegrown soul.

If you’re one of the three people that reads The Motorcycle Obsession regularly you’ll know I’ve long been a fan of the annual “go fast, turn left” celebration that, hitherto, has taken place in Kings Lynn, England, since 2012. Ostensibly a flat-track racing series, Dirt Quake has traditionally differentiated itself by being open to pretty much any loon stupid enough to set tire on track. And it doesn’t matter what kind of tire, either. Choppers, scooters, supersports – all are to be seen kicking up dust (and mud – it is England, after all).

Last summer, of course, I was one of those loons. The guest of Harley-Davidson, I raced an oh-so-slightly modified Street Rod at the event, managing to come Not Last in both my heats.

Dirt Quake has always had a goofball feel to it, seeming like the sort of have-a-go silliness that might arise from an all-day summer drinking session:
“Mate, imagine how funny it would be to flat-track race on my 1974 Kawasaki Z1.”
“I haven’t got one of those. I’ve got a Chinese scooter I bought off eBay for £30.”
“Right. You bring that, I’ll bring me Kawasaki, and we’ll race.”

The event ended up appealing to a lot of people – including big names like Guy Martin and Charley Boorman – and over just a few years it’s grown considerably. When I attended last summer, the event felt substantially larger than it had when I’d attended just two years before. Whereas in 2015 I had rocked up on my V-Strom and been able to sneak my way into the event for free (by waving at El Solitario’s David Borras from a distance and pretending I knew him), in 2017, the parking area I had used before was now occupied by vendors and big-name manufacturers. Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Triumph were all there, showing off bikes and racing in the events.

Last year, too, was the first time Dirt Quake was televised, the event and its rights having been purchased by television production company North One TV. A condensed version of the event’s two days aired on ITV a week or so after the fact. For those of you playing along beyond the purview of Her Majesty Elizabeth I, ITV is a national television station in the United Kingdom.

All this big-money interest had some long-time fans grumbling – especially because the cost of tickets had jumped from £15 the year before to £23. I can’t think of anything I do that would be worth paying £23 to watch. I remember looking into the stands during one of my heats, thinking: “Y’all have got to be disappointed in me.”

HOW IT HAPPENED: That Time Harley-Davidson Taught Me How to Race Flat Track

The disappointment may be set to increase this year because Dirt Quake is leaving its middle-of-nowhere location in Kings Lynn and heading 100 miles south to set up shop on the outskirts of London at Arena Essex Raceway. That’s going to be a huge disappointment to the Norfolk families that had seen Dirt Quake as a good day out, but it will make things easier on the Camden hipsters whose custom CB750s weren’t really suited to traveling beyond the confines of the M25.

I’ve got to admit I’m sad about it. The event – taking place 18 August this year, rather than on the third weekend of July, as before – will definitely feel different away from the relative quiet of Norfolk.

One of the joys of going to Kings Lynn has always been traveling the long, open farm roads that criss-cross the area, taking in the sunset or just enjoying a summer day. As I mentioned in my review of the 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, one of the highlights of last summer was borrowing a 2017 (Dyna) Street Bob from Harley and getting lost on country roads, eventually finding my way to the quintessential British seaside town of Hunstanton. I can’t imagine there being any such happy moments this year. There will be too much traffic. No one has ever had a life-fulfilling experience at the Dartford Crossing.

But, hey, change is not always bad. A move to London may not result in a loss of Dirt Quake’s spirit. Heck, that spirit might even be bolstered as a result of the event being closer to the hipper elements of British motorcycling culture. I’m sure the sponsors would hope for such a thing. We’ll just have to wait and see.

This race bib now hangs proudly in my office.