A bright and sunny Boxing day morning greeted riders and spectators alike for the 92nd running of the epic Wild and Woolly scramble. Run by the Northampton Motorcyclists Club, and kindly sponsored once again by EBC Brakes, the ‘World’s Oldest Motorcycle Scramble still running’ did its best to live up to last year's close finish. A record crowd of over 6000 spectators turned up to witness great racing and loads of action in the mud holes. It is also a social occasion to catch up with old friends and raise lots of money for local charities. Held as usual at Arm Farm, Blisworth the traditional 1 hour plus a lap event was running in the reverse direction from last year.
Whilst the temperature was initially only 2 degrees it soon warmed up as the sun rose and the heavy overnight rain left the circuit in prime condition for a mud race. 48 riders ranging from age 15 to 56 had signed up to take on the 80 water crossings that would make up the 20 laps. As the clock approached 11am they lined up in the crisp sunshine having braved the 2 laps of practice. Silence fell as the hour edged closer for the traditional dead-engine start. On exactly 11 o’clock as has happened on the previous 91 occasions, the starter’s flag dropped and the engines roared into life for a race that would turn out to be a classic.
The field made up of local clubmen from MX and Enduro and topped off by some fast Experts, had some familiar faces as always. Veteran 10 time winner Ryan Griffiths (450 Honda), and 4 time winner Jack Lee (300 John Lee Beta) were hoping to add to their tally. Ady Smith (300 KTM Offroad Experience KTM), was hoping to go one better than last year’s second place, where he narrowly lost out to Nev Bradshaw, after pushing the South African for the full race distance. With Nev on family duty this year, Ady certainly looked to be the pre-race favourite.
Also riding the Woolly for the first time were 15 year old James Thompson, and 16 year old Callum Sedgewick, both mounted on 125 Yamaha's for their first attempt at the race. At just 17 Lewis Huckerby was also making his first attempt at the event.
Coming around the track towards the spectators for the first time it was Ady Smith who hit the water first water. Close behind Jack Lee had slotted into second, Ryan Griffiths third and another podium contender and current South Midland Expert Champion Michael Mclurg (450 Honda) was 4th. Smith chose to hit the first water crossing just right of centre, while Lee went to the left and nicked the lead on the run down to the next corner as the rest of the field dropped into the mire for the first time. The typically huge local crowd cheered over the fences, as the two leaders splashed their way through the first lap, clearing the final crossing and heading out into the field. Here the twists and turns of the canal bank and the natural ridge and furrow whoops would give the riders little rest for the hour’s race duration.
As Lee led, Smith went after him through the whoops, and as they came to the chicane before the number cleaning station, Smith jumped back to the front, only for Lee to steal it immediately back. This first time around Ryan held third place from fast charging Ste Marlow and Michael McClurg. Towards the end of lap two Ady’s silencer parted company with his bike, robbing him of valuable power but making it easy for the spectators to identify the leading pair. This was to set the tone for the whole race, where the two Enduro aces would trade places at the front, while Griffiths and Mclurg would be squabbling over the battle for third. Behind them the battle for top junior rider home was being fought for by the youngster Sedgewick, and the very much a veteran Alan Vissian on his 300 Beta. Charley Lee (300 John Lee Beta), Jonathon Lee (300 Sherco) and Stuart Scott (LMS Honda 450) were next in close attendance.
With none of the water holes causing too much trouble on the opening laps, the leaders had a clear run through with Smith still holding the lead. Lee used his long legs to his advantage, making light work of the water crossings, while Smith was faster over the ground between the mud holes.
Soon the front runners started to lap into the tail of the field making every line choice more critical. The intensity of the race stayed high, with both riders knowing even a single fall could decide the race at this early stage. On lap four Jack took over the lead and held it for two laps. There was never more than about twenty yards between the two leaders, Ady briefly getting back in front on lap seven before Jack once again took over for the next two laps. At the 30 minute mark Smith made his speed though the whoops count, to regain the lead. As they came to the first water crossing, Lee seeing his regular left hand side line blocked, decided to take the centre. As he exited the water carrying more speed, he clipped the rear wheel of race leader Smith and went down. For the first time in the race, there was a discernible gap at the front and while Lee was on the ground for only a few seconds, it meant that visual contact with Smith was lost. It didn’t last long, as a hold up for Smith in crossing 3, and a few back marker issues, saw Lee get back to within a few seconds quite quickly.
Behind them Ryan Griffiths on the first of the 450 4 strokes in what seems to have become a 2-stroke dominated race of late, and Michael McClurg fought closely for third. On lap five Michael had managed to squeeze past Ryan which is never an easy thing to do. On lap nine Ryan got back into his preferred third position and held it for a further three laps. McClurg was not giving up however and repassed Griffiths on lap twelve. It took Ryan another six laps to find a way past the determined Michael, but when he did he managed to hold it to the finish. Michael had to pit on three separate occasions for new goggles, such was his determination to get past.
Meanwhile at the front Ady Smith lead most of the second half of the race, closely shadowed by Jack Lee. Was he biding his time and stalking his prey, or giving it all he had to keep in contact with the leader? Jack certainly looked calm and in control however different he may have been feeling. By this time the guys running small tanks were into their fuel stops, Sedgewick being the first of the top ten to stop, the 125 using too much fuel to risk going the distance. Some the leaders and those with Enduro experience were running larger tanks and so had enough fuel to reach the finish. The closeness at the front meant both leaders were getting filled in with mud a lot, but it was Lee who had to discard his goggles first. Having run out of roll offs, it was this that handed the advantage to Smith, who opened up a six second lead before having to also ditch his goggles with three to go.
Lee closed the gap, as he seemed able to do when ever needed, and as the clock ran down, both riders knew it was theirs for the taking. They upped the pace and as the last lap flag came out, Smith seemed to have briefly broken clear, again getting a six second lead over the line for the final circuit. BUT it wasn’t over, Jack attacked the back whoop section in full on supercross style and closed right onto Ady’s back wheel. As they came down to the final crossing Lee jumped into the water, passing Smith and filling him in with the now very muddy slime. Unable to see, and getting cross rutted, Smith went down. Lee emerged with the lead, cruising the final quarter of a lap to take the win! While Smith came home a dejected second fifteen seconds adrift.
Griffiths may not have added to his win tally, but a solid third place on the lead lap was a great reward for his efforts, holding off Mclurg by twelve seconds at the flag. Alan Vissian took a creditable fifth running under the radar for most of the race, finishing on 18 laps. Callum Sedgewick took a fine 6th on his 125 Yamaha also completing 18 laps. Rounding out the top 10 all completing 17 laps, were Jonathon Lee (7th), Charley Lee (8th), James Plant(9th) and John Abbott (10th
With only three non-finishers, it wasn’t the most brutal of recent Woolly's. But the bumper crowds were again treated to a fantastic hour long battle, which went right down to the final water splash. After getting over his initial disappointment post-race, Smith paid credit to winner Lee saying 'he pushed me hard the whole race, and made a great move in the last crossing, neither of us wanted second'. Hopefully the pair will again be back to do battle in the 2018 race. Jack Lee who’d originally planned not to ride this year explained his change of heart, ‘I got told to man up, get out my bike and show them what I can do. I have just been out there getting the hours in and it helped so much.’ He went on, ‘I like the Wild & Woolly, it is a big event for me. It has always been about survival but is a lot easier now and its harder to match my speed with the top experts like McClurg, Smith etc. But I just need to get on with it and go for it. The race started well, I liked being at the front but felt I dropped my speed, so when Smith was going well I let him stay there but I showed a wheel to let him know I was still close behind. The last lap I said to myself Go For It. I caught him up after the first water hole and got passed him by jumping the last water hole. It was a mega end to a good race and I am over the moon. Well done to everyone.’ Results:
1 Jack Lee, 2 Ady Smith, 3 Ryan Griffiths, 4 Michael McClurg - 20 laps
5 Alan Vissian, 6 Callum Sedgewick – 18 laps
7 Jonathan Lee, 8 Charley Lee, 9 James Plant, 10 John Abbott – 17 laps
11 Sean Flannigan, 12 Fred Saunders, 13 Tom Kruger, 14 Trevor Jeeves, 15 Stephen Marlow, 16 Lewis Huckerby - 16 laps
17 Dean Devereux, 18 Graham Howe, 19 Joe Gubbins, 20 Tom King, 21 Jack Evans, 22 Garry West - 15 laps
23 Stuart Scott, 24 James Thompson, 25 Christian Livesey, 26 Phil White, 27 Giles Hamilton, 28 Roger Titman, 29 Luke McQuarrie - 14 laps
30 Matt Huck - 13 laps
31 Daniel Abbott, 32 Robert Drage, 33 Ryan Blackwell, 34 James Higgins, 35 Nathan Skinner, 36 Jamie Berry - 12 laps
37 Richard Lowe, 38 Callum McClurg, 39 Jake Willis - 11 laps
40 Ben Hall - 9 laps
41 Ashley Batten, 42 Matt Mason - 8 laps
43 Ralph Cooper Hobbs - 7 laps
44 Jack Turner - 5 laps Report:
Fraser Law & Phil Gee Photos: www.motoxphotos.co.uk