Thanks in part to their close working relationship during the 2015 season, officials with MotoAmerica and the British Superbike Championship are considering reviving the historic Trans-Atlantic Match Races in the future.
The Trans-Atlantic Match Races (the name with which the long-running event was most widely remembered) essentially pitted teams of riders from the United Kingdom against team of riders from the United States of America for bragging rights to see which country had the best motorcycle road racers.
Riders who were members of the U.S. or U.K. teams in the events included Jimmy Adamo, Skip Aksland, Dave Aldana, John Ashmead, Steve Baker, Mike Baldwin, Art Baumann, John Bettencourt, Doug Brauneck, Cliff Carr, Don Castro, Dan Chivington, Randy Cleek, Wes Cooley, John Cooper, Graeme Crosby, Yvon Duhamel, Joey Dunlop, Dave Emde, Don Emde, Jim Evans, Pat Evans, Gary Fisher, Wayne Gardner, Gary Goodfellow, Mick Grant, Ron Grant, Bruce Hammer, Jeff Haney, Ron Haslam, Pat Hennen, Mark Homchick, Jamie James, Ottis Lance, Eddie Lawson, Mert Lawwill, John Long, Marty Lunde, Randy Mamola, Dick Mann, Phil McDonald, Steve McLaughlin, Fred Merkel, Jody Nicholas, Gary Nixon, Steve Parrish, Ron Pierce, Roberto Pietri, Doug Polen, Dale Quarterley, Wayne Rainey, Cal Rayborn II, Phil Read, Randy Renfrow, John Reynolds, Nicky Richichi, Kenny Roberts, Gene Romero, Scott Russell, Rich Schlachter, Kevin Schwantz, Gary Scott, Richard Scott, Doug Sehl, Dale Singleton, Barry Sheene, Bubba Shobert, Paul Smart, Freddie Spencer, Kevin Stafford, Thomas Stevens, Alan Ward and Jamie Whitham.
Although riders from Canada (Yvon Duhamel and Gary Goodfellow), Australia (Wayne Gardner), New Zealand (Graeme Crosby), Venezuela (Roberto Pietri) and other countries participated at times as members of the British or American teams, it was essentially a UK versus USA exhibition event.
The Trans-Atlantic Match Races started in 1971 and ran annually through 1988 (There was a revival event in 1991 and the Trans-Atlantic Match Race label was used for a one-make Triumph series in the 1990s.), and for most of those years the event took place at multiple racetracks in England over the course of the long Easter holiday weekend.
“They would have races Friday, Saturday and then skip Sunday and then race again on Monday at three different tracks,” said John Long, who raced in the event five times starting in 1974.
Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and Oulton Park were the traditional venues of the Trans-Atlantic Match Races. In later years, the event was held exclusively at Donington Park with six to eight races happening over the course of a weekend, and in 1987 the event included nine races split between Brands Hatch and Donington Park.
And the event was very popular, drawing huge crowds and television coverage, which helped attract the sponsorship money necessary to fly riders and their mechanics and bikes over from America.
“We would get there and we would be treated like royalty,” said Long. “They always put us up in a beautiful hotel in London and they would give all this SWAG [gifts] and they would organize a press conference in London along the River Thames. We had never experienced anything like that before.”
There was also purse money to win and sometimes a special prize, as much as 100,000 British pounds if one rider won every single race at the event.
Now, officials are considering reviving the event–and those officials include former Match Race participant, three-time 500cc GP World Champion and current MotoAmerica President Wayne Rainey.
“This has been an idea of mine since we started trying to put the [MotoAmerica] Championship together. One of the ideas we had was to revive the match races,” Rainey told Roadracingworld.com. “Now with as strong as the BSB races are and seeing where our series is I think it would be an interesting race. I want to get it going again because in the past it was a fun event and it was important, certainly in my career. If it can do the same for our riders that it did for me and Kevin Schwantz, help get some guys over their onto a world stage, I’m all about reviving the thing.”
Stuart Higgs, the British Superbike Championship Director who also serves as Race Director for MotoAmerica, is equally enthusiastic about reviving the Match Races.
“The thing I really want to do next year–and Wayne’s really excited about the prospects of it–is to try to do something like a match race,” Higgs told Roadracingworld.com. “I think it could be as simple…let’s say you take someone like John Hopkins and James Rispoli, who are full-time in BSB, and all we would need would be to bring five riders over from the USA to make a seven-man team and drop them into a BSB race. I know there are some technical differences, but frankly I don’t think the technical differences are of that magnitude that it will make a huge amount of difference.
“The whole spirit of the match races is Freddie [Spencer] would turn up on a 500 Honda. There would be someone on a TZ750 Yamaha. Mike Baldwin would be on a RS1000 Honda. None of it mattered. American Superbikes might have a different chassis [than a British Superbike] but they’ve got more electronics.
“The moment we get hung up on this technical bulls— everyone just goes ‘not interested.’ But the people in the grandstands don’t care. They just want to see the guys they read about in the magazines or see on TV. They’ve seen the names, but they want to see all the current American riders go toe-to-toe with the BSB riders.”
And unlike in the past, Higgs wants the Trans-Atlantic Match Races to also come to America. “Some place like Barber [Motorsports Park] would be fantastic,” said Higgs.
Asked about the prospect of working with the British Superbike Championship on organizing a Trans-Atlantic Match Race, MotoAmerica COO Chuck Aksland told Roadracingworld.com, “Obviously, with Stuart as our Race Director and [former BSB racer and MotoAmerica Technical Director] Scott Smart’s involvement it’s something that comes up probably every time we see them. Obviously with Wayne [Rainey] and Kevin [Schwantz] being involved in the match races in the past, and I’ve had some involvement with them, too — Skip [Aksland], my uncle, was part of the teams back when Kenny [Leroy Roberts] and [Dave] Aldana and all those guys were participating in it — it’s something that we talk about.
“We’d like to move it along and eventually have an event, but there’s a lot of factors in there that don’t make it so easy. We have different rules with equipment. We have different tire suppliers. Those are obstacles that we’ve talked about and that we could probably get around, but then we have timing issues. There’s a lot to talk about it, but we do talk about it quite a lot.”
According to Aksland, the biggest challenge to overcome is scheduling. The Trans-Atlantic Match Races were traditionally held over the Easter holiday weekend, but that weekend is now the traditional start of the British Superbike Championship season. And historically, America’s premier road racing series has had a big gap from the opening round at Daytona International Speedway in early March and its second round. That gap has been as long as two or three months in the past, but MotoAmerica now starts its season in April and has no sizeable gaps in its current schedule until later in the season, when Championships are on the line in both series.
Like the officials, four-time British Superbike Champion Shane Byrne and four-time AMA/MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Josh Hayes would also like to see the match races happen, but unlike Aksland and Higgs, Byrne and Hayes feel having a level playing field is a must.
“I think it would be mega, absolutely fantastic,” Byrne told Roadracingworld.com. “If we had a uniform [Superbike] Championship where you guys and us had the same spec Superbikes how cool would it be for us to come to Laguna Seca and you guys to come to whichever track over here? I think it would be fantastic.”
But what if it were to happen with the current, different technical Superbike specifications?
“For me that leads to, ‘Ah yeah, the UK had that,’ or ‘The Americans had that,’” said Byrne. “If it’s a good, clean, fair fight and we all have the same stuff then it would be a no-brainer. How cool would it be to bring some continuity to the USA and Britain?”
“It sounds like fun, of course,” said Hayes. “Finding a way to do it so that everyone’s happy and it’s fair is more difficult and I would imagine costly, but the idea of it I sure like, as I think everyone would. We always want a measuring stick and it’s always fun to put the pride and all that good stuff on the line. Sure, I would love to see it happen and I have hopes that one day it will.”
So what is the likelihood of a Trans-Atlantic Match Race happening in 2016?
“This season I think would be difficult,” said Aksland. “Again, I think it’s more of a scheduling issue than anything, but it’s something we talk about. As with many things the enthusiasm is high at a certain part of the year, then we start working on different things. Stuart’s working on putting together his domestic series, and we’re working on putting together ours. Then the priority dwindles away a little bit. Then you catch your breath and you revisit it.
“I think it’s going to be difficult, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the question. I think it would be difficult to pull it off this year, but there’s definitely been progress made from where we were last year to this year. Hopefully, that will build momentum that we can carry through at some point.”