Steeped in the tradition and optimism of the '50s, 1400 British hot rodders come together not to celebrate something old, but to be part of a whole different way of life.
It’s the worst day of an appalling summer. Rain slingshots off the surface of the A31 as the brightness control for the already dismally dark sky clicks down another notch. ‘Hayriders this way’ instructs the sign, accompanied by a very purposeful looking arrow. We swing right.
Brick Kiln Farm Raceway is mud as far as the eye can see. Lagoons of filthy water fill the crater-deep pot-holes that litter the unmade approach road. Surely there can be no racing here today…
Grassy banks line the oval track. What used to be shale is now sticky, oooozing clag. This, ironically, is the best news we have had all day. Lining the banks are the Hayriders, all tattoos and turn-ups, engineers’ boots and greased-back hair. The rumble of flathead motors seems to reverberate off every falling raindrop. And out on the track Chris Hosegood throws his 1921 Ford Model T into turn two on full opposite lock. Making the most of the wondrously slippery surface, Chris fires mud from the rear tyres, scattering the Hayriders on the opposite bank; in the near distance a steam train whistles by. It is at the same time a surreal and a heart-warming scene.
Long into the soaking afternoon the action continues. Countless Ford Model As, Bs and Ts tackle the Brick Kiln oval, each and every one taking full advantage of the naturally enhanced slide-a-thon. Equally impressive are the Hayriding spectators, none of whom have resorted to the dubious delights of a modern waterproof, preferring instead to battle it out in 1950s garb and maintain the aesthetic.
‘We’ve tried to make the Hayride look right from every angle,’ says Terry Howarth, president of the Executioners Car Club and organiser of The Hot Rod Hayride. And he is right. Everywhere you look at the Bisley Pavilion there is a photograph waiting to happen.
Bisley is homebase for the three-day Hayride. Built as an officers’ mess by Bovis Construction in 1924, the Pavilion went on to host shows by Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Slade and Manfred Mann in the 1970s. The crack of gunfire from the nearby National Shooting Centre simply adds to the mix.
The only cars permitted on to the main site are period rods and kustoms, while the no day-tickets rule keeps spectators to a minimum: everybody at the Hot Rod Hayride takes part; there are no armchair fans here.
Wandering around the Bisley acres, taking in the endless cavalcade of period-perfect cars, the wall of death, the hot rod art collection, the tattooists and traders selling every conceivable kind of 1950s accoutrement, it would be easy to feel excluded, even slightly wary of the Hayride tribe. But that would be missing the point, by quite some margin. ‘I can understand how the look might make people on the outside apprehensive. And obviously the name of the club might work against us too,’ nods Terry. ‘The funny thing is, I remember going to a car show earlier this year and a lady of 90 came over to talk to us. She was very interested in the tattoos, the cars and the style. We told her we are a car club from north London and that we simply follow the 1950s way of life. And she said we all looked “very smart”. That lady took the whole thing at face value.’
Of course the measure of any good event is whether or not you go away from the weekend with an urge to be part of the next one. Post-Hayride 2008, broadband connections the length and breadth of the nation will surely be glowing hot with converts looking for that ’32 Ford five-window or ’50s Mercury. Tattoos optional.
Hayriders have their say...
Chris Hosegood: ’21 Ford Model T
‘It’s a huge event. There’s music, there is the show at Bisley, but for me it’s all about the racing at Brick Kiln. It’s about getting my Model T out on the track. It was really slippery, but ironically I found that much easier than last year when it was dry. You don’t need to carry as much speed into the corners to get it to go round sideways. Thank goodness for the rain.’
Jez Hoye: ’32 Ford five-window
‘What makes the Hayride great is it’s about the whole culture, it’s not just a car show. The art show, the wall of death, the bands, they all make for a unique weekend. I love the fact that there are more original cars here than you will see at most other hot rod shows. And people don’t bring them along to win trophies, they are built and driven for fun.’
Frank van Geffen: ’29 Ford Model A
‘We came all the way from Holland for the Hayride. The shows over there are all much smaller and none is quite like this one. I imported my car from California and it’s great to see it here among all these other incredible hot rods.’
For more information go to www.hotrodhayride.com. To see more of the Hayriders go to http://tinyurl.com/5oo8v2.
Thanks to the Executioners Car Club, Terry Howarth and Simon Emery.