Race engines humming, ready and staged in a grid formation. I sat crouched, on the passenger’s, (swinger) platform, hands gripping support bars with head tucked in tight, waiting for the green flag.
My breath huffed out a rhythm I fought to keep controlled as John, the rider of the Period 4 Class, Honda DeWith 960 sidecar outfit I was swinging on, started revving the engine to a thunderous tune. Simultaneously, the spinning of umpteen wheels, filled my helmet with a rubbery stench as we became mobile.
We were at Eastern Creek’s, Sydney Motor Sport Park.
Racing down the straight amongst a pack of other outfits, at a pace too quick to register, each passenger swung to the left, bracing for the first sweeping corner. I pulled myself forward and over the front left of the swinger’s platform as we curved into the left-hander.
It’s a feeling like no other, something almost inexplicable, to be centimetres from the bitumen, travelling at speeds over 100 mph. I felt both incredibly alive and yet so close to death.
We levelled out of the first corner and barrelled down a small straight, my head pressed as low as I could tuck it to avoid gravitational forces pushing against me. This only gave mere seconds of relief before hauling myself over the front left again, with a change down in gear, then another to spin back on ourselves in a tight left-hand hairpin – one of two hairpins in the track.
Hanging over the front I had been trying to recall how to breathe, process which corner came next and what position to be in. Then, I was up and over the back of John, throwing my weight to the right, as we took on a right-hand turn.
And so it went, lap after lap.
I raced… thinking only of the immediate.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, my arms about to give out, we passed the chequered flag and then slowed into the final bend. Engulfed in a static buzz of exhilaration, I waved at the marshals.
Sidecar racing is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I first heard about it from my mechanic Craig, who’s been hooked for over 20 years. I couldn’t quite believe my ears.
“Soooo… you’re saying you race around a track and hang out the side of a motorcycle that has a tiny platform attached to it?”
However, my incredulity was short-lived. Yes, I was shocked something this wild had been dreamed up and was an actual sport, but my intrigue was stronger. Craig suggested I attend the Introduction Day, put on each year in Broadford, by the Sidecar Racing Club of Victoria. I went in December of 2022, jumping on the back of several outfits.
A road racing sidecar is defined as a three-wheeled motorcycle with an engine either behind, (for formula 1 and 2,) or underneath, (periods 3, 4, and 5,) the rider in front and a small rear platform, which the swinger moves around on, helping to distribute the weight through the corners.
After spending the day at the Broadford track, I too was hooked. I was enthralled by this niche sport and excited at the prospect of pursuing it, which is how I ended up swinging for John at Eastern Creek.
Eastern Creek was an intense three days of physical and mental exertion, during the exceedingly hot days of the February 2023 heatwave… I can’t say I’ve sweated more in my life. In the pits, repeatedly pulling on and off leathers, gloves, boots and a helmet in above 37-degree heat, was by far the most significant challenge of the weekend.
The pits were a continual buzz of excited activity, into which I was warmly welcomed. It wasn’t what I had expected, though I’m not entirely sure what pre-perceived image I’d had in mind. Everyone was eager to introduce themselves, pass on advice and have a yarn about their past racing experiences, never leaving out the scary details, which I appreciated.
I’ve never done anything this openly dangerous before and was aware my perception of the sport could quite easily become romanticised. The reality is this sport is hazardous which is exceedingly valuable to grasp. Something everyone in the pits made sure I understood… not in a way to scare me off, but rather to educate me.
Educate me so that every time I leave the pits, I’m embracing something undoubtedly perilous which can result in a serious or fatal injury.
Remembering that… is what I strove to do amid the euphoric rush I felt throughout the weekend.
Steve, a swinger of several years, said something about his time racing at the Isle of Man TT, which stuck with me. Every time he left to race there was an unspoken understanding he might not come back, so the competitors would all shake the hands of their pit crew.
Yet, this sombre reality didn’t alter the light-hearted and jovial atmosphere in the pits. The sidecar community is a playful and tight-knit bunch and I was pleasantly awed by the banter between them.
There’s a fantastic ritual they partake in:
If the passenger comes off without a handle in their hand, they have to buy a slab and if they come off with a handle, it’s the rider’s fault.
If the rider comes off, they have to buy two slabs.
Something yet to be carried out by a couple of passengers from the weekend, who grumpily assured me it was not their fault they’d come off. It was around this point in the weekend I discovered the comedic rivalry between the passenger and rider.
The most practical advice I got all weekend was the simplest. Other passengers, whom I came to know as a crazy bunch, all told me the same rules:
- Don’t let go
- Remember to breathe
- Don’t forget to enjoy it
Sounds like three easy things to accomplish, but whilst transferring your body weight in a graceful waltz around a sidecar platform moving at insane speeds, they can easily be forgotten.
Throughout the weekend of my first race meeting, John and I completed six races, including two feature races, one with a poor handicap start which turned into a chaotic delight. Chaotic because in a handicapped race, the fastest starts last and the slowest first. Each outfit sets off at a calculated number of seconds after the other.
We walked away with a first for our Period 4 class and a neat lap time of 1.59.92.
I arrived back in Melbourne after the monumental weekend still awash with energetic intoxication I knew I wouldn’t be able to shake and already preparing for my next race.
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