Words by Rusty Walder
Racing on a beach is nothing new. While Californians are lucky to have access to dry lake beds, elsewhere in the world such venues are non-existent or scarce. But there are plenty of flat beaches, with hard packed sand once the tide goes out. The east coast had Daytona a century ago, while over in the UK, a small village in south Wales sat at the end of a seven mile, perfectly flat beach known as Pendine Sands. Between 1924 and 1927, the World Land Speed Record was traded here five times between Sir Malcolm Campbell and Parry Thomas, until Thomas was killed racing on the Sands in 1927, and racing ceased. Of course Campbell went on the set faster world records first at Daytona in 1935, then at Bonneville.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ racecar was buried in the sand at Pendine, and its use as a racing venue slipped into history, though the land behind the beach was and still is, a British Army artillery range, and is home to Europe’s longest rocket track. All of which means there are no noise restrictions at Pendine, unlike many other high speed venues, such as disused airfields.
Various vintage car clubs had tried and failed to get permission to run on the beach over the years, so it was with some surprise that some inspired behind the scenes work by the UK’s Vintage Hot Rod Association a couple of years ago resulted in racing returning to Pendine Sands, with the first ever Speed Trials in 2013. Crikey! This summer will see the third such event, and the Pendine Land Speed Racing Club, which is a motorcycle club, will be staging their Speed Week in May, though it’s unclear at this time whether cars will run alongside the bikes.
The first Speed Trials was held on a single day, with most participants managing three runs before the tide came in, ending proceedings. Last year saw a two day event, and a boom in popularity. However, the Speed Trials are restricted to somewhat traditional rods, and to members of the VHRA only, and with careful marshalling allowing only period cars near the startline and in the pits, it’s a vintage hot rod photographer’s paradise. You know an event is a success when people start building cars specifically to enter!