One of the basic items of confusion in motorcycle competition are the terms road racing and roadracing. Roadracing defines pavement competition where leathers are worn and knees – and sometimes elbows – are dragged on the ground. In road racing, the activity is similar, but the action takes part on formerly open public roads. The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is the most famous active road race.
The fact that the two similar disciplines have virtually the same name is confusing, and for organizers, it’s problematic. Closed course event promoters do not want anyone to think that their races accept or promote street racing – illegal competition around your local neighbourhood.
However, the origins of pavement racing are all open street based, with the venue closed just before the approved racers take to the former road, now track.
Prior to the advent of closed course circuits in Canada during the 1950s and 1960s, road racing was very similar to flat track and scrambles activity, with similar bikes used on tracks that frequently had only partial pavement.
Some of the biggest road races held between the world wars, in the 1930s, were around a town or village. The Canadian 200 Mile Championship event in Belleville (ON), in September 1936, is considered an important milestone, with 36 riders taking part.
The race was organized by the Quite Motorcycle Club, with the support of City Hall and local council. Sanction came from the American-based A.M.A. and the United Kingdom’s Auto-Cycle Union, both major players of the time.
Back when travelling to the country to compete was at least as challenging as the actual races themselves, victor George Pepper was certainly the local hero aboard his Norton.
Pepper was riding high with a run of recent successes in Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia prior heading into the Belleville event. While there isn’t much information available regarding the details of Pepper’s career, his efforts rightly placed him in the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame, during its 2013 induction ceremony.
Sadly, Pepper didn’t survive World War II. He was killed in a bomber test flight in the U.K. in late 1942. Pepper was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross shortly before his death.
By the late 1960s, there was an inclination among auto race organizers to provide temporary circuits within city limits, to “bring the racing to the people.”
As was typical in this period, a two-wheeled competition was often included to broaden the appeal of the event, even if the courses did not really suit two-wheeled activity.
Growing up in Toronto, it was common to read and hear about a selection of city initiatives to place a portable track in the little-used CNE grounds. These ambitious plans were usually linked to one of the major breweries, with Molson and Labatt doing battle to control car and bike road racing – and possibly roadracing – activity.
While various promoters – often high-profile and wealthy Torontonians – bickered about a possible lakeshore event, Quebec stepped up. Winning the dispute over the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix and related beer support meant that a hastily proposed, approved, and built road course on Ille Notre Dame, just south by Subway from downtown Montreal, earned the world’s attention.
Montreal replaced Mosport as the home of F1 in Canada, in 1978. And give or take a couple of politically motivated cancellations, the World tour has run on their sorta-street track ever since. The actual facility was built for the Expo 1967 World’s Fair and isn’t really a part of any useful system of Montreal transportation arteries.
Canadian Superbike has run with F1 at Ille Notre Dame a few times, starting in September of 1981. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. In an era of major racing activity in Quebec, yielding the Trois-Rivieres street event that still runs to this day, bike racers got their chance, too.
Way north of Quebec City is the beautiful Lac St-Jean region, a separatist bastion with a short summer filled with recreation. The small city of Alma decided to promote tourism with a motorcycle street race. And late in the summers of 1974 and 1975, it hosted the well-named ‘Vroom-Vroom 500’.
I’m not sure what the number 500 had to do with things, since the tight downtown layout on the edge of the river wasn’t a place for long distance events. The Alma weekend was really an opportunity for a big party, and the fact that the promoter was the owner of the biggest local bar was a clue to the nature of the celebration.
Many of the top racers of the day competed at Alma, although the remote location and intimidating nature of the track discouraged casual competitors. Perhaps the dominant aspect of the track was the use of the town’s sole multi-level parking garage as both pit/paddock and central grandstand. This feature would persist when racing returned 15 years later.