The Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy races at the Goodwood Revival are extremely special events. Where else can you see the combination of pre-1954 racing motorcycles, piloted by teams comprised of pairings of professional and amateur riders, as well as the majority of attendees in period costumes? If you enjoy motorcycles of this vintage, it’s hard not to appreciate what the organisers have assembled for this event.
It’s truly an event out of time—as, of course, the actual pairs of racers who pilot these bikes wear completely modern racing gear and helmets. Each pair of racers is made up of one professional rider, including James Hillier, Josh Brooks, Michael Rutter, and John McGuinness in 2022—and the bike’s owners, who do quite a bit of amateur racing outside of this event.
The rules are fairly simple. There are two races, and each one is 25 minutes long—so however many laps are completed in 25 minutes is how it ends up. The countdown clock starts rolling as soon as the race starts, and between minutes 8 and 16, teams must roll through the pit and switch to their second riders. For the first race, the pros were first out on the bikes, with the bike owners taking second position to finish out the race.
To add to the overall spectacle, the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy has a LeMans-style start. That means the first racer of each team must run across the track to where a member of their crew is holding their machine, started up and ready to go. They must then quickly throw a leg over, get themselves situated on the bike, and take off—all within seconds if they want to optimise their position in the pack.
It’s not for the faint of heart, because although these were some well-handling machines in their day, they are of course not modern motorcycles. Controls may be different—such as right-hand gear shifts—and the entire feel isn’t anything like modern bikes. If it’s what you’re used to because you ride it all the time, that’s one thing—but for the pros, who may not ride fine vintage machines like this very often, it may of course take some time to acclimate.
Fascinatingly, it’s true racing you’ll see here—and not a parade in sight. Seeing Tritons, Manx Nortons, Vincents, Matchlesses, and classic Royal Enfields and Triumphs in person isn’t uncommon at vintage motorcycle shows. However, it’s quite another thing to see (and hear, and probably also smell) these great machines of yesteryear actually racing in anger.