The Easter holiday weekend means different things to different people. If you’re a follower of the most factions of the Christian religion, then it’s a time of celebration and prayer. If you’re addicted to chocolate, and you have kids in the house, then you probably won’t be too far from a fix (or at least some peeps) for a week or more. To film buffs it’s a good time to catch The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ on television.
There was a time, though, when the Easter weekend historically meant racing. For more than a decade the grudge match of the year between British and American riders happened each Easter. In fact, Easter weekend has always been an important racing weekend in England—the Brit Superbike series, for instance, opens this weekend.
Born in the early 1970s as a contest between BSA and Triumph riders, by the early-1970s the “Match Races” were quickly changed to the format they’d keep until the end: American riders versus their British counterparts on UK tracks, with group scoring on several different tracks over three days. For years the format was Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Doningtom Park was involved in later years.
In the 1970s the Match Races were hugely popular events in England—televised live on the BBC—with scads of spectators shelling out quid to see American riders take on the British. The Match Races literally made heroes out of many Yank riders at the time and spawned a hundred bench racing stories. Who can forget Cal Rayborn, in his first UK outing, winning races with track notes written on cocktail napkins in 1972? Or American teenager Freddie Spencer besting both Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene in 1980? Or Schwantz versus Rainey in 1987? The fairing-smashing pair seemed oblivious to the fact they were on the same team.
The 1970s saw some terrific Match Race battles all over the British Isles, but by the late 1980s the format was dying.
An attempt to jump-start the series in 1991 saw Scott Russell, Miguel DuHamel, Freddie Spencer and others take on the best of the Brits, but the ’70s momentum was dead, and the Easter Match Races are now just an obscure memory.