Thrill Magazine

Harewood Gravity Games 2020

With the earlier lull in isolation rules, this year’s Haredown Gravity Games were able to go ahead, albeit with no spectators. We hear from organiser James Pickard and some of those taking part in the various disciplines:

James Pickard

“I entered the life of events at the age of 19 (now 36), primarily servicing the corporate sector in the world of exhibitions. As everyone knows, the day job can soon become mundane so I searched for thrills elsewhere.

I joined Harrogate Round Table in 2010 where I successfully launched Harrogate Soap Box Derby held within the historic Valley Gardens. The event became a huge success and it was clear we had quickly outgrown the site available.

I found a passion for Gravity Games through my years as an organiser and decided to enter Harewood Soap Box Derby in 2016 where our Soap Box won the Best Engineered Soap Box (not my handy work). Shortly after I was approached to organise the event in its entirety using my events company as a platform.

Pickard Event Services are no stranger to large events and service the Great Yorkshire Show, The British Potato Show, Manufacture Yorkshire to name a few. The Harewood Soap Box Derby became a passion and our goal was to make it the ‘go-to’ event in the UK. We are now in the 5th year of organising and we have no issue selling out in any of our disciplines which, along with Soap box and Spec kart, include Gravity bike, Street luge and Downhill skateboard. It’s Downhill from Here!”

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Katie Burton

“My name is Katie, I’ve just turned 30 and am a journalist living in London. I got into soap box racing because of my dad, Richard. In his younger days he was a stock car racer and though engine-powered crashes and smashes are now behind him, he obviously still feels the need for speed. We went to a charity event together several years ago where a soap box race was taking place and I told him I thought he should give it a go (and let me drive!) He was clearly tempted and a few months later he bought our first cart, modified it, and we started racing. We’ve now been doing it for several years and we tend to share the driving.

The event at Harewood is definitely one of the best in the country as the track is long with a couple of serious turns. We’d brought the ‘spec kart’ that my dad had built the previous year. Because it’s built to a fixed specification it meant that we could race head to head with other drivers in spec carts – something I had never done before. I took it pretty easy in the practices as the last thing I wanted to do was write off the cart (something that has happened in the past) – there’s a certain responsibility when you’re sharing.

My first proper go was dramatic. I set off in third place and was determined not to let the driver behind overtake me so I was probably going too fast. At the first big corner the two carts in front of me smashed into the barriers, I then spun my cart and crashed right behind. The driver behind me then crashed as well! We were all okay although it does make you a bit shaky. Our cart was dented and needed a bit of attention back at the top but luckily my dad was up to the job and we got a few more good runs. My dad did a really nifty overtake and did well. I was less successful and got overtaken on the final bend which was frustrating, but racing head to head was great fun and I loved the challenge. The event was really well organised and we got several chances to compete against each other. Sadly, that was the only race we managed this year due to Covid but if we’re able next year we’ll definitely do some more.”

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Ian McIntosh

“Oop north. Ha! Try telling that to me as I drive 300 miles south to get to Harewood for my virgin gravity bike outing from bonny Scotland. Not my first Harewood event though – I raced a cart there in 2018.

Photo : James Croisdale

Born out of boredom, technical intrigue and a healthy dose of ‘WTFnot-itis’ the bike was designed and built from scratch initially for the Volpaia, Italy gravity race, but as with most of 2020’s events, COVID got the better of it and it looked like Harewood would become the only viable race outing this year.

Arriving at Harewood on the Friday night it was good to put faces to digital names, folk that have helped me out enormously with the bike build – specifically James Croisdale and gravity bike racer Stef Cree. I had absolutely no clue as to the level of competitiveness of my new bike; it was only finished the week prior and some of the paint was, quite literally, just dry. However, competitiveness wasn’t why I was there. With the COVID year so far it was very much a ‘for shits and giggles’ weekend and one, I have no doubt, we all sorely needed.

I needn’t have worried about the bike. Right from the offset it was fast! Saturday was a multi-rider practice format with Sunday being solo time-trial efforts.

Saturday felt good and it was clear that I was able to keep up with the lads. However, Sunday was a revelation! It had rained overnight but the bike still felt fast and on the test run I outpaced the others. When the first run ‘proper‘ took place no-one was as amazed as me when I set the fastest time! Not only for the bikes but overall. I managed to continue this form, consistently getting faster as the day went on and ending up winning the bike class and setting the three fastest times outright!

🙂 (insert smug face here!) 🙂

That’s nice but not the overall ‘take-home’ from the event. That was the camaraderie, the banter and the all-for-one attitude that a small niche sport like this provides. That, and beating Stef !-)”

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Hermione Pearson

“We were hyped to go skate Harewood as we’ve not been able to ride many hill climb tracks before, even though there are a few about. Big thanks to the organisers for having us!

The surface might’ve been the best we’ve ridden in the UK and actually felt grippy when wet. I’d say it’s ideal for people of all abilities – nothing too technical but it has enough going for it to make it interesting. The speed was chill but still fun.

It feels quite narrow in places which made it feel faster than it was and to ride it at full speed came with risks and challenges, compared to roads I’m used to skating. Since having a baby there’s been some suggestion you can’t go to skate events or generally do anything fun ever again. Thankfully, so far, that’s not been our experience

We’ve taken Felix to a few events and festivals etc so I wasn’t concerned about how that would work, he’s easy going, likes being in the van and reassuringly seems to have already developed an interest in dangerous activities. The uplifts were quick and well organised which meant we both got plenty of runs, even though we couldn’t ride together. When it was raining Felix napped in the pram, when it was sunny he played on the grass and watched the riders and cars lining up to take their runs. Facilities were really good, hot showers and clean toilets, no complaints. Roll on the next one!”

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Sabina Edwards

“I was so excited for this weekend. My first streetluge event on the Len Stoker having previously cut my teeth (almost quite literally) on a SP8 board – a secondhand wooden luge crafted and polished up by the amazing Andy Speight. My setup is still not quite right – wheels too small for one thing – but I’m here for the fun and not feeling competitive (much).

I don’t think I have ever taken so many runs in one day! That’s thanks to the organisers and multiple up-lift vehicles. The hill had everything! Smooth long curves to sneaky ‘what the flip just happened?’ hairpins! I was throwing myself to the left and right, banana-ing my legs to avoid the bales (not always successful), eyeing in my route and trying to avoid being in the way of the other lugers as they whizzed past me!

High point? Being overtaken by everyone and then seeing them (for some bizarre reason) flying off the track! Me zooming passed wooping with glee! It happened just the once, I rocked up second to Andy and was thrilled!

Click here to get over to Sp8Boards for more of the luge experience!

So, that was Saturday. I was wiped out by the end of the day and decided Sunday would be the opportunity for photographs. It was raining and the slippy surface made for some interesting near-misses and collisions. Huge respect to the swift communications between marshals and medics!”

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Harewood snuck its way into this year’s calender proving COVID may have taken Europe away from us but that has allowed us to explore what the UK really has to offer!

Sam Trollope

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Finally, enormous thanks to James and all those involved in creating this event. With the year being the way it is, this was a welcome relief and the effort that went into ensuring it was Covid-secure were so appreciated! Thank you!

All images (c) Thrill Magazine unless otherwise credited.