Steve Ireland and his WOR (World of Riding) operation have been serving up off-road fun and races for 16 years. We all know WOR for The Tough One extreme enduro they organize – but Steve’s biggest triumph is his RED concept that brings the idea of ‘racing’ to the whole family…
Arriving in the paddock at the Buildwas Off-road Park, near Ironbridge in Shropshire – it has to be said, under an unexpectedly clear blue summer’s sky – the scene was as bucolic as a gathering of dirt bikes will ever achieve. Riders were resting in camp-chairs, others walking casually here and there to greet friends, some were gently idling their bikes toward the course entrance and yet more were chatting amiably while waiting in line at the paddock cafe. Notice we didn’t say ‘blokes’, for the riders came in all shapes, sizes, age AND gender.
This is the paddock at a WOR RED day. RED stands for Race Experience Day. WOR? Well, you should know by now that what began as the (Wirral Off-Road) club, to organize a few events for a bunch of enduro enthusiasts in the north west of England, has matured into arguably the UK’s largest off-road race promotion organization with 16 years experience behind them.
So it’s worth expanding a little on what was going on. The WOR team had set out a neat loop that brought together open trail, single track through woodland and, well, that’s about it. Open stuff and technical woods stuff, about 20 minutes long, but – and this bit is important – wonderfully traditional. Riders from enduro ‘back-in-the-day’, current day riders in BEC, riders from East Coast USA, riders from New Zealand – they would all recognise this type of trail, and relish its loops, banks, innumerable roots, hidden rocks and stumps, its bogs, its fast dusty bits, its sudden drop-offs (with traditional crossed-arrows as warning) and even the sweet flowing section past the paddock so that a rider could properly ‘grandstand’ before his mates. A proper – should we call it old school? – enduro type lap.
But instead of charging around this loop looking to set a fast time, or to stay on their minute, the riders were instead enjoying a neat, non-competitive jaunt. Stopping wherever they liked – voluntarily or involuntarily – helping out struggling mates (or strangers) as they found them. And just plain, straightforward enjoying the day. Significantly these were riders of all ages: kids on 65s were mixing with blokes on 450s. It was a free-for-all, albeit a harmonious and courteous one.
‘When I first started doing off-road events I was convinced I had to do it for the experts,’ explains the man behind WOR, Steve Ireland. ‘I was an up and coming rider myself, clubman bordering on expert, ready to move into the experts – which I did and I was pleased about that. So it was all geared for the experts like me. Then I had a moment of realisation – probably about eight years ago. “Hang on”, I thought, “these are the guys causing all the trouble at the races, arguing, moaning, nothing’s ever good enough, complaining about not having their picture in the paper. So I thought, “right, turn it around” and cater for the bulk of the entry. Sportsmen – I’ve 60 of them, plus 60 clubmen and 60 complete novices – there’s my customer base.” So I turned it around there and then.
‘The race experience days and the rest came from that moment of realisation. Without sounding nasty, I almost forgot about the expert class. They have to ride what they’re given now, and I couldn’t care less if I have 14, 40 or four on the line, it’s the rest of the ones behind them, the ones who week-in week-out are keeping their bikes going – on a budget. Nothing’s sponsored for them – and still with their money ready for the entry fee, those are the people that WOR is built upon.’
Looking around the paddock, with about 100 of these people laughing and joking, idly fiddling with their bikes, sorting their kit and all, it was easy to understand Steve’s point. Here were normal guys, thankful to be free of the office, or workshop, or the phone or farm even, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding a dirt bike with their buddies.
Doing it for the Kids
Where WOR is really scoring though, is the INCLUSIVITY of the RED day. And here Steve has hit upon a formula that has for so long been a part of dirt biking in the States, Australia, New Zealand and no doubt other countries too – that of bringing the whole family into the riding: mum, dad, sister and brother. In NZ where I lived for a decade, they call them Family Days.
‘The majority of my riders are 35 and onwards,’ said Steve. ‘They’ve got the money to have the caravan, the bikes and to bring the family with them. But there’s definitely a trend of seeing their children joining in. So with the RED days we allow the adults to ride with the kids. There’s so much red tape here in Britain, you might ask how can we get the kids out with the dads on the track at the same time on the same insurance permit. But we’ve cracked it, our safety record shows that it’s not racing, it’s not practice, it’s playtime – well supervised playtime, with strict rules.
‘How is little Johnny, eight years old, on his KTM 65 going to progress if he can’t ride the big old woodland with his father or his uncle, sister or brother?’
Searching for an example, we found Colin Tyrer stood by the track entrance gate, he’d been watching his son Haydn come and go on his KTM 65SX – together with a bunch of young mates.
‘These are great events for us. The best thing about them for me – ‘cause I’m not riding – are the marshals out there. They’re there to pick the kids up when they crash, and when I’m here four miles back down the track, it’s great to know they are there.
‘And we much prefer this to motocross. With motocross you get three eight-minute races in a day and that’s not really exciting enough for us. We like the technical hour-and-a-half out there they have for the kids race on a Sunday. And today there’s track time from 10am to 4pm, which brings the kids on. They’ll have their ups and downs during the day, but they’ll come out of it with a lot more experience.
‘And WOR make it easy… they’re not shouting at people, there’s no pressure. And it doesn’t matter how many laps the kids do, whether it’s seven or three, Steve’s there for them at the finish. He says “if you’re still going after an hour-and-a-half then you’re a winner.” He helps motivate all the riders that way, not just the top three.’
Running the RED day on a Saturday and a hare scramble on the Sunday means the families can enjoy a whole weekend too – it’s not so much a race weekend as a mini dirt biking holiday.
Colin adds: ‘We come away in force, the whole family; we pitch up with tents, caravans and it’s barbecues in the evening – and Steve doesn’t charge us to pitch. And so even when the lads, and girls have finished the riding, they’ll be out there another hour and half, walking the course ready for tomorrow; talking about it: “Don’t go that way, I fell off there, look out for that tree”. And doing the Saturday gives the kids a heads-up on the course… they know what to look for come the races proper on the Sunday. It’s taking the pressure off them. It’s a real helpful thing coming to these days and it’s nice they can go out do a lap and come back to us, have a bit of a rest without the stress and pressures of racing.’
The Trick in the Trail
Riding WOR’s course brought home the message still further. As Colin Tyrer said, the presence of a team of marshals on the course was a secure and welcome safety-net for the parents not riding with their kids. But these marshals also acted as impromptu tutors to those adults who were having troubles too. Given a couple of quite tricky root-strewn climbs there was certainly enough to test the novice or catch out the careless clubman.
It was also noticeable that everyone had brought along their best trail manners, so the kids – and novices – didn’t need to fear being mown down by some rampaging expert. In fact even for WOR race events Steve has it written into the rules that no shouting-at or other hassling of slower riders will be tolerated. Certainly Steve and the WOR team are delivering on their promise of a RED day, of ‘having fun and learning a little bit in a fun and friendly atmosphere’.
The practice race – a one hour race just after the lunch break – was equally as community spirited. The fast riders – there were a handful of experts – disappeared rapidly into the woods, but following them was a wonderfully eclectic mix of the big and small, tall and short, young and old. And when the experts came around to start lapping the backmarkers, again it was a gentle affair, after all no championship rested on the outcome. The race delivered exactly as Steve promised, the race experience – but without the hard, unforgiving, edge.
‘In our clientele we have racers and riders,’ said Steve. ‘The riders come and do the RED days and the practice days and the little fun races. The racers are there for the championships. And there is a divide. But I’d say the RED day riders by far outweigh the number of riders who come for the races. Which is unbelievable.
‘And we can make these events as easy or as hard as we want, especially with the two day format. Running the RED on the Saturday and the races on the Sunday means we can change up a few things that weren’t in for the experience day and so maximise the venue. And that’s important, as the biggest problem is still finding new venues – it’s getting harder and harder. So we make the most of what we’ve got – and look after it. No noisy bikes, and we don’t overuse a venue so as not to upset everyone.
‘WOR is about community, I guess. I couldn’t do this without the amazing team around me… without them it just wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t do it without the generosity of the landowners. And I couldn’t do it without this great bunch of riders and their families. If there’s one message we want to get across, it’s that everybody is welcome. There are no cliques here, just come along get involved.”