For British motorcycle racing fans, the Easter holiday weekend meant just one thing – the Transatlantic Trophy. Great Britain versus the USA at three so typically British racetracks. Brands Hatch on Good Friday, Mallory Park on Easter Sunday and finishing at Oulton Park on Easter Monday. Massive crowds packed the three circuits to witness the transatlantic showdown with World Champions Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts captaining their respect teams.
Good Friday in 1980 summed it up perfectly. The long wait in the traffic on the A20 unless you were lucky enough to be riding a bike, before reaching the grassy Brands Hatch car parks. Over 50,000 patriotic fans packed the 4.2 km circuit south of London to cheer on Barry Sheene and his team to take on ‘The Yanks’ captained by 500cc World Champion Kenny Roberts. Even the sun was shining.
As the teams prepared for the first round of the battle amid the screech, smoke and smell of two-stroke rocket ships all eyes turned towards the sky. The majestic shape of the supersonic Concorde aircraft leaving a white vapour trail in the blue sky as it roared overhead on route to New York from London Heathrow. Symbolically that white vapour trail announced the arrival on the World stage of an 18-year-old American. Frederick Burdette Spencer had arrived from Shreveport, Louisiana and everybody was about to take notice.
The fans cheered and waved their flags as the riders on the back of an open top lorry completed a lap of honour before the hostilities got underway. Only a few checked their programmes to check the identity of a shy teenager with a huge number eight emblazoned on the back of his blue and white leathers. They were glad they did.
Back in the paddock Erv Kanemoto was warming up the striking silver 750cc Yamaha on which Freddie was going to race for the very first-time outside America. The warning signs were there for the British team and fans with Freddie fastest in practice despite some electrical problems. Nobody was prepared for what happened.
It took Freddie just three laps of the undulating Brands circuit to force the crowd to re-check those well-thumbed programmes on just who was leading the race. Freddie just disappeared into the green Kent countryside leaving the likes of Sheene, Roberts and Graeme Crosby to fight for second.
An hour and a half later the crowd were ready, and Freddie did not let them down in the second race. He led from the start as the pack screamed into the infamous downhill Paddock Hill bend. Roberts and Randy Mamola chased hard, but this was the Silver Yamaha’s day and Freddie was a comfortable start to finish winner.
Just 48 hours into his first trip outside America Freddie had arrived. Three World titles, 27 Grand Prix wins and the only rider to complete the 250/500cc World Championship double in the same season shows we should have taken a little bit more notice of Concorde’s white vapour trails pointing all the way back to the United States on that sunny Good Friday afternoon 40 years ago.