I don’t normally use this site to make general comments, but the debate over on the Classic Trials Facebook Group, kicked-off by the comments in the MCC News of the Week (21.05.2016), has got a major “historical” dimension, so I feel justified in posting my comments (far too long for Facebook) here …
Firstly, I think we have to define what we mean by the “Night Run”. To me this means the part of an MCC trial (whether Touring Assembly or not) from the multiple start points to the point where all routes converge and, more particularly, this part of the trial does NOT include any competitive Observed Sections.
So what’s the historical context? By which I mean primarily the 1920s and 1930s.
During most of the 1920s, the Exeter Trial was always London to Exeter and back again, although “London” generally meant Staines or Slough. The Observed Sections were only in Devon and Dorset, tackled by most in the dark on the way out and in the light on the way back. In 1928 the finish was moved back to Shaftesbury to shorten the overall distance but, otherwise, the event was similar to previous years. So, overall, really a very different event from the Exeter of today.
From 1930 to 1935, the start was at Virginia Water and the finish at Shaftesbury or Blandford. The route went west of Exeter (to Fingle Bridge) for the first time in 1932, and Simms was added to the route from 1933. There was no 1936 Exeter due to the change of dates (late December up to 1935, early January from 1937). 1937 sees the start of the Exeter more-or-less as we know it today – multiple starts (Virginia Water, Stratford-on-Avon, Penzance or Exeter), and more sections west of Exeter, although the finish was still at Blandford or Bournemouth.
These developments continued PostWar, with an increasing proportion of the Observed Sections west of Exeter, and the finish being moved gradually westwards until finally settling in the Torquay area. By which time, of course, the original London-to-Exeter-and-Back concept was long gone.
Lands End Trial
The Lands End Trial has a rather different history to the Exeter. Although the pre-First World War events were London to Lands End and back (yes, really!), from 1920 right through to 1935 it was always “just” London (actually a number of different start venues to the west of London) to Lands End, and always with a breakfast stop in the Bridgewater/ Taunton area. Multiple start venues, similar to those for the Exeter, were introduced from 1936. During the whole of this period, from 1920 to 1939, all the Observed Sections were in Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall and the route, west of the breakfast stop, was remarkably similar to today. And so it continued, more or less the same, from the late 1940s right up to the present day.
The Edinburgh Trial has had such a chequered history, with so many changes of format, that it is not really relevant to the current debate on the future of the Exeter and Lands End trials. Except that the current Tamworth-to-Buxton format, with all Observed Sections in the Peak District, is very similar in principle to what is being proposed for the other two events.
What makes an MCC trial special?
Although the MCC has its own view on this, I would argue that the key differences from other modern classic trials, and the unique characteristics which make an MCC trial special, are (in addition to the ethos of Competitor versus Club):
- Longer mileages, sometimes much longer.
- They “go somewhere”, rather than the start and finish being at the same place, or very close to each other.
- They have a significant number of “classic-style” sections, even if a significant number of these are cleaned by all but the most unlucky.
- They always have a number of sections to be tackled in the dark.
- They have a Night Run, as defined in the second paragraph at the very top of this page.
So … a Night Run, Yes or No?
Well my view, for what it’s worth (and a blog post is a personal opinion almost by definition), is that the character of an MCC trial is set by the first four bullet points above. If the MCC can maintain these four, and all four are critical, then the Night Run is potentially expendable if that’s the price to pay for maintaining the essential character of the events in the modern world.
As justification, remember that the balance between reliability (primarily time and distance) and competition (the Observed Sections) has been changing steadily for 90+ years and the Night Runs, even in the 1920s and 1930s, were always more about reliability than competition. Reliability should, and I repeat SHOULD, be a “given” in 2016, so why continue to test something that shouldn’t need testing?