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A Charity Quad Bike Ride That Invented An Entire Motorsport

People sat on quad bikes.The history of off-road racing as a professional sport is interesting as whilst quad biking, motorcycling and motor cars were invented at largely the same time, it took a very long fallow period before the former would be taken as seriously as the two latter categories.

In modern motor racing, quad bikes or ATV racing has several very popular disciplines and leagues, often intersecting with cross-country racing and motocross, but the start of competitive professional quad bike racing truly began with an intersection between the two racing series and the needs of a small local community.

The Ballad Of Blackwater

The story of the history of professional quad racing begins with Dave Coombs, a motocross racer and promoter who ran several racing events in West Virginia and became one of the most important figures in ATV racing.

This initially started with a phone call from a small-town church preacher based in Davis, West Virginia.

He asked Mr Coombs if he thought there would be potential to run a race near the town he practised at, devastated in the same way many small rural towns were throughout the 1970s.

He hoped that by taking advantage of the beauty and harshness of the local environment surrounding the Blackwater Falls, they could bring visitors to the town and pump the economy with much-needed revenue. It was an act of charity for a stricken area.

Big Dave travelled to Davis and was in awe of the landscape, seeing the potential to make one of the toughest off-road races in the country, if not the world, around the time the Paris-Dakar Rally was being planned following a cross-country adventure in a Land Rover by Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

The race, later known as the Blackwater 100, was made up of four 25-mile laps with a start line in Davis before looping around the rough jumps, hills, mud and rivers, each rider distinctly more battered and bruised by the terrain with each circuit.

During an era of the first triathlons, the ultramarathon and punishing endurance racing in most categories of motorsport, the Blackwater 100 captured the zeitgeist and put it alongside the Baja 1000 in terms of the toughest races in the United States.

Despite being ten times shorter, the Blackwater 100 was considered even more punishing, such was the uncompromising nature of the landscape, and whilst the event began as a simple motocross event, it would quickly expand to incorporate off-road trikes and later quad bikes.

Even with the added grip of four wheels, the race never lost its fearsome reputation, and its popularity would, similar to Le Mans in the world of circuit endurance racing, inspire an entire championship, the Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series, which reached its modern form in 1984.

It was so popular that it even became the subject of a famous pinball machine by Bally-Midway in 1988, however not long after this machine was made, problems started to emerge.

A lot of the land was owned by a local power company, which in the 1980s was less than responsible stewards. The river water that was a huge part of the race was found to be toxic, and the race was shut down in 1993, although its legacy lives on in the popularity of ATV racing.