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Dutch Motorcycle Road Racing

Motorcycle road racing got off to a rather slow start in the Netherlands compared to neighbouring countries. Belgium and Germany had already seen plenty of racing by the time the first Dutch race - the Nederlandsche TT - was organised near Assen in July 1925. The TT moved to a new circuit closer to Assen the following year, and it became an international event as of 1927. But despite this success, the TT remained the sole race in the country for many years, with the exception of a separate, one-off race that decided the Dutch championship in 1928, which was also held in Assen.

Plans for a second race, to be held on a new circuit in the Biesbosch nature reserve near Dordrecht, briefly appeared in the early 1930s but never came to fruition. It wasn't until the end of that decade that two new road circuits became reality: the nowadays forgotten Ell-Hunsel (1938) and the Zandvoort street course (1939). As such, the number of pre-war Dutch road races was extremely low: exactly nineteen were held from 1925-1939. By comparison, in Germany there were over thirty races in 1927 alone.

The first post-war race was held in Zandvoort in August 1946 - relatively late compared to other countries, but even so, Dutch road racing briefly flourished like never before, with new races in 't Zandt-Zeerijp and Tubbergen (1946), as well as Maasbracht, Etten, Amsterdam, Leeuwarden and Weert (1947). However, priorities obviously lay elsewhere during this time, so most new venues quickly disappeared again, the only exceptions being Etten, which catered mostly to junior riders, and Tubbergen, which quickly became an internationally renowned race that in fact lasted until the 1980s.

Although the country's first permanent racing circuit opened in Zandvoort in 1948, replacing the earlier street course, the number of races was still limited for the better part of the next two decades. The schedule was made up of Assen, Zandvoort, Tubbergen and Etten, with a few other places, such as Tolbert (1950-1955) and Beek (1958-1959), joining only briefly. By the early 1960s, the national championship was once again down to a single race, much like it had been before the war. The situation was such in fact, that junior-riders had more opportunities to start than their senior colleagues, and so some youngsters were reluctant to graduate to senior-status! It comes as no surprise many riders were unhappy with the sole organising body of road races - the 1904-founded Koninklijke Nederlandse Motorrijders Vereniging (KNMV) or Royal Dutch Association of Motorcyclists. Its members longed for more races but the KNMV did not seem to respond - enter the NMB.

The Nederlandse Motorsport Bond (NMB) or Dutch Motorsport Association, founded in February 1949, had successfully organised motorcross- and grass track races for many years, mainly in the southern provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg. Upon the urging of several disgruntled KNMV road racers, the NMB decided to start sanctioning road races as well as of 1967, and that marked the start of an unprecedented golden age for Dutch motorsport.

The first NMB road race was held in Reusel in April 1967, and soon there were races on circuits all over the country pretty much every weekend - all the more as the KNMV had no option but to keep up with its new competitor! The contrast with previous decades was immense. Consider, for example, that just six races were held in 1960, while 1969 had over thirty in total. Many races were attended by thousands of spectators as road racing quickly reached new levels of popularity.

Sadly, the KNMV did not recognize the NMB, and the two associations were not exactly on friendly terms. Their rivalry was enormous and a rider either belonged to one or the other. A key element in the NMB's success was its open and friendly atmosphere, and how everyone was offered an opportunity to go racing. In early years, one could simply show up with a stock motorcycle and have a go during practice. If the rider displayed the right attitude and sufficient skill, he could take part in the race.

Unfortunately, there was one problem for NMB riders: as the FIM recognized only one sanctioning body in every country, this being the KNMV for the Netherlands, the only way towards international and Grand Prix racing was to join the KNMV. Many NMB stars, including such aces as Jack Middelburg and Boet van Dulmen, therefore had no choice but leave the organisation where they started their career. Others always remained loyal to their beloved NMB, however, and never made the switch, for example Harrie van der Kruijs and the legendary Hans Hutten, one of the most successful NMB riders.

By the early 1970s, the NMB and KNMV organised some 30 to 40 road races between them every year, the absolute zenith being 1970 and 1971, when close to 50 races (!) were held between March and October. While the official Dutch national championship was organised by the KNMV, the NMB had its own champions, and furthermore experimented with a motorcycle hillclimb (1971), which remained a one-off, and endurance racing, with 6-hour races in Someren (1973) and Heerlen (1974), as well as 200-mile races in Helmond (1974-1980). The undisputed crown jewel of the NMB, however, was the 24-hours of Oss, a unique event in the Netherlands that was held from 1969-1975. Sadly, the 2.8 km street course where the race took place proved lethal on several occasions, the death of the exceptionally skilled Hans Hutten in 1975 being particularly shocking.

Halfway the decade the KNMV must have figured "if you can't beat them, join 'em": first KNMV and NMB riders went head-to-head in so-called exchange races in 1976, and one year later their respective championships were finally combined into a single national series. However, the partnership was always rather strained and it could never last.

By the late 1970s the grand days of Dutch road racing slowly started to fade. Ever more circuits were not deemed safe anymore and disappeared, a process sped up by the disastrous 1980 season, when several severe, often fatal accidents occured within a short period of time, at Zandvoort, Wijnandsrade, Venhuizen, Ammerzoden and Assen. Of these five, Ammerzoden in particular was a turning point, as two riders and two spectators were killed.

The KNMV responded by cancelling its remaining street races or relocating them to permanent circuits, particularly that of Nivelles in Belgium - although it must be noted the money-making international races of Tubbergen and Raalte went ahead as scheduled. The NMB continued as planned, but tension mounted to new levels after a very complicated further incident at the Belgian street circuit of Sint Joris ten Distel later that year - suffice to say three more people lost their lives there.

Mutual trust between the two organisations reached a low, and internal struggles within the NMB, combined with its poor financial state, did no good either. Ultimately the road racing department of the NMB was taken over by the KNMV, and so after 1981 only the latter remained as the sanctioning body of motorcycle road races. The NMB continued with motorcross events for one more year, but as of 1 January 1983 it merged with the KNMV completely, and that marked its definitive end.

Exactly 216 road race meetings were sanctioned by the NMB on Dutch circuits, starting with the race in Reusel in April 1967 and ending in Gilze-Rijen in September 1981. Around 56 additional races were announced but did not actually take place. Both numbers do not include events sanctioned or co-sanctioned by the NMB in Belgium. Also excluded are all training meetings, one hillclimb, and the 1979 meeting in Tegelen, where the races were cancelled after an accident in practice.

After the decline of the NMB, the number of road courses and races steadily fell until hitting rock bottom by the early 1990s, when just a few road courses were left. Several new races later surfaced, but after losing Tolbert and Raalte in 2004, and Eemshaven in late 2008, the situation is once more at a low: Hengelo and Oss are currently the only Dutch public road courses that remain. As such, motorcycle racing in the Netherlands nowadays takes place nearly exclusively at the permanent TT Circuit in Assen. The country's other permanent venue, Zandvoort, was not used for top-level motorcycle racing between 1996 and 2015.

In total, approximately 1220 motorcycle races were held in the Netherlands from 1925-2015, under sanction of the KNMV (1925 to present) and the NMB (1967-1981). This number includes races on the permanent circuits of Assen and Zandvoort, but not races of the ZAC and KNMV Cup series for amateur riders.