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Where are they now? David Luthie | Columns | Gassit Garage

David Luthje emerged from a minibike display team to become a top proddie runner

You had a typical introduction into bike racing, but with a twist…

In the early 70s, a mate of mine Zach Hogan had a Honda XR75, and that sparked my interest in bikes. Another mate Ross Black had a minibike and we rode at Illawong and Menai, and I joined the local minibike club. Harry Brennan put together a minibike display team at the club, which I was part of with his son Todd, who went on to become a top dirt-tracker. Anyway, we appeared at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, and went around NSW to all the big rural field days. It was a lot of fun performing in front of big crowds, and we all formed a bond. In fact, we had a 50th club anniversary a few years ago. After minibikes I got into junior MX and dirt-track at Nepean and Amaroo on a XR75, which wasn’t the weapon of choice but I had fun. Later on I got a YZ80 then a YZ125 and went okay, preferring dirt-track to MX.

You chose a very different bike to kick-off your road-racing career – an enduro bike!

I was an apprentice at Macklin Motorcycles, and started doing enduros on a 1981 [Yamaha] IT175, which I also commuted on. I road raced it with a set of Michelin street tyres, then moved up to a YZ490 and did a 1m21s lap on the Oran Park GP circuit. I remember having a few great dices with Steve Whitehouse at Winton on his YZ490; I was really enjoying the tar.

When did you get your first real road racer?

That was the [Yamaha] FZ750 in 1985. That was also my first year at Bathurst. A lot of people are daunted by it, but I absolutely loved it. It’s a bit of an eye-opener, for sure, with all the hills and dips, but my dirt-track experience helped me. I raced an RZ500 in the ’85 Castrol Six Hour that year with Steve Harley and Alan Townsend. It was wet that day and I binned it at the end of the straight but we fought back to finish 22nd. When the FZR1000 was released, I just gelled with it. I had the strength to muscle it around, it handled really well and was super comfy. In the 1987 proddie race at Bathurst I was in the zone and I reckon I was the fastest rider across the top. Wayne Clarke won it with me second and Roger Heyes third – all of us on FZR1000s. I teamed with Roger for the Castrol Six Hour, and I qualified fifth.

Tell us about the highs and lows in 1988.

I heard that Dick Hunter was looking for a rider for his Silastic F1 Yamaha 1000, so I raced it at Bathurst. I got the bike up to second in the Arai 500 and was chasing Mick Doohan on his factory Marlboro Yamaha when my quick-release rear sprocket came adrift – that was very disappointing. The upside was that journos from Cycle World were out doing a story on Bathurst, and I got to know them. At the time, I was getting into digital printing in its formative years as a career, and I visited the US each year to check out the latest Mac and digital printing technology. I hooked up with the Cycle World guys and ended up doing some road tests for them, and was invited to race their project bike that was a Suzuki 750 chassis fitted with an 1100 engine. It was entered in the Willow Springs 24-hour; it was very trick with quick-release brake calipers and adjustable steering along with many other bits, but I had a reasonably major mechanical failure after I took over from the team’s main rider Doug Toland. Later on Doug was injured in the lead-up to the WEC round at Paul Ricard for the Bol d’Or 24 hour and I filled in for him.

Tell us about retirement; what precipitated it and how you dealt with it.

I was running an FZR600 in 1991-92 at Winton against the gun guys, Ken Watson and Rene Bongers. I had a spill, sliding along the track, then I got hit in the middle of my back. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t need this anymore’. I’d been racing for 15 years, living it, breathing it, but I knew the only way to give it up was to go cold turkey. I just turned off completely and it worked for me.

You ran a race school, as you know I was one of your students back in ’91…

I ran those schools in the early 90s to give back to the sport – it was something I wanted to do. I ended up working with Stephen Gall in helping Wayne Gardner to get his race school going.

What about bikes now?

I have a [Yamaha] WR250