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

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

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

In the early 70s, a mate of mine had a Honda XR75 and that sparked my interest in bikes. Another mate 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. 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.

After minibikes I got into junior MX and dirt-track at Nepean and Amaroo on an 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 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 1m21sec 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 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 with Steve Harley and Alan Townsend. It was wet 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 in second place and Roger Heyes finished third – all of us were on FZR1000s.

I teamed up 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 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 journalists from [American motorcycle magazine] 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 technology.

I hooked up with the Cycle World guys and did some road tests for them and I was invited to race their project bike, a Suzuki 750 chassis fitted with an 1100 engine, 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 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.

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 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. I knew the only way to give it up was to go cold turkey. And it worked for me.

You ran a race school; , I was one of your students 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 helping Wayne Gardner get his race school going.

What about bikes now?

I have a [Yamaha] WR250 that I take to the Victorian High Country every year with a bunch of guys on XR600s, etc. The little WR zips along and does okay. I rode a Yamaha BeeWee 100 scooter to work in Sydney’s CBD, but I’m a bit over the traffic so I’ve parked it. I also ride a pushy and did a Sydney-Goulburn-Canberra charity ride for SIDS/Still Birth. As for racing, there’s a chance I could turn out in Period 6 on a 1990 EXUP FZR1000…

By Darryl Flack