Not forgotten – Terry McDonald | Columns | Gassit Garage
This Aussie was one of the first rural-bred dirt-track stars to take on Europe
Many country lads were swept up in the motorcycle boom of the late 1960s, and one of them was the supremely talented Terry McDonald. Lee Roebuck – who went on to become a national 125cc champion and highly-rated rider of the 70s – also caught the bug, and as a budding dirt-track racer, he had McDonald to look up to.
“My first time on the tar was a production race on a 250cc Bultaco Metralla at Bathurst the day after I won a few flat-track races at Orange on a 250cc Hagon/Bultaco slider, which I bought from my good friend Terry McDonald,” Lee remembers. “He was a 250cc national dirt-track champion who took up road racing. Terry was a friend and mentor and he had a big impact on my career. He was my inspiration.”
Born in Wagga Wagga on 1 June 1947, Terry McDonald and his family lived in Turvey Park but moved to a small property at Rowan 10km out of town where Terry revelled in country life. He attended Turvey Park Primary, and Wagga Wagga High, where he won the mile race in bare feet against the serious competitors wearing track shoes.
“Even as a kid Terry was fit, adventurous and had no fear,” remembers childhood friend Allan Tye. Older brother Nick McDonald said he and Terry were inseparable. “We used to chase hares around the paddock for hours, in the depth of winter and the heat of summer. We ran everywhere,” remembers Nick. “We did it in bare feet, the only time we ever wore shoes was to school.
“I helped Terry out a bit financially when he was racing. He was great to watch, whatever discipline he rode. He was quite serious about his racing, and his career really took off after he built a frame for his Bultaco.”
After leaving school, Terry worked in various jobs from apprentice carpenter to motorcycle mechanic and farm hand. He had many hobbies including the guitar, harmonica and ukulele. He also enjoyed art but Terry’s overriding passion was motorcycle racing: short circuit, speedway, scrambles, trials, grass track and road racing. According to Canberra bike dealer and Terry’s one-time employer Doug Bryant, “he was fantastic at everything he turned his hand to, be it on the tools or behind the handlebars.”
In 1969, McDonald, then based in Canberra, won the Bathurst Lightweight Production race on a Bultaco from good mate and dirt-track rival Kevin Fraser, lowering the lap record by a staggering six seconds. Not only that, he won the dirt-track at Orange a few nights before then finished second to Matt Daley at a motocross at Bilpin on Easter Monday.
“One time Terry went down to Winton on his modified Bultaco 250,” remembers Bryant, “and he came back and said, ‘there was only one bloke I couldn’t beat. His bike was too fast.’ I asked who it was, and he said ‘number 63’, and I said, ‘bloody hell, that’s Ron Toombs!’ ”
In 1970 Terry was the Australian 250cc Short Circuit Champion, the NSW 250cc Short Circuit Champion and the Victorian 250cc Grass Circuit Champion. On the back of this stellar success Terry ventured to Europe with friend Alan Black. They travelled back and forth to England, living most of the time on the road in a van. Terry competed in the non-championship Hungarian Grand Prix on Alan’s 500cc G50 Matchless and won the race. The victory earned him a start at the East German Grand Prix at the old Sachsenring in July, where he finished 16th on his ageing Matcho.
Six weeks later he travelled to the island of Corfu to compete in the non-championship Grand Prix of Greece on a 5.8km street circuit. In practice on August 30, Terry was caught out by a wet, slippery section at the lower part of the track, clipped an inside kerb and was pitched off his bike. He struck a roadside pole headfirst, sustaining severe head and neck injuries and was pronounced dead on arrival at Corfu Hospital. Aged 23, he was survived by his father, three brothers, including the highly-rated racer of the 1970s and 80s Greg McDonald, and one sister. In May 1972, the Terry McDonald Memorial Races were held at Mount Ginn in Canberra. Following his death, the Automobile and Touring Club of Greece also donated a trophy in Terry’s memory.
Those who saw him race believed he could have been one of the very best of the era. Lee Roebuck is clear there are only three naturally-gifted riders that he ever came across during his career. “There wasn’t many. Gregg Hansford, Graeme Crosby and Terry Mac were the only ones who I would describe as naturals,” he says. To be mentioned in the same breath as Hansford and Croz reveals how highly Terry McDonald is still regarded and how unfulfilled his talent was.
Terry’s body was repatriated to Australia a month after the crash, and he rests in Wagga Wagga cemetery. In 1998 he was inducted into Wagga’s Sporting Hall of Fame, joining AFL greats Wayne Carey and Terry Daniher, rugby league legends Peter Sterling and Steve Mortimer, tennis champ Tony Roche and cricketers Michael Slater, Mark Taylor and Geoff Lawson.
By Darryl Flack