Where are they now? Rick Walden | Columns | Gassit Garage
Rick Walden enjoyed some great experiences racing in Europe
Rick Walden ignored advice in 1979 to spend another year racing at home and headed overseas. He wanted to compete in the last year of the World Formula 750 Championship.
He had plenty of adventures, like missing the first round at Mugello because he failed to bribe Italian customs officials to release his Yamaha TZ750D, and falling at 240km/h while running eighth at a rain-soaked Nogaro in France. Spinning down the road on his stomach, he had the presence of mind to blip the bike’s throttle as it slid past, to keep the engine running. He picked it up and finished 12th. In fact he finished both races in Britain, France and Holland, and scored points for ninth at Hockenheim after a duel with compatriot and reigning Australian champion Murray Sayle. Had the championship points stretched down to 15th, as they do in MotoGP and WSBK today, Walden would have scored in virtually every start.
He did another international season in 1980, the highlight fourth in the rain at Snetterton in Britain’s premier domestic series, the MCN/Duckhams Superbike Championship. He was seventh in the Race of Aces the same day. He shared digs with South Australia’s Greg Pretty and both rode the Isle of Man TT on their 750s.
Walden wasn’t new to the UK, even though he hailed from leafy Beecroft in Sydney. When he was 10 or 11, his father secured a job overseas and Rick was sent to an English boarding school, where the saving grace was being part of the air training corps.
As for going fast on public roads, that began at Rose Bay on the southern side of Sydney Harbour, along with future racers Phil Leslie and Graeme McGregor (later a double TT winner).
“I had one nasty spill that opened up my head and put me in St Vincent’s Hospital,” Walden recalls.
“To go racing, we’d ride our bikes out to Amaroo or Oran Park and remove the lights and indicators. That was fine until someone turned in front of me into the golf course at Liverpool, so I bought the ex-Owen Hughes Yamaha TR2B from Eastern Suburbs Motorcycles.
“When I was promoted to Provisional B-Grade, I bought a TZ350A. I had the little booklet from Custom Credit and paid my $30 a week. At the end of 1976, I did the New Zealand Marlboro Series 350 support races with Marcus de Caux, Ron Taylor and Frank Kennedy. I was very lucky to go on that trip with those guys.”
Back home, Walden won races at Amaroo Park and, despite an injured right knee, was third in the Unlimited B-Grade at Bathurst.
“I still had the TZ350A and thought of buying a new 350 and a 250, but decided to go the whole way and get a TZ750. My friend Tony Lewis worked for [theatre producer] Eric Dare and I was able to secure some sponsorship.”
Walden raced the 750 for 18 months in Australia, with top-four finishes in title events.
“It was a lovely bike to ride but quite a hard one to race. I loved it.
“Going to Europe was an expensive exercise and a real eye-opener. Snetterton [in 1980] was perhaps the best I ever rode. I’d done the Isle of Man and really enjoyed riding the 750 there. I had a Yamaha 350 that was a real pig of a thing, so I bounced around the Island on that. I felt a lot more comfortable on the 750 until the gearbox broke, which was probably my fault. That was my original 750D. I’d bought a new TZ750 and sold it to leading rock group manager David Enthoven. When my bike broke at the TT he let me ride the TZ at Snetterton. I had to qualify in pouring rain, but that suited me. A seventh and a fourth there was a really good end to my couple of years overseas.
“In 1981 I tried to do my own superbike with top fabricator Rob McKendrick, then I went with Wayne Anderson of Eastern Suburbs Motorcycles and his potent 1200 Kawasaki. It didn’t handle, but boy did it go!”
Walden rounded out his racing career with production rides on a Honda CB1100R and Yamaha XJ900.
He gained his commercial pilot licence in 1982 and for the past 35 years has done it all as a helicopter pilot… working in Australia and Nigeria, doing everything from cattle mustering, oil support, police air wing and Care Flight to his current job with Westpac Surf Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
He and wife Sharon have two adult daughters.
By DON COX