“I rode for nearly 2 years by forging my parents signature on entry forms and no one ever pulled me up on that”
When you first started racing how did that come about?
A friend of mine took me to the second ever Calder meeting in 1962. I sat down in the esses and watched them streaming through the turns and thought that looks fantastic – I reckon I could do that, and I did. I was 16, I rode for nearly 2 years by forging my parents signature on entry forms and no one ever pulled me up on that.
That seemed to an era where you could ride your road bike all week and whip the lights and indicators off to race on Sunday.
Yes, through C and B grade definitely, in A grade you wouldn’t. I got as far a B-grade winning races on a 74- Norton Atlas. Then I thought this is becoming a hard ask, so I bought a new TR2 Yamaha – I raced that for 2 or 3 years and it nearly sent me broke! It was such an unreliable pig of a thing that I sold it to buy a TZ350. Things really fell into place for me then.
A lot of the tracks you used to race at would never get a permit these days – how do you look back on the safety issues that plagued road racing in the early days?
It’s just the way it was. I liked Oran Park but was never a big fan of Amaroo. I had a really big crash at Sandown at the end of what used to be pit straight. I actually bounced along the top of the Armco fence and was knocked out cold, but ended up with just a badly broken collar bone to show for it. I had a fairly spectacular crash at Surfers Paradise too on the TZ750 when the back tyre exploded. A Michelin road tube got put in by accident and even though I noticed it when I was getting ready I thought for a 15 lap race it’d be ok. It wasn’t. We were halfway through the last lap and it exploded sending me head over heels – the tube had split right through and I ended up with a broken foot. That was my last race for Milledge Motorcraft Yamaha.
What was it like in the paddock competing against some of the great motorcycle racers of your time?
There was a genuine sense of comradery. Guys like Kenny Blake, Warren Willing, Greg Hansford, Murray Sayle, Rick Perry, Brian Hindle, Lenny Atley and Ross Barelli were my peers – they were the people who Sunday after Sunday I argued with (laughs). If you took Greg Hansford out of the equation you couldn’t tell who was going to run where. In those days there were at least a dozen TZ750’s on the grid, three factory Kawasaki’s and a couple of RG500 Suzuki’s with pretty quick guys on ‘em. The field was really evenly matched -nothing like it is today. We all got along very well and we all knew one another.
Tell us about the time when you won King of the Weir convincingly on your 160HP 2-stroke TZ750 in the driving rain.
Well I don’t think anyone expected it – I didn’t either just quietly. The Friday and Saturday were baking hot for qualifying but it was always like that at Hume Weir. Then Sunday we woke up and it was pouring, it wasn’t light rain it was bucketing and it continued all day. It was like riding a motorbike under a waterfall! I used some over the counter Goodyear wets and I think I lapped all but the 2nd and 3rd place getters…
Despite the sponsorships and success, you decided to call it quits after that win – what was the reasoning there?
I walked away at the end of 1978 and the main reason that I did was I just couldn’t stand the politics of the sport anymore. I’d just had enough so at the beginning of the season I told my sponsors that would be the last one. Towards the end of the year I think they actually started to believe it, and that was it – the end of the year came and I gave them everything back, said thank you very much, goodbye. I continued riding road bikes but had absolutely no desire to go back to professional racing. I’d been racing for about 15 years by that stage, and although our team was probably one of the most successful outfits of that time I’d just had enough really.
So besides racing your replica Matchless G50 at Classic racing events, what else are you up to these days?
Well Lynn, my beautiful wife of 41 years, and I still travel around to various historic events. We were invited to the Goodwood Revival in 2014. It’s really not supposed to be a race, more a revival of the original race meets, but the poms try really hard to win. It’s bloody fast and you’ve got nothing between you and the fences except a bit of short mown grass and if it goes pear shaped it won’t end happily. Everybody dresses in Period, there’s 70,000 people per day for three days, it’s fantastic. If you never go to another meeting anywhere else in the world, go to the Revival, you’ll love it.
By Paul McCann