That time Ray Dole won a championship with a lawn-mower-powered BSA Bantam.
Acknowledged as one of the stalwarts of the National scrambling community, Ray Dole was a consistent winner at Sydney’s Moorebank Circuit; a venue which, under threat of closure, had undergone extensive refurbishment in 1959 by the Willoughby Motor Cycle Club, before being issued NSW Speedway Licence Number Three, allowing racing to continue.
Employed by New South Wales’ BSA Distributors Bennett & Wood, Ray was a Moorebank regular on his BSA Bantam with swingarm frame yet, still in his early 20s, Ray was already contemplating retirement from competition. As a teenager, Ray had suffered a football injury which regularly left him afflicted by pins and needles in both arms, limiting the time he could endure in the saddle without total loss of feeling.
However, Ray’s footy injuries were put behind him when, as newly crowned NSW Champion, he blitzed the field to win the Ultra Lightweight division of the Australian Scrambles Championships on his 125cc BSA Bantam.
A decade later, long after scrambles had become known as motocross, Ray’s victory was mistakenly credited to the Victa lawn-mower-powered Bantam known as the ‘Dole Special.’ “Not so,” says Ray. “That bike came much later, the first ‘Dole Special’ wasn’t built until 1964.”
Not long after Ray won his first NSW and Australian Titles, his long-time workmate Joe Batby left Bennett & Wood and, forsaking motorcycles, took up the relatively new sport of go-karting. Joe’s new employer was Victa Lawn Mowers, a company which was by then turning out over 140,000 units per year from their new factory in Milperra. No surprises that Joe’s kart was powered by a very finely tuned Victa powerplant.
Meantime Ray kept on scrambling, and on Saturday 2 November 1963, Moorebank hosted the first direct telecast of motorcycle racing in Australia; a meeting which was promoted on the front page of the Daily Mirror’s Saturday supplement. The first event was the sidecar race, where a massive pile-up in the first turn blocked the track. To maximise live-to-air broadcast time, the track was quickly cleared for the 125cc race, won by Ray on his BSA Bantam. Still no Victa motor.
By this time Ray had joined Joe working for Victa and it wasn’t long before his venerable Bantam was powered by a lawn mower engine which, in this first iteration, failed to provide any improvement. Meantime Joe had upgraded his go-kart with a larger McCulloch motor and offered Ray his highly developed twin-carby Victa. Thus the legendary ‘Dole Special’ was created and this proved just the ticket to power Ray to victory in the 1964 NSW Scrambles Championship, being presented with his trophy by TV personality Bobby Limb.
Strangely, the bike’s next major appearance was at Mount Panorama where it was ridden by Ray Vinton in the 1966 Ultra Lightweight TT.
“Joe’s Victa motor was great,” recalls Ray. “But by that time, my old Bantam frame was showing its age.”
Lack of funds halted any further development and the Victa remained in Ray’s Bantam for the 1966 NSW Scrambles Championships held at the newly opened Mount Kembla Circuit in September, where Ray won his third and final NSW Scrambles Title.
Joe and Ray had not given up on Bathurst and the Victa motor found a new home in a Yamaha 100 frame with a four-speed gearbox. There were scores entrants for the 1967 Ultra lightweight TT, but with Albert Fisher in the saddle, the Victa-engined hybrid finished 13th outright.
“That bike had amazing power,” says Ray. “It pulled up Mountain Straight in top gear and, even without a fairing, was timed at 94mph (151km/h) down Conrod.”
Despite the pins and needles, Ray defended his NSW Scrambles title in 1967, running second to Blair Harley, after which Ray hung up his boots. But the Dole Victa is still in the family and this historic machine may yet make a reappearance in VMX in the hands of Raymond Dole Jnr.