Where are they now? Doug Robson | Columns | Gassit Garage
An intimidating presence on any speedway oval
In an era when speedway was often headlined in the sports pages, the sidecar contingent was a breed apart, and one bloke stood alone. Abrupt, uncommunicative and committed, Doug Robson would arrive at the pits underneath the Martin and Angus Stand at Sydney’s Speedway Royale, fettle his venerable Vincent HRD before taking to the track, where he’d invariably score sufficient heat points to claim a berth in the final. Then, more often than not, take the win before driving home to Lidcombe.
For a man of few words, the name Doug Robson was as familiar to the public as Norm Provan, Ian Chappell and Dawn Fraser, such was his success in the most dangerous arena in sport. And like most champions of the era, he required a full-time job and a supporting family to compete. Racing week in week out for five months a year took its toll. Driving a taxi every day while trying to keep the Vincent competitive was tough.
“Destroying an engine and getting it rebuilt for the following Saturday, particularly when I needed to get parts machined was difficult. And expensive,” recalled Robson.
He began his career at Cumberland Oval (Parramatta Speedway) as a 17-year-old but soon graduated to Westmead where, at his first meeting, he witnessed the precariousness of the sport when ‘Bluey’ Barnes and Doug’s former passenger Tony Harrison both died in the only double outfit fatality in the history of speedway. Doug vowed never to look at an accident again.
Yet he had little choice. Only a few years later in a handicap event at the Royale, a passenger Denis Duggan fell directly into the path of Robson’s outfit and later died in hospital.
It was 1962 when Doug invited Rob Lewis into the chair and the duo just clicked.
“Doug and his family welcomed me with open arms,” says Rob. “His mum Jessie was a great lady and I spent a lot of time at his home.” Together the pair won back-to-back NSW Championships in 1963 and 1964 and again in 1966, but Rob’s greatest memory is their first Australian Championship in 1967.
“We’d dropped a spark plug in one of the heats,” recalls Rob. “And scored no points. To fight back from there was amazing, I’ve never seen a bloke more committed than Doug. He had such amazing reflexes.”
Together the pair notched up half a dozen state and national titles; plus the 1967 Australasian Championship on their only foray overseas. As he’d long promised his fiancé, Rob retired in 1972 having seen the family devastation that could arrive any weekend. Doug continued for another seven years with a number of different passengers, his only gruff instructions: “Don’t make any fancy moves. That’s my job.”
None proved as successful as Rob Lewis, however Doug went on to claim a further two Australian titles in 1974 and 1975 followed by his fifth NSW title in 1977.
Then, two years later, when he was contesting the 1979 NSW Championship at the Royale, Doug decided he’d had enough.
“Warren Sullivan and Keith Sewell crashed in front of me and we went right over the top. I broke six ribs and my passenger, Dennis Potts, badly damaged his knee. Keith and his passenger were okay, but Sully’s passenger Bill Dudenhoeffer broke his back and ended up in a wheelchair.
“Bob Levy lent us his bike and we went on to win the NSW title that night,” Doug adds. “But when the time comes to quit, one knows.”
After many years as the owner/driver of a Legion Taxi, Doug had secured a Suzuki dealership and started a motorcycle shop, so the thought of bankruptcy due to incapacitation was uppermost in mind. Eventually Doug retired to the central coast where, for over a decade, he was Clerk of Course at the Gosford Speedway. And while he takes pride in a full trophy cabinet, he’s not one for the many reunions to which he’s invited; preferring to spend time in his magnificent subtropical garden. But last year he received an invite he couldn’t refuse. At 80 years of age and 40 years since he’d hung up his helmet, Doug Robson was inducted into the Australian Speedway Hall of Fame.
By Peter Whitaker
Photo Bill Meyer