My moment of truth came in March 1976. After the first four months at Motor Cycle News reporting on the British Sidecar Trials Championship the News Editor told me that ‘the boy’ – his words not mine – was being dispatched to Misano to report on the 1976 pre-season international. When he added “bring back plenty of quotes back from Giacomo Agostini and Phil Read”, I was on the road dressed in my new blue and white Motor Cycle anorak with my signature proudly emblazoned on the breast pocket.
The pre-season international races had been held on the legendary streets and seafronts of the Adriatic towns for many years and the Reception at the Abners Hotel was adorned with photographs of Italian legends; Agostini, Bergamonti and Pagani to name but a few. Like so many of the road circuits they were a dangerous place to race and in 1971 a tragic accident involving Angelo Bergamonti ultimately led to the contruction of the Misano permanent circuit. The MV Agusta factory rider had won the last round of the 1970 Championship at Monjuich Park in Spain. His preparation for the new season included the international races on the Riccione seafront. The original meeting was called off because of heavy rain but a week later in early April the races went ahead despite the threat of more rain. It started to fall in the 350cc race while Bergamonti was chasing MV team-mate Agostini into a roundabout leading onto the sea front, and tragically the Italian crashed and was killed.
I was lucky to meet the legendary mechanic and later Honda media manager Iain Mackay in the Abners reception, who promptly invited me to dinner with his team on my first night. Sitting at the head of the table as I entered the restaurant was the leader of his team, a certain Giacomo Agostini – yes, Agostini the 15 times World Champion and all the rest of it. The Italian, who was then and still is now the most successful motorcycle racer in the 70-year history of the World Championship, standing up to shake hands with MCN’s latest raw recruit. I said little but nodded when spoken to and just ate what was put in front of me.
Practice day dawned with a rather weak and watery sun rising above a grey and uninviting Adriatic ocean. The Misano circuit is situated a couple of miles inland and the closed up camp sites, ice cream parlours and the rare sight of an Italian beach devoid of sun loungers, with only a few hardy dog walkers to be spotted, made the prospect of an international motorcycle race all rather surreal. It was a lot livelier and certainly noisier, with the scream and smoke from highly tuned two-stroke engines endorsing the fact that something was actually to happen on this March weekend.
The good old MCN jacket once again came into its own when Phil Read spotted me in the paddock. “You must be the new man from Motor Cycle News,” he enquired, and promptly invited me to dinner that night. “I’m staying at the Abners if you know it,” he told me, “and the restaurant is on the first floor.” Know it? Oh my god, I’m a regular and was there with your great mate Mr Agostini just last night! At least I knew where to go and after the meal I lay on the bed in my room wanting to phone my mates back home and tell them this was a doddle. I’d had dinner with Ago and Phil, met Walter Villa and really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about this job.
A few flurries of sleet falling into the uninviting sea greeted the breakfast guests at the start of my big day. On arrival groups of officials, Carabinieri, riders, mechanics and journalists stood around – something was wrong. Ago, upon looking out of his Abners bedroom window, had decided the sleet was actually snow and told the Misano organisers he would not race. They made a quick calculation and decided no Ago, no meeting, and called it off.
That was that and not a doddle after all. It was back to the British Sidecar Trials Championship.