Monthly Archives: March 2020

Top 10 motorcycling books

Here are a selection of the best motorcycling books that you can enjoy while we #StayAtHome. Which books would you have on your list?

Nick’s picks:

I will never forget that cloud of numbed silence that engulfed the Misano paddock on September 5, 1993. Nobody could or wanted to believe the news about Wayne. His life before the accident and even more after is vividly illustrated in a way that only Michael Scott can portray. A stunning read about darkness, courage and love.

It was only when I read the book that I realised I had ridden a large part this legend’s route through Argentina. In 1982 Peter Clifford and myself embarked on an incredible motorcycle journey from Buenos Aires to Chile before the Argentinian Grand Prix. Guevara’s steed was a 1939 500cc Norton nicknamed Poderosa 11. We rode a lot more modern Hondas. He went onto lead the revolution while our main worry was getting out of Argentina before the Falkland Islands War started.

This was my bible when I was growing up thinking that I was going to be a motorcycle racer. Those dreams ended in a muddy ditch beside Tumbledown Hill just outside my home village. I’d followed Hailwood’s advice about riding fast in the wet and discovered that I neither had the skill of courage to follow in his footsteps. Not many or if any others did.

This could have been a John L’Carre novel, but it was a true story brilliantly conveyed by my old friend Mat Oxley. In 1961 Ernst Degner defected to the West after the Swedish Grand Prix. Not only did the rider and his family defect but he brought with him all the two-stroke secrets from the East German MZ factory which he gave to Suzuki ultimately leading to World Championship success for both the rider and factory. Even John Le Carre would have struggled to make this story up.

What an inspiration this book about New Zealander Burt Munroe is to everybody and especially to people of my age. Burt Munroe followed his dream of setting a world speed record on his home built Indian Motorcycle. He defied all the odds to build the bike, travel to America and then ride to a new world record. Both the film starring Anthony Hopkins and the book graphically illustrate that you must never give up on your dream.

Martin’s picks:

Like Valentino Rossi now, Barry Sheene was a rider whose fame went far beyond the world of motorcycling as well as a rider who came out on top of the 500cc world championship in both 1976 and 1977. This book was published after his World title win in 1976 and covers his rise to fame as well as his World Championship endeavours. The book is special to me as it covers the time when I first started to attend race events – the first of which was at Oulton Park in Easter 1972 when the young Sheene racing in white leathers stormed to victory in the 250cc and 500cc races. From that event onwards I was hooked!

This the modern version of the Murray Walker book that Nick has in his list. Written by Roberts in conjunction with Peter Clifford, who adds the engineering expertise, this book explains the physics of racing technique. When he arrived in Europe Roberts changed the approach to racing and this book explains how he did it, with a more analytical approach to understanding why and how a motorcycle responds as it does.

If a photo can tell a thousand words then this is the book that confirms it – but in addition to those wonderful photos Mat, in his usual brilliant way, tells the story behind the photos. If you want to read about those heroes who rode the 500cc monsters without any electronic aids – then this is the book for you.

In my 48 years of watching motorcycle racing, there may have been harder racers than Jon Ekerold – but I am not sure who they would be. In the 70s and 80s racing was very different from it is now: it was possible to go GP racing with a couple privately owned machines and a transit van. The existence was very much hand-to-mouth and the prize and start money from one race paid for the fuel to get to the next one. Jon Ekerold was one of many such racers, but one of the few to win a World title. This book tells the real story of Grand Prix racing in that era.

For me the racing book that I wish had never been written. Jarno Saarinen is my all-time hero of racing. I cannot read this book without feeling great emotion these many years later: great sadness, along with anger that the riders of those days were treated so poorly with regard to safety. In the early 70s Saarinen was the man who was taking the Grand Prix scheme by storm, by challenging the dominance of the great Giacomo Agostini and his fabulous MV. Saarinen won the 250cc World title in 1972 and then was signed by Yamaha to lead their attack on the 500cc title in 1973. After dominating the early season events he arrived at Monza leading both the 250cc & 500cc championship standings, before events at Monza on the fateful day in May 1973 when he lost his life alongside Italian legend Renzo Pasolini.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 26th, 2020|Martin Raines Blog, News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Top 10 motorcycling books

Click your fingers and they would arrive

It seems only a few years ago that you could just click your fingers and they would arrive from across the Atlantic to win Grands Prix and in many cases, World Championships. It was like the Pilgrim Fathers in reverse as Kenny Roberts led the charge from America closely followed by Eddie Lawson, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski and Kevin Schwantz. Even in the 21st century the likes of Kenny Roberts Junior and Nicky Hayden kept the Stars and Stripes flying high on foreign soil.

It was only when Joe Roberts took that magnificent Moto2™ pole in Qatar last week I realised just how the exploits of those American heroes were confined firmly to the history books. American success in the all three classes in the MotoGP™ World Championship was long overdue. Incredibly, a decade overdue.

Fittingly it was at an iconic legendary American venue that Ben Spies grabbed the very last American pole position. It was in the 2010 MotoGP™ race at the Indianapolis Speedway that the Yamaha rider started the 28-lap race from pole position after leading qualifying. Spies finished second in the race behind the Honda of Dani Pedrosa. I’m sure there would have been many more poles and race wins for Spies if his career had not been cruelly cut short by injury.

That same year an American rider grabbed his country’s only ever pole position in the Moto2™ class. Never has the media centre celebrated a pole position with such noise when Kenny Noyes crossed the line at Le Mans. His father Dennis was a doyen of the Grand Prix press core for many a decade and I think we all felt part of his pride.

That was that. Ten barren years and to be honest not much sign that times were about to change until that memorable Saturday night in Qatar.

It was back in 1978 a dirt tracker who was never afraid to express his opinions arrived in Europe to compete in the 500cc World Championship. Kenny Roberts is the biggest single influence in the 71-year history of the sport. The Californian simply turned the Grand Prix racing on its head both on and off the track. He dominated the 500cc World Championship for the next three years with a sliding style that had been honed on the mile-long dirt tracks under the floodlights back home. The European riders led by double World Champion Barry Sheene had never seen anything like it and had no answer. Off the track Kenny led the riders in their fight to improve appalling lack of safety and financial rewards. He was successful on both counts.

If that was not enough, he then brought the likes of Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson from the States to join the likes of Spencer and Schwantz to carry on the American domination of the 500cc World Championship. He set up his own British-based Grand Prix team and produced a son who carried on the family and American tradition by winning the 2000 500cc World title. The only father and son to win a World title.

Pat Hennen was the first American Grand Prix winner when he won the 1976 Finnish Grand Prix at Imatra. Two years earlier Kenny Roberts had popped over the Atlantic to test the water with a 250cc ride in Assen. He started his Grand Prix debut on pole. We should have realised then just what an impact he was going to make.

When you have the same surname as a true legend you have so much lot to live up to. Joe made a start in Qatar.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 18th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog, Uncategorised|Comments Off on Click your fingers and they would arrive

A smile never to forget

That smile perhaps even cheeky grin was all I could think about as the chequered flag dropped at the end of the Moto2™ race on Sunday.

It was very much a case of mixed emotions as Moto2™ celebrated its tenth birthday under the Qatar floodlights. I wanted to celebrate the ten years that has produced some amazing racing and a World Champion that has gone on to become one of the greatest premier class World Champions in the 70-year history of the sport. I wanted to celebrate the maiden Grand Prix victory for Japanese rider Tetsuta Nagashima on his 70th Grand Prix appearance after another typical fiery Moto2™ encounter.

My mind went back ten long years and that very first Moto2™ race won by another Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa. We honestly did not know what to expect and it really was a shot in the dark, if you will excuse the pun. Could these Honda powered 600 cc four-strokes really replace the two-stroke 250’s that had reigned supreme for 50 years. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Tomizawa eventually got away at the front on the Suter from a frantic battle between Alex Debon, Jules Cluzel and World Champion elect Tony Elias. The smile and celebrations on the podium by the young Japanese rider made me realise that he was something so special both on and off the track.

The second round in Jerez confirmed his ability on the bike as he fought a titanic battle round the legendary venue to finish second behind Elias by one tenth of a second. Just half a second separated the first four – Moto2™ had arrived. Off the track Tomizawa was a delight. Somehow, he managed to combine that natural Japanese trait of courtesy and good manners with a friendly cheeky smile and always a word with everybody. How many riders would stop in the middle of a busy paddock to joke with a 60-year-old television commentator, everybody was treated with the same respect but with such a sense of good fun.

I have rarely witnessed such raw distress in a Grand Prix paddock when Shoya lost his life in that tragic accident at Misano in September of that first year. Not only had the sport lost a great rider but a true person who embodied what the sport was all about. He just loved racing motorcycles and enjoying life with everybody. I’m sure he would have gone on to win a Moto2™ title and move on to MotoGP™, but it was not to be.

Tetsuta Nagashima celebrated that tenth Moto2™ birthday in true style but even more important he dedicated his first Grand Prix win to his old friend. He is the first Japanese rider to lead the Moto2™ World Championship since Shoya. I know he would have approved with that smile.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 12th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|Comments Off on A smile never to forget

Not for the first time

This year the circumstances are unique, but this is not the first time that the opening round of the World Championship has had problems

Probably the most famous cancellation of the first round came in 1980 when heavy snow not only covered the Salzburgring circuit in Austria but even blocked the paddock entrance. A year later snow also caused the postponement of the first day of practice although it thawed and the Grand Prix finally went ahead. Already the proposed opening round in 1980 in Venezuela had been cancelled because of financial problems.

It will also not be the first time the smaller classes have taken the limelight with no premier class race at a Grand Prix. In 1982 the old Brno road circuit in Czechoslovakia was deemed too dangerous for 500cc machine and the smaller classes – the 350cc, 250cc, 125cc, 80cc and, of course, the sidecars, entertained the vast crowds.

It has also worked the other way. In 2008 the rapidly arriving hurricane meant the 250cc riders at Indianapolis made the long trip across the Atlantic but never actually raced at the legendary venue. The opening round under the Qatar floodlights a year later had to be split into two days with the MotoGP™ race on a Monday after rain brought proceedings to a halt on Sunday night.

There are a number of occasions when the leading 500cc riders refused to race on safety grounds. The worried organisers usually managed to pull together a grid of privateers who just had to race and ignore the danger to enable them to fill their van with diesel and buy a new set of tyres for the next Grand Prix. The result was some unlikely 500cc Grand Prix winners.
In 1974 unknown German rider Edmund Czihak won the 500cc German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring when the leading riders, led by Phil Read and Giacomo Agostini, refused to ride on safety grounds highlighted by the amount of Armco barriers surrounding the circuit. Five years later, Dennis Ireland won his only 500cc Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps when the top riders refused to race on the slippery surface. Swiss rider Michel Frutschi won in 1982 at Nogaro in France when the top riders, led by Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, asked me to draft their letter to the organisers stating the circuit was too dangerous for 500cc bikes.

In 1989, I can still see Eddie Lawson sitting on the pit lane wall at Misano signalling to 500cc Grand Prix winner, and local rider, Pier Francesco Chili with a single finger every lap of the race. I don’t think it was to celebrate the fact Frankie was leading after the top riders refused to compete in the re-run race after the first one was stopped on safety grounds.

The 2020 season has hit very different problems that have never been encountered before. It’s new territory for everybody but one thing is for certain: those Moto2™ and Moto3™ riders will put on a great show under the floodlights on Sunday to start the new season in style.

By |2020-04-29T09:39:45+00:00March 5th, 2020|News and Events, Nick's Blog|1 Comment
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