Tracks in Time

In­ter­na­tional MX

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

In 1972, a South Aus­tralian en­tre­pre­neur de­cided to launch Aus­tralia into big-time mo­tocross. It was an ex­cit­ing, if ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful ex­er­cise, but it sig­nalled a boom pe­riod for off-road mo­tor­cy­cling.

his tilt at mo­tor sport pro­mo­tion, Lin­den Prowse made a name for him­self, and a small for­tune, via his pet food com­pany Luv Pet Foods. So fer­vent was his be­lief in his prod­uct, and his skill in self-pro­mo­tion, that he ap­peared on national tele­vi­sion where he de­voured a brim­ming plate­ful of Luv as a tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents used. It may or may not have sold more Luv, but it cer­tainly made head­lines, which was the whole in­ten­tion.

After di­vest­ing him­self of his re­cy­cled an­i­mals busi­ness to a US multi­na­tional in 1971, Prowse went on the hunt for fresh fields to con­quer. At the time, the pro­saic game of chess was in the process of ac­quir­ing a whole new vis­age; forces were at work to po­si­tion the gen­teel pas­time as a dog-eat-dog con­fronta­tion of ge­nius minds via ex­trav­a­gant and some­what du­bi­ous pro­mo­tion. The con­cept of be­com­ing a chess pro­moter him­self ap­pealed to Prowse, and in May 1972, the 37-year-old an­nounced a $225,000 bid for the right to stage a World Chess Cham­pi­onship match in Sydney, be­tween Amer­i­can Bobby Fis­cher and Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union. The Cold War had hit the chess­board. In mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, Prowse told the me­dia, “It’s all our own money. We don’t want Gov­ern­ment help. It’s up to Aus­tralian busi­ness peo­ple to get off their back­sides and do this sort of thing for Aus­tralia.” Prowse said that prof­its from the ven­ture would come largely from the sale of copy­right to press rep­re­sen­ta­tives through­out the world. In­sert­ing a jin­go­is­tic note he added, “Ev­ery­body wants to know why! Is there any­thing wrong with do­ing some­thing for Aus­tralia? It is a con­test be­tween in­di­vid­u­als – the old world of Tol­stoy ver­sus the new world. At least 800 mil­lion peo­ple are in­ter­ested in play­ing and watch­ing chess. This would be a great event for Aus­tralia.” The bid was sub­mit­ted by the Aus­tralian Chess Fed­er­a­tion, but was ul­ti­mately re­jected in favour of a ri­val bid to stage the se­ries of 24 matches in Reyk­javik, Ice­land, where it was dubbed “Match of the Cen­tury”. As Prowse had fore­cast, it did in­deed at­tracted un­prece­dented at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially after the McCarthy­ist Amer­i­can Fis­cher ended 24 years of Soviet dom­i­na­tion by tak­ing the ti­tle. The match even in­spired Björn Ul­vaeus and Benny An­der­s­son, the male for­mer mem­bers of the phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful pop group Abba to write a mu­si­cal called Chess, which it­self be­came a smash hit.

Later, in 1974, Prowse was con­tro­ver­sially ap­pointed as Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of the Unit for the Qual­ity of Work­ing Life; the South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment un­der the equally flam­boy­ant Don Dun­stan see­ing Prowse’s sales skill as an ad­van­tage in sell­ing the idea of worker par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­dus­try. Dun­stan was later to note that Prowe’s ap­point­ment as head of the unit was ‘an un­for­tu­nate mis­take’, as he had man­aged to of­fend both man­age­ment and trade unions. But back to 1972. While the chess

tour­na­ment had been snatched from his grasp, Prowse still hun­gered for sports pro­mo­tion, and hit upon the idea of an in­ter­na­tional se­ries in Aus­tralia for what he termed moto crosse (sic). In the ini­tial press handout he said, “When I saw some of the big moto crosse meet­ings in Europe and America with huge crowds of peo­ple hav­ing fun in the sun, I thought it would be an ideal new sport to de­velop back home. Moto crosse has all the at­tributes to ap­peal to Aus­tralians. It’s spec­tac­u­lar, rugged and skil­ful. There is one cu­ri­ous thing about moto crosse which struck me when I first saw it and which I am sure will grab Aus­tralians’ in­ter­est. It is very much like a rodeo, with bikes in­stead of horses – and Aus­tralians still turn out in droves to see rodeos.” It was a cu­ri­ous anal­ogy, and Mr Prowse also ne­glected to note that the con­cept of a troupe of in­ter­na­tional stars vis­it­ing Aus­tralia, or Aus­trala­sia, for a se­ries of races was not new. As far back as 1967, such a se­ries, largely spon­sored by Roth­mans, had been put to­gether by ex-pat Aussie Tim Gibbes, fea­tur­ing Husq­varna works rider Gun­nar Lind­strom, Welsh­man John Lewis, Amer­i­can desert racer J.N. Roberts (who brought his 360 Husq­varna with him as air cargo) and a strong New Zealand team of Ivan Miller, Mor­ley Shirriffs and Gor­don Hol­land, as well as Gibbes him­self. This se­ries be­gan at Snake Gully in Ade­laide be­fore mov­ing to Christ­mas Hills near Melbourne and on to the Mount Kem­bla cir­cuit near Wol­lon­gong. The se­ries then shifted to New Zealand, with Lind­strom top­ping the re­sults at Sed­don, Ti­maru and Nel­son to take out the over­all se­ries win. One year later the In­ter­na­tional se­ries was back, the cast this time com­pris­ing sea­soned vet­eran Gor­don Ad­sett and fel­low Brit Randy Owen, plus an un­known Aus­trian, Al­fred Post­man. The big Kiwi con­tin­gent in­cluded Alan Col­li­son on a 360 Mon­tesa, Alan Franklin, Ross McLaren and Des Boyce, all on CZs. There were four rounds; in Perth and Tas­ma­nia, at Christ­mas Hills and at Moore­bank in Sydney. Again in 1971, an in­ter­na­tional con­tin­gent of Randy and brother Row­ley Owen, Scots­man Jim Aird, and Kiwi Ivan Miller ar­rived for a short se­ries which in­cluded the Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onships at Claren­don, South Aus­tralia.

How­ever it’s fair to say that although they were highly tal­ented, none of these rid­ers was of the cal­i­bre of the six-strong troupe as­sem­bled by Prowse. Top­ping the list was the works Suzuki duo of Roger de Coster and Joel Robert, who be­tween them boasted no fewer than eleven world mo­tocross ti­tles. South Aus­tralian Suzuki dis­trib­u­tor Cor­nell Suzuki pro­vided some as­sis­tance to the pair and con­ducted hos­pi­tal­ity units (ba­si­cally a tent) at the three rounds of the se­ries. In ad­di­tion to the Suzuki squad was works Husq­varna rider Bengt Aberg, win­ner of the 1969 and 1970 FIM Mo­tocross World 500cc Cham­pi­onship, with Welsh rider Andy Rober­ton, also con­tracted to Husq­vana, rid­ing a CR400 pro­vided by Aus­tralian dis­trib­u­tor John Har­ris. Com­plet­ing the six-rider squad was the works Maico pair­ing of Ger­mans Adolf Weil and Willy Bauer.

Orig­i­nally the se­ries was due to start on De­cem­ber 3rd, but the Suzuki squad was doubt­ful of com­plet­ing sched­uled ap­pear­ances in USA in time. So the Aus­tralian se­ries was con­densed into three meet­ings in just eight days, with the quite unique sit­u­a­tion of many com­peti­tors (in­clud­ing the in­ter­na­tion­als) com­pet­ing in South Aus­tralia on Satur­day De­cem­ber 9th, then mak­ing an overnight dash to race at Calder the fol­low­ing day. Prowse put up $100,000 of his own money to stage the se­ries, with some sup­port from Coca Cola. The public re­la­tions ex­er­cise that pre­ceded the first event was un­prece­dented for a mo­tor­cy­cle event in this coun­try – even the Duke of Ed­in­burgh (who was the pa­tron of the Auto Cy­cle Union of Great Bri­tain) was moved to write a fore­word for the of­fi­cial pro­gram which ap­peared on Buck­ing­ham Palace let­ter­head. In part it stated ‘In my ex­pe­ri­ence Aus­tralians like noth­ing bet­ter than tak­ing part in or watch­ing ex­cit­ing and de­mand­ing sports… The Auto Cy­cle Union and all their Moto Crosse (sic) en­thu­si­asts in Bri­tain send all their best wishes for the forth­com­ing Grand Prix.” Film star Steve McQueen, who was pic­tured in the pro­gram with his “old buddy” Joel Robert, also wrote, “I re­ally wish my sched­ule would al­low me to be with you to­day. It is not hard to imag­ine how ex­cited you must be to have such su­per stars ap­pear­ing in your coun­try for the first time. Moto Crosse (sic) is a thrilling sport, for com­peti­tors and spec­ta­tors alike and I am cer­tain it will take Aus­tralia by storm as it has the United States.” Se­ries prize money of $8,000 would be split equally be­tween the in­ter­na­tion­als and the Aus­tralian con­tin­gent, the pro­mot­ers said. The Basham Park cir­cuit at Sil­ver Lake in the Ade­laide foothills was a tight, un­du­lat­ing cir­cuit of ap­prox­i­mately 1.5km that had hosted just two pre­vi­ous meet­ings. Be­fore rac­ing even be­gan, there was ten­sion in the air. De­spite the fact that the works Suzukis, Maicos and Aberg’s Husq­varna had com­peted in the just-con­cluded World Cham­pi­onships, South Aus­tralian of­fi­cials re­fused to let them out to prac­tice be­cause the coun­ter­shaft sprock­ets were ex­posed and the han­dle­bar ends were not fit­ted with plugs! After a lengthy stand-off, a tele­phone call by Prowse to the ACU in UK, and a crowd of 10,000 be­com­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the lack of ac­tion, the sit­u­a­tion was re­solved and prac­tice be­gan, al­beit late.

Pre­dictably, the in­ter­na­tion­als made minced meat of the lo­cal op­po­si­tion, Aberg tak­ing the win in the first leg from Weil and Bauer. In Leg Two, Weil man­aged to de­pose the Swede, but it was Aberg’s day over­all. Top lo­cals were Dan­ish im­mi­grant Per Kl­it­land, rid­ing Bruce Roberts’ 400 Maico, Vic­to­rian Jack Pen­gelly (Maico) and Wol­lon­gong rider Bob Ni­cholls (325 Bul­taco). Ap­pro­pri­ately, lo­cal hero Dave Basham won the 250cc race. The meet­ing con­cluded with the an­nounce­ment that the State Gov­ern­ment had or­dered the clo­sure of the cir­cuit due to noise prob­lems, de­spite the fact that there were only two houses near the cir­cuit. “In Bel­gium,” de Coster said, “there are up to 100 houses around the cir­cuits and no one com­plains. How can two houses kill a track?” 24 Hours later, the scene shifted from the lush hills of Ade­laide to the flat and fea­ture­less con­fines of Calder Park, west of Melbourne, where “a new and ex­cit­ing track has been de­signed to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards” for The Herald Grand Prix. This rather over­stated the fact that the track had been cre­ated in­side the ex­ist­ing road race cir­cuit by dump­ing truck­loads of earth in sev­eral places to cre­ate jumps. After the lay­out was tested – and heav­ily crit­i­cised – by sev­eral top lo­cal rid­ers, it was com­pletely re­built and fin­ished only hours be­fore the sched­uled start. Typ­i­cally for this time of year, the day was ex­tremely hot, and de­spite co­pi­ous wa­ter­ing of the cir­cuit, dust quickly be­came a prob­lem. There had been ex­ten­sive pub­lic­ity prior to the event, but only a dis­ap­point­ingly small crowd of 5,000 turned out, with many protests over the ‘out­ra­geous’ en­try price of $3.50 per adult. The re­vised track was ac­tu­ally praised by the in­ter­na­tion­als, Joel Roberts say­ing that un­like Basham Park (“too small”), the Calder lay­out was “the ideal size for mo­tocross – about two min­utes per lap.” Once again, the vis­i­tors de­mol­ished the lo­cals, Bauer win­ning from Aberg and a fast-fin­ish­ing de Coster in leg One. In the sec­ond 20-minute leg, Aberg made the ini­tial run­ning un­til he was over­hauled by the

spec­tac­u­lar de Coster, “lap­ping other rid­ers in mid-air”, and the Bel­gian ran out a wor­thy win­ner, with Bauer tak­ing out the over­all round. Equal top scor­ing on the day for the lo­cals were ex-pat Kiwi Brian Martin (400 Maico) and Garry Adams (370 AJS) with Pen­gelly third. The fi­nal round at Oran Park was also con­ducted on a track in­side the road race cir­cuit, but at least this one ben­e­fited from the un­du­lat­ing na­ture of the ter­rain and had in fact staged sev­eral mo­tocross meet­ings pre­vi­ously. To the re­lief of the pro­mot­ers, a very healthy crowd, said to be be­tween 10-12,000 filed in through the gates. On this lay­out, the Euro­peans sim­ply flew, soar­ing over the jumps as if they weren’t there, brak­ing later into the cor­ners and hit­ting the throt­tle ear­lier onto the straights. After a some­what dis­ap­point­ing se­ries by his stan­dards, de Coster re­ally hit his straps, win­ning the open­ing en­counter from Robert and Weil after Bauer suf­fered a bro­ken chain. Stung by the re­al­i­sa­tion that the re­tire­ment had prob­a­bly cost him the se­ries win, Bauer scorched to the lead in Leg Two, har­ried by Aberg for the en­tire dis­tance, while de Coster claimed third. Kl­it­land was again best of the lo­cals, from Jim Scaysbrook, and Garry Adams, while Aberg was de­clared the over­all win­ner of the se­ries. Kl­it­land took home the gold for best lo­cal. Of the three rounds, Oran Park cer­tainly pro­duced the best rac­ing, and at the end of an ex­cit­ing day there was much talk of a big­ger, bet­ter se­ries for 1973. But be­hind the scenes, all was not well. Spectator at­ten­dance over­all had fallen well short of ex­pec­ta­tions, and de­spite Prowse’s pleas, lo­cal spon­sors were con­spic­u­ously ab­sent. It took some time be­fore the pub­lished prize money was paid, and although debts were even­tu­ally set­tled, the pro­mo­tion com­pany qui­etly dis­ap­peared. Lin­den Prowse walked away from a con­sid­er­able per­sonal in­vest­ment to pur­sue other lines of busi­ness, and later be­came a breeder of suc­cess­ful race horses. In one re­spect, Prowse was cor­rect; mo­tocross was in­deed a highly spec­tac­u­lar branch of mo­tor­cy­cle sport, and was on the verge of a pop­u­lar­ity ex­plo­sion. With the new wave of Ja­panese mo­tocross bikes be­com­ing avail­able, plus the revo­lu­tion in sus­pen­sion sys­tems that made rac­ing even faster and more vis­ually dy­namic, ‘MX’ be­came a week­end sport for a whole new gen­er­a­tion of baby boomers with the time and money to in­dulge their pas­sion.

Wait­ing for the gate to drop at Oran Park. Rid­ers in­clude Gary Adams (13), Per Kl­it­land (19), Robert Harper (17), Andy Rober­ton (3), Brian Martin (11) and Jim Scaysbrook (111).

BE­LOW A full-colour pro­gramme; some­thing of a rar­ity in lo­cal mo­tocross in 1972.

ABOVE An ap­pre­cia­tive Basham Park crowd watches World 500 Cham­pion Roger de Coster show how it’s done. BE­LOW LEFT Fran­tic first lap in South Aus­tralia.

Bengt Aberg leads Lau­rie Alder­ton at Basham Park.

Adolf Weil (4) and Bengt Aberg (6) duke it out at Oran Park.

Vic­to­rian Mike Ni­col at Calder.

Queens­lan­der John Walm­s­ley at Calder.

RIGHT Brian Martin, one of the few lo­cals who con­tested all three rounds, at Calder.

BE­LOW The ‘Guns’; Roger de Coaster, Joel Robert, Bengt Aberg, Willi Bauer, and Adolf Weil.

ABOVE The cramped con­fines of the ‘In­ter­na­tional’ tent at Calder.

Adolf Weil leads the field at Calder.

Re­cently set­tled in Aus­tralia, Dane Per Kl­it­land was top ‘lo­cal’ for the se­ries.

Andy Robert­son on the sun-baked Calder cir­cuit.

OBA ed­i­tor Jim Scaysbrook (400 Maico) at Oran Park.

ABOVE Willi Bauer is pre­sented with his tro­phy at Calder by Dou­glas Lock­wood, of the Melbourne Herald. Ap­plaud­ing is pro­moter Lin­den Prowse.

BE­LOW The lo­cal Maico squad at Oran park; Brian Martin pre­pares to do bat­tle.

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