RIP to the legendary GP spannerman
Legendary Grand Prix mechanic Nobby Clark has died aged 81. Tall, slim Nobby (whose real first name was Derek) enjoyed the respect of the world’s top racers.
Originally a railway apprentice in his home town of Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he spannered for his friend Gary Hocking who signed for MV Agusta and became 350cc and 500cc World Champion in 1961. When Hocking left MV, Nobby returned to Africa and worked in a copper mine until Rhodesian GP rider Jim Redman persuaded the Honda team to recruit him as their only non-japanese mechanic in 1963.
Although paid considerably less than Honda’s own men, there were generous bonuses for success. Increasingly trusted, Nobby assisted team boss Michihiko Aika with team logistics as well as working with care and understanding on the twins, fours, fives and sixes of Honda’s travelling circus. His colleagues admired him for learning Japanese, calling him a hen’na gaijin (the funny foreigner), a name he took as a compliment. Following Honda’s 1968 withdrawal from GPS, Nobby spannered Yamahas for Kel Carruthers, helping him finish second in the 1970 250cc and 350cc world championships. Recognising his talents, Yamaha put him on their payroll to help ’70s stars Giacomo Agostini, Jarno Saarinen, Kenny Roberts and Kent Andersson to their world titles. Among the countless successes Nobby directly contributed to were 17 FIM world championships, three Daytona 200 and four Imola 200 wins. In 1978, Nobby’s good friend Mike Hailwood asked him to help at his victorious IOM TT comeback. In the 1990s Nobby was taken on to tend historic machines of New York’s Team Obsolete (see p40), particularly its 250cc Honda Six. But his relationship with team owner Robert Iannucci soured and in 1998 Nobby pleaded guilty to theft charges brought against him. Nobby became a US citizen in 2004 and in 2012 was inducted into the American Motorcyclist Association’s Hall of Fame, although the process was initially bungled by the AMA due to what it called ‘an error in the balloting process’.
In recent decades Nobby lived in New York State, servicing supercars. For the last 15 years he was also crew chief of the Mckeever/norton Manx team contesting the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association championships. Despite being diagnosed with cancer several years ago, he still frequented paddocks. Figures from the racing world rallied to support him before his death on December 16.
‘HAILWOOD ASKED HIM TO HELP AT HIS ’78 TT COMEBACK’
Agostini, Saarinen, Roberts... Nobby fettled for them all