’cross words

Is it the foun­tain of youth at which Mr Berry has been sip­ping? No, just a view that youth isn’t a new thing... This is part two!

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

In Oc­to­ber, 1969, with School­boy Scram­bling still in its in­fancy, the first Bri­tish School­boy Cham­pi­onships were run by the School­boy Mo­tor Cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion at Hor­ley, near Ban­bury, cater­ing for Ju­niors, In­ter­me­di­ates, and Se­niors. In­ter­est in this branch of the sport was in­creas­ing at that time and there is a Pathé News film of the event you might want to check out on Youtube.

Com­peti­tors came from pi­o­neer­ing clubs such as Read­ing, Ring­wood, Cor­sham and Hor­sham and the win­ners on the day were a cer­tain Dave Thorpe, Rene Stubbs and John Se­ward. The race footage ends with Se­ward con­fi­dently wheel­ieing to the che­quered flag but what stood out most for me was the im­age of the three champs dis­play­ing their tro­phies. Se­ward looks very self-con­scious, Stubbs happy with his day’s work and a 7-year-old Thorpe al­ready seems re­laxed and com­fort­able in front of the cam­eras. It would ap­pear that even at such a ten­der age he had the con­fi­dence and self-be­lief of a world cham­pion.

Se­ward was a tremen­dous tal­ent; Bri­tish cham­pion at 14 years old, he was favourite to win the ti­tle again in 1970 on a 125 Puch, but was beaten into se­cond place by Ge­off Mayes rid­ing a Bul­taco. Ge­off, who won all three races re­calls: “On his day he was the man and go­ing out in the third race I still felt that he could beat me.” Se­ward made rapid progress to Ex­pert level in the adult ranks, though de­spite be­ing a very smooth, stylish rider he had ap­par­ently reached a plateau.

The fol­low­ing year, 15-year-old Trevor Hardi­man be­came Bri­tish School­boy Mo­tor­cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion Cham­pion at Matchams Park, Ring­wood. In do­ing so, he beat both Gra­ham Noyce and Neil Hudson; some­thing to tell the grand­chil­dren! Like Se­ward, Hardi­man was well pre­pared for the tran­si­tion to adult ranks, mak­ing Ex­pert at 16, but he strug­gled to make the grade at na­tional level and by the age of 19 he had stopped rac­ing. He did re­turn to the sport briefly at the age of 25 in the AMCA, where again he made Ex­pert, but soon re­tired as a re­sult of a string of in­juries.

In 1970 the ACU had de­cided to run a na­tional un­der-21 cham­pi­onship (spon­sored by Shell) which gave the likes of Mike Jones and Roger Har­vey (win­ners in 1970 and 71 re­spec­tively), Stu­art Nunn, Vaughan Sem­mens and Martin Lamp­kin, who was still mix­ing his mo­tor­cy­cling, a chance to shine. And with rid­ers such as John Banks, Mal­colm Davis, Bryan Wade and Andy Rober­ton, all in their early to mid-20s, dom­i­nat­ing the Bri­tish cham­pi­onships the fu­ture ap­peared bright for Bri­tish mo­tocross.

How­ever, the in­ter­na­tional scene the early 1970s largely proved to be a dis­ap­point­ment. John Banks had gone close to win­ning a world cham­pi­onship in 1968 and 1969 be­fore in­jury cur­tailed his chal­lenge and while Davis and Wade promised much they failed to de­liver on the GP scene, al­beit ham­pered by un­re­li­able ma­chin­ery while with AJS and Greeves, re­spec­tively.

When Noyce and Hudson grad­u­ated the school­boy ranks they in­jected new life into a flag­ging mo­tocross scene. Noyce was in­cred­i­bly fast if al­ways seem­ingly on the limit; I first wit­nessed his force­ful style in the 125 Bri­tish cham­pi­onship on his Métisse at Wakes Colne in 1973. Fifth in race one, won by Davis from Wade, he scored an amaz­ing 3rd place in race two, beaten only by Wade and Har­vey. In con­trast, Hudson was al­ready a very smooth rider show­ing ma­tu­rity beyond his years. As a 17-year-old, he won the Somer­ton Club’s three-leg Ex­perts Mo­tocross, in Fe­bru­ary 1974 with­out win­ning a leg. Con­sis­tency, al­ways a qual­ity Neil had, brought him the win over more ex­pe­ri­enced and more fan­cied run­ners; Rob Tay­lor (his spon­sor), Bryan Goss and Noyce.

When the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship took on its ‘Top 35’ for­mat in 1975, Noyce es­pe­cially was a sen­sa­tion. He re­ally shook things up, tak­ing on and of­ten beat­ing the best rid­ers of the last five to 10 years. Banks, East­wood, Al­lan, Wade and Rober­ton would all feel the pas­sion and de­sire of this young man as he showed scant re­gard for rep­u­ta­tion. I once told Andy how I’d been a huge Noyce fan as a lad, to which, much to my sur­prise, he re­sponded, “So was I.”

Within an­other few years Noyce and Hudson were dom­i­nat­ing Bri­tish mo­tocross and in 1979 and 1981 they would each be crowned world cham­pion, Gra­ham (500) and Neil (250). How­ever, they would soon be eclipsed by that small boy with the con­fi­dent smile who had won his first ti­tle as a seven-year-old and by the age of 22 had ma­tured into a world cham­pion him­self. Thorpe would go on to add two more ti­tles, mak­ing him Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful moto cross rider ever.

With a re­turn of five world ti­tles from its alumni, Bri­tain’s School of Mo­tocross had given us plenty to be grate­ful for and the move­ment, which had started out from such hum­ble be­gin­nings, had brought a pro­fes­sional ap­proach to the sport. But look­ing back at that film from the au­tumn of 1969 I do miss those care-free in­no­cent days. 

…When Noyce and Hudson grad­u­ated the school­boy ranks they in­jected new life into a flag­ging mo­tocross scene… Ian Berry

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