The An­glo-amer­i­can match races

Transat­lantic rac­ing

Classic Racer - - WHAT'S INSIDE - Words: Bruce Cox

In more than a decade and a half of rac­ing, the Transat­lantic Tro­phy Series in­tro­duced no fewer than seven Amer­i­can World Cham­pi­ons to Bri­tish fans. Here, from one of the series cre­ators, and told for the first time, is the full in­side story on the early back­ground to the series and how it all came about 45 years ago…

Through­out the 1970s and more than half­way through the 80s, with­out doubt the world’s most sig­nif­i­cant race series out­side of the World Cham­pi­onships was the an­nual Easter week­end clash be­tween teams of vis­it­ing chal­lengers from the USA and their home-grown Bri­tish op­po­si­tion. What was first billed as the An­glo-amer­i­can Match Races in 1971 later mor­phed into the John Player Transat­lantic Tro­phy Series after a sub­stan­tial in­jec­tion of cash spon­sor­ship and highly vis­i­ble mar­ket­ing sup­port from the UK tobacco gi­ant. The series was sig­nif­i­cant, and sub­se­quently unforgettable, in that it in­tro­duced to the Bri­tish public ev­ery one of Amer­ica’s seven World Cham­pi­ons from that era! World 500cc Grand Prix Cham­pi­ons Kenny Roberts, Fred­die Spencer, Ed­die Law­son, Wayne Rainey and Kevin Sch­wantz all made their first trips out­side the USA to com­pete in the match race series. As did Amer­ica’s first world ti­tle win­ner, the 1977 For­mula 750 World Cham­pion, Steve Baker and its first World Su­per­bike Cham­pion, Fred Merkel. The series also in­tro­duced sev­eral other Amer­i­can road-rac­ing su­per­stars to the UK, such as Grand Prix fac­tory team rid­ers Randy Mamola, Pat Hen­nen and Mike Bald­win and Cana­dian ace Yvon du Hamel, along with sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers in­clud­ing USA Grand Na­tional Cham­pi­ons Gary Nixon, Gene Romero and Dick Mann as well as the ir­re­press­ible David Aldana (later vic­to­ri­ous in Ja­pan’s most im­por­tant race when he teamed with Mike Bald­win to win the Suzuka Eight Hours). Then, of course, there was the mag­nif­i­cent Cal Ray­born, whose un­timely death in a mi­nor race in New Zealand in 1973 robbed the world of a tal­ent that could have, would have, and should have, seen him earn his place in the pan­theon of road rac­ing’s greats. Nowa­days you won’t find his name on any list of World Cham­pi­ons or even US Grand Na­tional Cham­pi­onship ti­tle win­ners. But any­one who saw him race will never for­get him – most of all those lucky enough to see him burst from seem­ingly out of nowhere on to the world stage at the 1972 An­glo-amer­i­can Match Races.

Fol­low­ing on from that mile­stone year, the im­pact of the Match Race series on the World Cham­pi­onship scene of the 1970s and 80s was huge and its in­flu­ence went even beyond those decades as it opened the eyes of fu­ture Amer­i­can world ti­tle chal­lengers to the re­wards that could be earned out­side of the USA. Through­out the 50s and 60s Amer­i­can road rac­ers had been con­tent to com­pete in their own back­yard – ad­mit­tedly a big enough one that al­lowed rid­ers the op­por­tu­nity to earn a liv­ing as full-time pro­fes­sion­als. But once the Match Races had opened their eyes to a rac­ing world beyond their bor­ders, they were no longer con­tent just to stay at home. Some re­ally big bucks, they learned, were there to be earned if you could con­tinue your win­ning ways on the other side of the At­lantic. Although the first An­glo-amer­i­can Match

Races took place over the 1971 Easter week­end, the con­cept had ac­tu­ally been more than a year in the mak­ing by then. Like so many good ideas, it ger­mi­nated and grew over more than a few beers, these par­tic­u­lar ones in the bar around the cor­ner from the Cal­i­for­nia of­fices of the Mo­tor Cy­cle Weekly news­pa­per that I and busi­ness part­ner, Gavin Trippe, had launched at the Day­tona 200 in 1969. The pre­vi­ous year I had been the first Euro­pean jour­nal­ist to cover ‘the 200’–which was then Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant road race. I had spent that win­ter in Cal­i­for­nia with World Cham­pion-in-wait­ing, Rod Gould, and we made our way home via the banked Florida speed­bowl where Rod was due to ride a fac­tory Tri­umph 500 twin in the 200-Mile main event and US im­porter team Kawasaki in the 100-Mile race for 250cc ma­chines. Some club races in Cal­i­for­nia had ear­lier proved to us that there were some ca­pa­ble rid­ers out there (even though Rod won all his races) but these had in no way pre­pared us for our first ex­po­sure at Day­tona to the hard-rid­ing pro­fes­sion­als from the US Grand Na­tional Cham­pi­onship series. These were the guys who raced hard on both dirt and pave­ment – some­times on the same week­end and of­ten us­ing a rid­ing tech­nique that bor­rowed from both dis­ci­plines! Rod’s re­ac­tion to his first Day­tona prac­tice was a telling one, as it al­lowed him to watch this then-unique tech­nique in closeup from the best seat in the house – right among them! “I can run with them and even get by in the fast sweep­ers,” he told me, “but these guys are just amaz­ing in the two horse­shoe turns on the in­field and the tight cor­ner up on to the bank­ing. In all of my rac­ing in Eng­land I have never seen any­one get later on the brak­ing and go deeper into the tight turns. They are break­ing the back end loose and get­ting the bike turned early so that they can fire it straight off the apex and hard out of the cor­ner. I can learn a lot from them.” True in­deed. Rod had be­come the first Euro­pean rider to wit­ness at close hand the ‘dirt track’ ap­proach to road rac­ing that was to later take Kenny Roberts and other Amer­i­can aces to World Cham­pi­onships. But what, you may ask, has this to do with the Transat­lantic Tro­phy Series….?


It planted in my mind the idea that there were rid­ers in the USA who were un­known in Bri­tain but who could cer­tainly make an im­pact if they showed up over there. It was an idea Gavin con­curred with after see­ing Day­tona for him­self a year later and many of our con­ver­sa­tions in the MCW of­fice of­ten fo­cused on how Amer­i­can rid­ers like Har­ley-david­son’s Cal Ray­born, Tri­umph’s Gary Nixon and Yamaha’ ’s Art Bau­mann might make out if they raced on the UK short cir­cuits. As the weekly is­sues of MCW con­tin­ued d to hit the streets and we cov­ered more na­tional cham­pi­onship Amer­i­can road races s at places like Kent Race­way near Seat­tle in the Pa­cific North­west and Sears Point near San Fran­cisco, the idea of tak­ing a small group of the top Amer­i­cans to Eng­land as a pro­mo­tion for our news­pa­per be­gan to gain mo­men­tum. It was an idea that the rid­ers greeted with en­thu­si­asm, es­pe­cially the al­ways-pos­i­tive and cheer­ful ex­pa­tri­ate English­man, Ron Grant, who led the US Suzuki team and was ea­ger to show the Bri­tish fans what their ‘prodi­gal son’ (he was for­merly a Manx Nor­ton rider from Croy­don) could do on one of its TR500 twins. The only prob­lem was that our news­pa­per was still in its grow­ing stages and there was ab­so­lutely no spare money avail­able for us to fund such a project. Ex­penses would have to be cov­ered by the Bri­tish cir­cuit own­ers. Armed, there­fore, with only our own en­thu­si­asm and that of var­i­ous rid­ers, we pitched the idea to Chris Lowe of Mo­tor Cir­cuits De­vel­op­ments, the com­pany that owned Brands Hatch, Mal­lory Park and Oul­ton Park, and to Charles Wilkinson, owner

of Cad­well Park. The ba­sis of our pro­posal was that we would put to­gether an Amer­i­can team of six rid­ers to race a team of top Bri­tish rac­ers at these Bri­tish tracks on con­sec­u­tive week­ends, as­sum­ing that the ex­pense con­tri­bu­tions from the event tak­ings at four dif­fer­ent race meet­ings would cover the costs of rider pay­ments, air fares and ma­chine air freight. Charles Wilkinson did re­ply to at least ex­press an in­ter­est but the re­sponse from Chris Lowe was less than luke­warm. No re­sponse at all, in fact. How­ever, the idea must have struck a chord as when Gavin and I turned up at the Day­tona 200 in 1970, there was Chris Lowe along with Jim Swift of the Bri­tish Mo­tor Cy­cle Rac­ing Club in the pad­dock talk­ing to rid­ers on what was os­ten­si­bly a ‘fact-find­ing mis­sion’. Later we learned that the Bri­tish press had been fed the line that the pair were there to “set up a match race series be­tween Bri­tain and the USA” – a rather fa­mil­iar con­cept to us, of course. That was the year that Dick Mann won on the Honda 750cc four and Chris did learn a cou­ple of facts for fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tion. One was that he now had first-hand knowl­edge of the fact that Amer­i­can rid­ers were fast. The other was that the rid­ers we had spo­ken to ear­lier were still much hap­pier to deal as a group with us at MCW rather than in­di­vid­u­ally with un­known peo­ple on the other side of the At­lantic. Even­tu­ally, noth­ing was de­cided at Day­tona 1970 but we did agree with Chris to keep in touch, so the idea was not to­tally dis­carded. In fact, the next build­ing block in the mak­ing of the Transat­lantic Series was to come on Septem­ber 20 that year as the re­sult of a de­ci­sion by the Ital­ian su­per­star Gi­a­como Agos­tini…! The big­gest short-cir­cuit race of the UK sea­son back then was the Race of the Year at Mal­lory Park, an event at one of the most pop­u­lar MCD cir­cuits and one that al­ways at­tracted the ab­so­lute cream of the UK road­rac­ing crop as well as Grand Prix stars from Europe such as Agos­tini. ‘Ago’ had won the race in 1969 so it was a body blow to Chris when he was in­formed that a date clash with an Ital­ian event meant that the mul­ti­ple World Cham­pion would not be able to com­pete in the 1970 Race of the Year. Stars like World Cham­pi­ons, Phil Read, Kel Car­ruthers and Rod Gould plus Bri­tish short-cir­cuit ‘scratch­ers’ like John Cooper, Paul Smart and the rest of the usual sus­pects on the home front were al­ready en­tered but were all fa­mil­iar to the UK fans from reg­u­lar out­ings in the UK. What Chris needed was a name that was well-known but dif­fer­ent enough to gen­er­ate some use­ful pre-event pub­lic­ity. So he came to us at MCW to see who we could find from across the At­lantic and Gavin was quickly able to se­cure the ser­vices of Gary Nixon, a for­mer two-time US Grand Na­tional Cham­pion (in 1967 and1968) and win­ner of the Day­tona 200-Mile Race in 1967. In ad­di­tion, he was also able to sign the Cana­dian Cham­pion and 1969 Day­tona 250cc race win­ner, Yvon du Hamel. Our only re­ward at this stage was the es­tab­lish­ing of our cred­i­bil­ity with Chris Lowe and the per­mis­sion to put our Team Mo­tor­cy­cle Weekly stick­ers on the fair­ings or seat units of the vis­i­tors’ bikes. But, much more im­por­tantly, it was the start of an as­so­ci­a­tion with Chris and MCD that was to last for al­most a decade and a half. Gary and Yvon duly ar­rived in Eng­land and, still jet-lagged next day, headed north to Le­ices­ter­shire on a rainy Thurs­day morn­ing be­fore the race week­end to get their first look at the tricky lit­tle track. Nei­ther of the ma­chines that they were due to ride were ready for this test ses­sion but Nixon, at least, was able to do a hand­ful of wet ‘sight­ing laps’ on a Match­less G50 loaned to him by John Cooper, who had won the Race of the Year in 1965 on a Manx Nor­ton. It was a great ges­ture from ‘Coop’ who was def­i­nitely one of the favourites to win the race again and had no need to help out any po­ten­tial op­po­si­tion. Hav­ing said that, it also gave the canny Der­byshire man a chance to get an early idea of what this un­known ri­val was ca­pa­ble of…! Came the race day and both transat­lantic vis­i­tors ac­quit­ted them­selves well in front of the 30,000 or more fans that crowded the grass banks around the one-mile track. On a cir­cuit that they had never raced on and in fact had only even set eyes on three days pre­vi­ously, and as well as rid­ing bor­rowed and equally un­fa­mil­iar ma­chines, both fin­ished in the top 10. Du Hamel, nor­mally used to rid­ing the fac­tory ma­chines pro­vided to Yamaha Canada and set up per­fectly for him, was a cred­itable 10th on an ab­so­lutely stan­dard Yamaha TD2 350 bor­rowed from a UK dealer and on which he had no prac­tice or set-up time be­fore race day.

Transat­lantic tro­phy team­ster, Don Emde, gets a top up of fuel.

Pic­tures: Mor­tons Archive and Bruce Cox Col­lec­tion

Dick Mann gets a grilling from cir­cuit com­men­ta­tor Fred Clarke.

Top: Tri­umph­mounted Bri­tish team man,tony Jefferies, and, right, at Mal­lory Park David Aldana’s BSA shows the signs of an ear­lier in­ci­dent.

In open prac­tice at Mal­lory Park Don Emde, Rob North Rocket 3, leads Manx Nor­ton-mounted Pete El­more.

Be­low: Mal­lory Park com­men­ta­tor, Ed­die Dow, gets the low­down from Dick Mann. Left:theL pro­gramme for thet first-ever An­gloAmer­i­canA Match Race SeriesS event at Brands HatchH on Good Fri­day, 1971.1 Above:A Gary Nixon came over in Septem­ber 1970 for the...

Left: David Aldana wryly points out the Stars & Stripes sticker on Gary Nixon’s plas­ter cast. The bro­ken wrist suf­fered in a crash dur­ing prac­tice kept Gary out of the An­glo-amer­i­can Match Race Series in 1971.

Above: Ac­tress, Carol Cleve­land, took time off from Monty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus to pro­vide an eye-catch­ing advert for the An­glo-amer­i­can Match Race Series.

A smil­ing ‘Mr Mal­lory’, John Cooper.

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