PLUS: RADAR - WRENCHING FOR THE BEST
You know the face. You know the story. Well, you might recognise the face. But you probably don’t know the FULL story. ‘Radar’ Cullen explains the ins and outs of big days, big teams and big riders – in detail.
Dave ‘Radar’ Cullen got the motorcycle bug early in life. “There was always an interest there as my brother had some motorbikes… Suzuki Hustlers and a Suzuki 80. He was a bit older than me and we’d go trail riding a lot, back in the days of the DT-1 Yamaha. Eventually, I went through what we call ‘go bikes’, which were made from bicycles, a pushbike frame with a small wheelbarrow wheel. “My brother and I put an outboard engine in mine, so it went a bit harder than everyone else’s. It sort of blew them away the first time we took it around some circular horse trotting track we used to go to. That’s probably where the competition side… the interest in performance started. “They’d have these organised trail rides on Sundays, the use of 10 square miles of land on the Great Divide mountain range. We would camp and we built a ‘humpy’ up there, a big dormitory that got blown over by a cyclone but it’s been rebuilt. I did a little bit of trials and a season or two of motocross, but the main thing was trail riding through the undulating forest with creeks running down a mountain range. It was always an adventure.” What was the introduction to the eventual career wrenching on motorcycles? “Playing with bloody Jawa 250s, BSA C-15s and random Beezers when I was at school… it took a bit of effort just to keep them running. The interest was there in just having something to ride. I had a book – a repair manual on motorcycles – so I guess that made me the most qualified in the area. I became the go-to-man… or boy. I did the normal apprenticeship for cars, trucks and stationary engines and then worked for a motorbike dealer in Makay, JG Yamaha, who was very proactive in the racing. “I had taken up motocross by that stage in 1976-77. At the end of the season I was practicing and while riding a wheelie I hit a big hole and went straight off the back. It fractured a vertebra up near the top, the C12, so I decided to give it a bit of a rest for a while. So, I went to London, which was a big escape for Aussies. I travelled with a mate from home who had relatives there. That was quite convenient, as they were exactly one mile from Suzuki GB in Croydon and we would go past it regularly.” Dave put in his job application at Suzuki GB, which appeared to be going nowhere. He took another job after a couple of months of constantly reminding Suzuki of his interest. “I went by Suzuki GB and caught Mike Sinclair as he was closing his briefcase and going home one night. Mike said he would see the team manager next door, Rex White. Ol’ Sexy Rexy said: ‘Oh, we may do, we haven’t decided,’ which went on for a couple of months and that was the story I kept getting all the time. I’d sort of given up on it, and then saw an ad in Motorcycle Weekly. I took up a job at Comifords, the KTM importer. I was working for a couple of weeks with Ivan Miller, taking over from Ken Fletcher, who was doing it for a few years before he left to work with Barry Sheene. Suzuki then phoned asking if I would come for a try-out. I went down and met Martyn Ogborne and he ran me through a bit of a test on putting an RG motor together. They offered me a job and I thought… washing and working on muddy motocross bikes still in the middle of winter, or go to the first Grand Prix down in Venezuela. So I went back to Comifords and told Keith I was leaving. He said: ‘Why are you leaving already, where are you going?’ I told him Suzuki GB, to which he said: ‘Why is everybody going down to bleeding Suzuki GB road race?’ as that was where the guy I replaced had gone a few weeks earlier.” Dave was now on the Suzuki GB factory team. “I didn’t really know what was going on there, because they didn’t tell me. I was building an engine and they told me: ‘That’s for Hailwood.’ I thought, ‘hmmm, his son must be racing now.’ Soon after, the newcomer found himself on the Isle of Man working with the legend (see Part 2, Radar on the Roads). I did a few other things, the British Championship looking after Stan Woods, who was riding one of those 650cc Suzuki Square 4s and I was looking after the spare parts for all three riders who were riding for Suzuki GB – Barry Sheene, Steve Parrish and Tom Herron. It wasn’t long before Dave picked up his nickname. “Oggy (Martyn Ogborne) had started it at the Isle of Man, just messing around he started calling me ‘Radar’ because he thought I looked like Radar (from M*A*S*H) as I was always running around with a bloody clipboard. By the time I got back all the guys were onto it. These things stick don’t they?”
The year 1980 would bring Radar and Graeme Crosby together at Suzuki GB for Grand Prix racing and the Isle of Man. Radar: “Barry (Sheene) went and did his Yamaha thing, and Croz and Mamola came on the scene.” Crosby and Mamola must have been an interesting and potentially combustible combination. “There was history there, but it was mostly a water-under-the-bridge sort of thing. It didn’t emerge in any sort of confrontation. I was with Crosby and Jerry Burgess was with Randy Mamola. Mick Smith was with Croz as well and Mick had got Jerry Burgess the job. Jerry was staying at Mick’s halfway house with Dozy Ballington.” From the stories that have emerged over the years, staying at Mick’s halfway house was like being in the Rolling Stones. “Yeah, it was a bit of a bash in that place. Interesting days – we worked hard and played hard. We all did our share.” Mamola had the benefit of prior Grand Prix experience. Radar: “Randy definitely got the jump there as he had ridden the 500s the year before. He was running at the front at Le Mans with himself, Barry and Kenny putting on quite a show for the crowd – a bit of a wheelie exhibition – when there was all this talk of a World Series. “We had four of those XR23S (650cc square fours), and I had to build one bloody XR23 for chairman Peter Agg. He was a pretty big wheel at Heron Suzuki and he had a museum. So I built it up out of all these fractured and cracked parts… cracked Campagnolos and all, as it’s never going to fire a shot, you know. Then we were away for the annual break at Macau and Sandown in Australia. I got permission to do some races with Crosby, as we were going to be working together that next year (1980) in Grand Prix. We get back from that annual break and they told me: ‘That bike in the museum, we have to use it in the Trans-atlantic’.” Radar: “Croz was doing double duty on the four-stroke races. We started off the year at the Trans-atlantic. Freddie won the first race on a silver TZ750 and Croz got second on the XR23. Randy didn’t really like riding the XR23 and went straight onto the 500s. Croz didn’t mind the XR23S, while Randy was riding the 500s as testing for the Grand Prix. “It was a crazy schedule. We were also doing the 500 British championship. We went to Mallory and did the 500 race and Croz hadn’t had that much time on it. He lost the front at Devil’s Elbow and slid into the Armco fencing, putting a big hole in his leg. Then it was straight off to the first Grand Prix. Nothing was broken but he had this bloody great hole in his leg. So, he started off the Grand Prix with a lame leg, so he didn’t make the start that we would have liked. Randy was employed as the wonder-boy hired to fly the Suzuki Grand Prix flag, where Crosby was hired for the four-stroke races.” Mamola had put in his contract that he would get all the best parts and first crack at any of the new development parts. Radar: “The development definitely went Randy’s way. He got all the M1 chassis, the first monoshocks and all that. Croz didn’t get one until we found one discarded in the corner, built one up and tried it. It was a very early version and the linkage ratio wasn’t at all right, so we went away from it anyway.” Joey Dunlop was to ride for the Suzuki GB team at the Ulster Grand Prix, so Radar got to work with him as well. Radar: “The first race meeting I worked with Joey was at Cadwell Park. I couldn’t really understand too much of what he was saying, it was quite difficult and everything was ‘dead on, dead on’. He went out to practice behind Crosby and just followed him. The handlebars weren’t straight when they pulled it out of the box, so I got him to sit on it… so he’s looking at me like ‘Why would I sit on it, it’s Tuesday.’ I tried to explain it to him
I REMEMBER WHEN DOOHAN GOT THE PIN IN HIS FINGER CAUGHT IN THE CAR SEAT AND PULLED IT OUT, HE SAID: ‘THAT’S THE END OF THAT, I WON’T BE PUTTING THAT BACK IN.’
and then he got on it… ‘dead-on, dead-on’. I think that was the last time I put a spanner on the bike all week, I just filled it with fuel. How’s the motor feel? ‘It’s still going’. How’s the gearing? ‘Oh, the motor’s got plenty of torque.’ How’s the suspension? He’d look at you like ‘Why, what does it matter, what are you going to do?’ It was like he was oblivious to how you could adjust it.” Graeme was a great deal like Joey Dunlop in that he was another great talent that would just swing a leg over and get on with it. Radar: “Crosby could ride any sort of bike. In the early days he was learning about it. He got much better in 1982 with the Yamaha – he could get them set up in a hurry and we had to, as in the second half of 1982 he practiced on the V4 trying to develop it for Yamaha. He’d come back and say: ‘Get the old girl ready (the square four), we are going to race that one.’ But you haven’t done any laps on it? He’d go out and do a lap or two to qualify and that would be it.
Being a development rider is a skill you have to develop – it’s not something anyone is born with. It is something that is learned along the way. There are many that know there are problems but cannot communicate what the bike is doing or what is going wrong.” It had been a big year for Crosby and Radar. Radar: “Graeme won the 500 British Championship, the TT Championship for F1 and a few other things.” At the end of 1980 Croz finished second to Lucchinelli at the Nurburgring in the 500cc German Grand Prix. 1981 saw the bike being much improved, now called the RG500 Gamma. Radar: “It was a smaller, lighter bike with more power, a bike with bigger brakes, a monoshock and it was a quantum leap.” That year turned out to be less than enjoyable for Graeme Crosby, who was already up to his ears with intra-team politics involving the pecking order at Suzuki and his team-mate Randy Mamola in 500 Grand Prix. It was Graeme’s second year in Grand Prix racing and his increased familiarity with the 500GP bike and the various tracks meant there was less of the typical Croz response to the unknown required, which had always been “Which way does the track go, and by the way, what’s the track record?” For the 1981 Grand Prix season, Crosby was starting to race with the leaders and gaining confidence. Croz was to finish fifth in the World Championship. At the end of the year, things were changing fairly drastically at Suzuki and Crosby didn’t have a job as well. Crosby told Radar: “I guess we’ll have to go somewhere else to find a job.” Radar: “We flew first class to Chicago on British Airways and went to Honda America and verbally agreed on a deal to do the Superbike championship in America. Then my phone rang one day during the break and Croz said: ‘We’ve got a deal with Ago – do you want to go and do that?’ I really wanted to do the Honda America thing to be honest, but I asked him: ‘You really want to go do Grand Prix, don’t you?’ He said: ‘Yeah, I really do’ so I agreed to do that. So I got to do a crack course in Italian in about three weeks.” ‘Nightmarish’ best describes the facilities. Radar: “It wasn’t so much when we saw the bikes, it was when we saw the workshop. We called it ‘the dungeon’ as it was a tiny
workshop underground, behind a BMC Leyland dealer. It was like an ice block in there, it was freezing cold. We didn’t see the truck until it was delivered at the Imola 200. We were told it would have a workshop and everything. When the tailgate came down it had a steel table in the middle with a vice attached to it. So, we had to set the trailer up too. The whole set-up in Italy was far from ideal.” Radar: “The bikes just didn’t have the power of the Suzukis and they were probably a little heavy too. It looked like they built them with a 650 (version) in mind. Crosby still turned in a quick lap with them and put it on pole in a lot of places on new tires. “It had an unconventional steering head in it, with three degrees built into the triple clamps. To use conventional clamps like from the year before, Trevor Tilbury and I had to cut the frame. We went up to Amsterdam and did the work up there and one of them ended up with crazy steep numbers. “Croz was strong enough to hang onto it and he liked it. He did a lot of development on the V4 bike but never actually raced it.” Crosby started slow, but later in the season, with the square four, he scored second place at Rijeka, Yugoslavia, followed by three straight third-place finishes. At the season finale, the off-song Honda of Freddie Spencer was passed by Randy Mamola on the final lap at Hockenheim. To make matters worse for the young American, Franco Uncini then crashed into Spencer while trying to pass and both were knocked out of the race. As a result of this last lap fiasco, Graeme Crosby secured second place in the 500cc World Championship. Radar continues: “Ago was a real fan of Kenny (Roberts). Kel and Kenny’s deal was a factory Yamaha deal and rider contracts struck Crosby again as he wasn’t included, so that’s what happened and in the end Croz just walked away from it and decided to go and do something else. I stayed on with Ago, as he wanted me to look after Lawson. I didn’t have anything else going, so I stayed on with the team. We did a bit of testing with Kenny and worked with Eddie. We got on pretty well, but it was a tough year for Eddie, learning the tracks and how the European system works. Nobody put any pressure on him for results, although the press gave him a hard time with it all and he remembered that throughout the rest of his career. “We were losing quite a few people back in those days and losing John Newbold had a bit of an effect upon me and I was getting over it (the racing), with the dangers of it all. So I did some World Championship motocross for a year with Jeremy Whatley and won a few Grand Prix. But he ended up with a broken nose from a social incident and it was downhill from there and we finished third in the 250cc World Championship.” Radar came back to Australia, unsure what he was going to do next. He found his way to the endurance racing series, with events like the Castrol Six Hours, which was the biggest bike race in Australia at the time. It was tyre wars… Dunlop v Pirelli. “For 1985 and 86 I did production racing and had a shop. Then Jerry Burgess rang me up and asked if I wanted a job in Europe. He told me it was with Rothmans Honda, watching out for Shunji Yatsushiro. There were quite a few factory 500s out there in 1987. “I knew Mick (Doohan) from the coast when he was riding in Australia. I was moved to look after Doohan in 1989. It was a bit frustrating because we knew he had all this talent but the Honda at that stage wasn’t a pleasant or easy bike to ride. It didn’t have the handling of the Suzuki or the Yamaha and for a young guy to come in it would have been quite daunting. The 500s had a fairly savage power delivery anyway, and combined with a package that was not working real well, it was a real eye-opener for him, a bit like ‘Oh God, what have I gotten myself into here?’ He crashed a couple of times and had that damaged finger. He’s very tough and wouldn’t sit out. I remember when he got the pin in his finger caught in the car seat and pulled it out, he said: ‘Well, that’s the end of that, I won’t be putting that back in.’ It was a really ugly injury, there was a lot of skin missing off it.” Tough does not begin to describe Mick Doohan. Doohan had a single podium (third) in 1989 and finished ninth in the championship. It has been said that Erv Kanemoto and Eddie Lawson went through nine frames in winning the championship that year with their Honda. Radar: “You had to keep adding metal to it until it stopped moving. Erv had the freedom to do pretty much whatever he liked, but with the HRC team you couldn’t modify or change run the frame from what you were given.” Radar was with Rob Phillis in 1991 for World Superbikes. They did quite well
in finishing third in the World Superbike Championship against Polen, Roche, Falappa, Mertens and the other Ducati riders. Radar: “Kawasaki made some improvements in 1992 and we’d been working with Öhlins and they’d come up with a link ratio that would be the same as the Suzukis and the Yamahas. They did some drawings and that helped out the Kawasaki quite a bit. “That was a pretty good year until Mugello during qualifying he popped up over one of those hills but on the other side there was a Suzuki blowing up. He got a concussion and missed two races. That ended the season and he got another third in the World Championship. “For 1992, Aaron Slight joined the team but I was mainly focused on Rob Phillis’s stuff. In 1993 Kawasaki decided on a new direction and Muzzy Kawasaki got the gig with Doyle and Scott Russell. I went back to Team Kawasaki Australia with Rob Phillis. He was in the Australian Superbike championship and he led it by a heap of points until we went to Lakeside and it happened again, like at Mugello, coming over a hill and he got another concussion and it wrecked his season. For 1994 we went with Kawasaki Germany with Rob Phillis again, doing the German championship.” For 1995-6, Radar was doing a bit of work with motocross bikes while being a dad to his two daughters. In 1997, he worked with the Yamaha road race team in Australian Supersport. This turned into ‘Radar Team Yamaha’ for 1998. “It was a precursor to the R1. The Yamaha guys had been out of racing for a while and they were looking for someone to run a race team. We got the main gig for 1998 when the new R1 came out. It was a bit of a game-changer that one, as I’d done a bunch of work with Kevin Curtain and he won two Australian championships with it. We went on through the end of 2002, winning at least one championship every year. Then they took the deal off me and gave it to someone who would run it for half the price.” Radar is now a freelance mechanic, doing suspension set-ups with a part-time race team and has been doing scrutineering for the past three years too. He is also working with Rob Phillis’s son Alex on the Supersport MV in Moto America.
Radar with the YZR – the shorts weren’t factory issue. 1980 on the grid for Croz.
1982 and Crosby was in GP mode.
Left: Crosby in full flight (image: Don Morley).
Above: Radar as he is today, a freelance mechanic to a squad of MVS.