A Rose among two thorns
By now the Hanks family was a constituent part of the ‘Birmingham sidecar mafia’, front runners on British short circuits. But one critical piece of the jigsaw was still missing. Norman’s passenger had to do National Service but Cliff Mellor, who was passengering with me then, knew Rose Arnold, who was riding with Freddy Wallace. She wanted to do thett and Freddy didn’t. So I said Norman is looking for a passenger and by now Norman was like second in line to Chris Vincent and Pip Harris so she said: “Oh I’m up for that!” I waited until Mallory Park and then said: “Your passenger’s here”. And he sat there with folded arms and said: “It’s a woman!” I said: “I know.we don’t know much about these things, ‘because we’re always messing with bikes. But she’s your passenger.” In the heat, Norman threw his leg over the chair, caught her in the head and spun her into the middle of the track. Not the best of starts. But in those days you could stop, so she got back on, they qualified and I think they finished second. That was 1967. She fitted into the family well.
She did. So well in fact that she married Roy! But she stayed partnering Norman as he was getting all the results. I was second in the 1968 TT and Rose was the first woman to stand on the rostrum. On the last lap going up the Mountain, Guthrie’s or somewhere like that, it was stuttering on one cylinder and I thought: “God not now”. we’d borrowed one of the fancy Daytona racer carb rubbers but it split and one of the carbs was hanging off. So every time we went round a left-hander it fell off. But it was good publicity. BSA got first, second and third and they used it in advertisements in the national press and gave me, and I think Mick Boddice, the week off after that.
When I started they all used to lap me. All the ‘names’. The first time I wasn’t lapped in a final was Brands Hatch. As I was coming to the line I could see the marshal ready with the flag, so I knew the leader was there behind me. It was probably 1966 on the full circuit. As far as I was concerned this was the day I’d made it and back in the paddock I was chuffed to bits. then the dreaded Chris Vincent came round and said: “I had to slow down for you there, to let you do your last lap!” At thett we had dad’s, Norman’s, Chris Vincent’s, Peter Brown’s and my bikes, all in this coach garage and it was an honour just to be in the same place. And then I managed to put the outfit on its roof round Keppel Gate of course. I came back and Chris Vincent was in front of all of them, with his arms folded, and just “tut, tut, tuts”. they were just winning everything, but from then on I got up to speed and had some good races. Norman went to America as mechanic to the BSA motocross team and while he was away I went with his bike as well – as we were still into pulling heads and barrels off between races, making a 500 and then a 650. I used Norman’s bike for the first time and it was like an E-type Jag compared to mine. First time out I think I finished second. I managed to beat Pip Harris to the line and thought: “I’m the man!” And then we went to Thruxton and for some reasonthruxton and I just clicked. I really loved the long back straight, hanging it all out.
There were Norman, Peter Brown, Pat Sheridan and Chris Vincent and it was like a freight train. I only finished third but I broke the lap record. And then I won and it was like “wow”. Up until then I hadn’t won a race. I hadn’t a trophy to my name as I was against these top guys. But the bikes got better and better and I’d got an engine comparable to the others and ended up winning a good one, the Hutchinson 100 at Brands on the full circuit backwards. The Continentals were all there but Norman led from almost the beginning and I kept just close enough that he kept looking behind. And on the last lap – I think it was 15 laps or something mad on the long circuit – he went into what was clearways and looked behind, and waited, so we came along the bottom straight side by side. We tried to cross the line together but they gave me the win. I got my laurels and did the lap of honour. It was great. But it was in the handicap race that I really realised how competitive Norman was. As I came to peel in to Bottom (now Graham Hill) Bend he banged into me and sent me off onto the grass. How I didn’t go into the bank I don’t know, but as we came up to the hairpin I came up behind him and tried to get inside, thinking: “Does he think I’m a German or something?” Into Paddock and there was no messing this time, the gloves were off and when he got back into the paddock he said: “Don’t you ever try to beat me again!”
I’d tried to engineer a draw first time. We’d trained for that meeting as we thought we were pretty good. We had a technique of drift, which was like a Vincent drift but taken to the extreme.we could drift anytime once we’d set it going. It was round the long circuit and people got tired, but I couldn’t shake Roy off, so I thought: “I’m not going to try now”. I suppose he was waiting for a mistake or something, but as we came out of the last corner I thought: “This would be good for a dead heat.” I lead it the whole way and engineered a dead heat and then they gave it to Roy! So in the handicap race I thought: “no chance.” But there he was behind me again so coming up Paddock Hill I thought: “No, there’ll be no dead heat this time” and I got there first. But blimey if they didn’t give us both a ride round in the car because, it being such a performance, they thought he deserved a ride round in the car again. Bloody typical that.
Roy had learnt the old adage that your team-mate is your number one competitor, but to an extent he had ‘arrived’. The Hanks family had, by then, cemented their status as a real force in British racing but with dad Fred retiring and Norman effectively hanging up his leathers in 1973, this left Roy alone to indulge in the sort of experimentation rife in British sidecar racing at the time – looking for the next big thing. An Imp and Weslake were tried before a Suzuki Kettle made a mark in the, by then, Open Class British Championship.
That was an ex-barry Sheene 850 bought off Rex White when it was Heron Suzuki.the biggest carburettors I’d ever seen at the time. I’d never seen anything like it. It was quick and had a lot of torque and I remember going round the outside of George Odell – when he was World Champion – at Cadwell, thinking: “This is alright.” But it was just the same bike that had the BSA engine in originally. Dave Horton made his money on one-armed bandits, and none of Dave’s guys seemed to have necks, but anyway, at Oulton Park I managed to win a race in the rain on this Suzuki and he said: “I’m gonna have to get you a proper bike, as otherwise you’re going to kill yourself.” It was ATZ750 and all I had to do was turn up. John Williams was riding solos for him and we all hadt-shirts with Appleby Glade on and the rest of it. And we did quite well.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that I am sitting in Roy’s office, the shelves piled high with many trophies and racing awards, such as a Manx 50p piece and Isle of Man Sword of State, personalised. There are files covering his on-going role as chairman of the TT Supporters Club and memorabilia from his time as TT Riders Association president. Not a lot of people have those and it’s a sign of the importance the TT has played in his life. In 1971 he was third on the last lap when it all let go at Sign Post corner, but it was followed by a litany of DNFS and so-so results before a first podium in 1981. It was a third and went with a fifth, a result that was duplicated the following year with far reaching consequences.
I won overall, with Vince Biggs. though everyone was chuffed to bits with us winning overall in 1982, in 1983 I tried to win a race outright. We were now runningt z700s that were even quicker than the 750s. the 700 was the older version but as it didn’t have those read valves the carburation was better. I think we came third (they did) but I came back having scared myself to death, as I just knew I wasn’t in control. this thing was like, aim-and-go-and-brake, and they were talking about speeds of 180mph coming down off the Mountain. That’s daft.
The ACU’S Jim Parker was of a similar opinion and from then on the rules changed regularly. Two-stroke 350F2 machines mixed with 1200s, then 600c four-strokes replaced F2s, then replaced the lot. Different engines came in and out of vogue but Roy stayed on the pace technologically, becoming inexorably linked to the running of the sport while flirting with, but still resolutely avoiding, the TT podium.
We always came fourth! tom was passengering with me and we got the 350s going ever so well. But unfortunately the best year at the Island I launched it at the 33rd Milestone. I’d passed Eddie Wright – he keeps saying: “You should come classic racing,” but I say, “no, I did that when it was new”– and in front was Mick Hamblin and someone else. I thought: “We can have ‘em both here,” but I got into cinema-scope. they turned and I didn’t! It felt like I was in the air forever and I thought: “This is going to hurt.” It did! I enjoyed the 350. We called it the Tonker toy it was so small, but then we went on to the 600s and chose the Yamaha, mainly because we liked the way the engine sloped forward. the thunder cat was a beautiful bike. I won the ACU championship in 2004, and as in my 1997TT year
the bikes, tom’s and mine, never stopped once.we used to spend five nights a week working on them and Norman was helping with the engines. there was more chance of the van breaking down than the bikes and it was like the BSA days all over again. Passenger-wise I ended up with Dave Wells, bless him. I never wanted him, as he was a Boddice-boy as far as I was concerned, and all my passengers previously had been young. So they did what I wanted. I told Dave what I wanted and we had a nose-to-nose ‘discussion’. He said: “You drive it. I’ll passenger it,” and we ended up getting on like a house on fire after that. We had 10 years together. Brilliant. We always had a lot of fun.
Tragically, the fun ended in 2011 when Dave was killed at Mallory Park. Roy admits a lot of the joy went out of it then and there were a few other signs the clock might be ticking down too. Such as the first time nephew Tom beat him.
It was a championship race at Knockhill and it was the longest trip home of my life. I was still riding hard but I realised even last year, on the Island, that whereas I used to go charging into places like the 13th, change down one gear, hit the left-hand apex, just touch the pavement and get out for the next one, now I was thinking: “What’s that over there?” and it was the pavement I used to be bouncing off.
I would have loved to have raced this year, but that attack had gone a bit. And, of course, now my granddaughter rides. 13. She rode her first meeting in March at Darleymoor on a full-blown Aprilia RS125. She had the biggest beam on her face when she came in and I was chuffed to death for her. But it’s really not good for an old man.
Below: 1968 TT. Rose and Norman (second) Terry Vinicombe and John Flaxman (first) Peter Brown and Dave Bean. All on BSA A65s.
Above: “It wasn’t my fault!” Roy explaining a transgression to dad, while the rest of the family look on. Corporate transport advertises the ‘TT Specials’ that dad Fred edited.
Right: Yes, solos too. Norman got a TT fifth in 1967, while Roy topped the F2 practice board a decade later. In the race he retired, frightened.
Roy (left) working on the Appleby Glade TZ750.
Above: Norman and Rose at a wrong way round Brands Hatch in August 1970.Their style on left-handers was peerless.
Lower right: “What the hell is that?” Roy being challenged at Cadwell by the Scitsu of John Worthington and Tony Dawson.
Right: Classic Mallory Park Devil’s Elbow action in 1971. Norman leads Roy, from Mick Boddice and Brian Rust.
Sixties cool. Norman and Rose. Title rival Peter Brown fiddles behind on outfit 14.
“We’d they go?” Roy got sixth place at the TT on the Imp-engined outfit in 1976. Below: Roy’s first year at the TT brought a highly respectable 18th out of 77 starters.
Right: Roy in 1971. A DNF on the last lap, while lying third, was as close as he got for a very long time.
1997 TT. Vince Biggs/graham Biggs (second), Phil Biggs/roy Hanks (first),tom Hanks/steve Wilson (third). For obvious reasons there were moves to get Steve Wilson’s name changed! Everything comes to he who waits. Roy and Phil Biggs power their way to TT victory in 1997.