A Rose among two thorns

Classic Racer - - PEOPLE -

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.

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