‘As soon as I felt unable to win, I didn’t want to do it’
The ex-125cc British champion and race team manager talks hand-built beginnings and pointless sentimentality
Classic Bike Live burst on to the classics scene at the Peterborough Arena last weekend, with a stunning array of classic bikes, stars and live start-ups.
Guests of honour, TT legends John Mcguinness and Mick Grant, headlined the show with a stunning selection of their own machines. Mcguinness rolled out a unique selection of TT bikes from his private collection, covering every era of his Mountain Course career, from his debut race 20 years ago in 1996 to the present day – including his stunning 1999 Honda TSR250.
Grant was also on hand throughout the weekend, reliving the glory days, showcasing his rarely-seen legendary Kawasaki KR750, and talking about his infamous rivalry with Barry Sheene in the 1970s. Many of Sheene’s bikes also took pride of place as part of the huge number of road and race bikes on show.
On Sunday, Classic Bike magazine’s Rick Parkington was joined by TV’S Shed and Buried stars Henry Cole and Sam Lovegrove to talk all things rust and resto. Showgoers also got plenty of opportunities to stick their fingers in their ears as many glorious historic machines fired into life – including Eric Patterson’s deafeningly brilliant Norton JAP which claimed a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA.
Among the hundreds of rare bikes on display was Andy Baldwin’s ‘Best in Show’-winning Suzuki TC250.
Roll on Classic Bike Live 2017!
How did you first get into bikes?
I got my first bike for Christmas when I was about seven. This was before Yamaha TY80S and the like so it was a homemade thing – a converted Honda C70 with a trials frame. Then I started to get into trials and a local engineer called Tillotson, who died many years ago, built a Yamaha 100 for me that we called the ‘Tilly Special’. Then the TY80 came along and I got into that.
What about racing?
We always had a racing heritage. My father raced; we used to watch a lot – my father used to help a lot at the Isle of Man and Match Races. I remember all those races as a kid so my first love was motorbike racing.
How did you start?
We sponsored a lad called Chris Thorne in the Honda RS125 race series. We used to supply the bikes and parts for that because we were an HRC centre. Then, as soon as I could, I got an RS125, an air-cooled one to start with, and the rest is history.
What was your first race?
At Cadwell Park in 1981 which would have been maybe April time, on an RS125, and I think I came 17th.
How quickly did you improve?
In 1982, in my first full year, I won the 125cc Marlboro Clubmans championship, which was a big thing back then. Then I won the British championship in ’84 and then, after the ACU fast-tracked me for an international licence, went to Europe and then into Grands Prix.
What bikes were you riding?
Back then the 125s were Morbidellis or MBAS – Italian twins. I then did GPS from 1985 through 1992 and in 1988 GPS went back to singles and I raced Hondas from then on.
The RS125. I rode many different versions but they were all fantastic. My best RS was in 1990 when I got some HRC support.
What was your racing highlight?
At world level it was Australia, I was seventh, which was good. I then came back to England to race from 1993 to 1998 and won the British championship a couple of times.
What about since?
I did a bit of motocross, a bit of trials but to be honest I’ve run a race team ever since so I didn’t have the time – or the desire – to ride a bike at all.
When I raced I didn’t ride a bike for the enjoyment; I raced because I wanted to race, and win. Some people are quite happy to ride around in seventh or eighth position but as soon as I felt I couldn’t win anymore I didn’t want to do it.
My buzz nowadays is trying to drive the business on. We enjoy running our two race teams, representing the company out on the track, so I spend a lot of time with motorbikes, but I don’t ride very often now.
Any experience you’d like to have again?
If you could wind the clock back a little bit I’d love to do something like the beach races at Weston again. I did that four or five times and it was absolute murder, because I wasn’t very good! But it was fantastic.
Have you still got any of your old race bikes?
None of them. I think those who do are all sad b**tards! It just doesn’t interest me one bit. When I’ve got a bit of free time I enjoy keeping fit, football, tennis, a bit of squash and I’ve got into mountain biking, too.
‘People who keep their old race bikes are just sad b**tards’
Jap-engined Norton smells as good as it sounds
Mick Grant’s race machinery was one of many show highlights
Mcpint poses for his six-hundredth picture of the day. That boy puts the hours in, you know...
Visitors picked up parts for projects
Stunning Norton Commando Fastback