JIMMY PRINGLE: Briefly, the best

When Howard Robert “Jimmy” Pringle passed away at Mel­bourne’s Al­fred Hos­pi­tal on De­cem­ber 30, 1951, it hardly made the news pages. Yet Pringle, who lived for just 45 years, was at one time Aus­tralia’s top road racer, who had risen through the ranks lo­call

Old Bike Australasia - - FRONT PAGE - Story Jim Scays­brook Pho­tos Grant Bar­rett, Dennis Quin­lan

Pringle was born in Mel­bourne in 1906 and pur­chased his first rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle, a 350cc AJS, from Jimmy Ste­wart’s shop in Fitzroy in 1925. Aboard the AJS, young Pringle quickly es­tab­lished him­self as a front run­ner at the no­to­ri­ous Mel­bourne Mo­tor­drome (Olympic Park) which he fi­nally lapped at 94 mph. There was no rac­ing on pub­lic roads in Vic­to­ria at that time, but this changed with the open­ing of the orig­i­nal road cir­cuit at Phillip Is­land in 1928. This came about only af­ter the lo­cal coun­cil voted to sever the is­land’s lo­cal govern­ment from the main­land, thus al­low­ing the High­ways and Ve­hi­cles Act pro­hibit­ing rac­ing to be by-passed. Mo­tor­cy­cles were part of the open­ing event in 1928 which in­cluded the Aus­tralian Grand Prix for cars, and Pringle fully in­tended to com­pete in 1929, when the course was short­ened (from 12 miles to 6) to elim­i­nate the tor­tur­ous run to Rhyll and back. How­ever in­ter­nal wran­gling be­tween the car and mo­tor­cy­cle or­gan­i­sa­tions meant the bikes were dropped from the pro­gramme un­til the 1931 event, so Pringle opted to ac­cept a spot as rid­ing me­chanic in the car GP in Frank Cor­ri­gan’s Amil­car.

Soon af­ter, Pringle sailed for Eng­land and found a po­si­tion at the Rudge fac­tory in Coven­try, where he worked in the com­pe­ti­tions de­part­ment. He was back in Aus­tralia in time for the 1931 event at Phillip Is­land, where the bikes re­turned to the pro­gramme for the first time in three years. He brought home with him a very spe­cial ma­chine; the 499cc Rudge rid­den to vic­tory in the Ger­man and Dutch TTs and to sec­ond place at the 1930 Se­nior TT in the Isle of Man, in the hands of works rider Gra­ham Walker. In the Vic­to­rian Se­nior TT, Pringle faced stiff op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing for­mer TT rid­ers Stu­art Wil­liams on an ex­works Ve­lo­cette, and West Aus­tralian Len Ste­wart, who was the first man to race an over­head camshaft Nor­ton at the Isle of Man TT. The 200-mile race was held in hot and very dusty con­di­tions, de­spite the track be­ing lib­er­ally doused in sump oil. Af­ter the pre­ced­ing car races, the unsealed sur­face was in very poor con­di­tion. For prac­ti­cally the en­tire dis­tance, Pringle and Wil­liams staged a pitched bat­tle, un­til Pringle was forced to pit on the sec­ond last lap to take on fuel. With the race within his grasp, Wil­liams had the cruel luck to suf­fer mag­neto fail­ure on the fi­nal lap, leav­ing Pringle to take the win at an av­er­age of 64 mph af­ter more than 3 hours of rac­ing. In Au­gust of the same year he again sailed to Eng­land, where he gained in­stant celebrity sta­tus by win­ning in his first start at the fa­mous Brook­lands cir­cuit. He rode a Grind­ley-Peer­less and took home a cov­eted ‘Gold Star’ af­ter lap­ping at 100.61 mph. He was back home for the new year but de­ter­mined to re­turn to the big time as soon as pos­si­ble. At Easter, he jour­neyed to Bathurst for the NSW Grand Prix at the Vale cir­cuit, rid­ing a Nor­ton pro­vided by Hazell & Moore. In the Se­nior TT he won again, de­feat­ing Cec Weatherby and Norm Os­borne. The re­sult set­tled his claim for an of­fi­cial ACCA nom­i­na­tion for the Isle of Man TT, and along with Weatherby, he set sail soon af­ter the Bathurst races. In the Isle of Man he was to ride a New Im­pe­rial in the Light­weight event, but he passed that up to

con­cen­trate on the Se­nior TT on a Nor­ton. In a bril­liant per­for­mance by a new­comer to the gru­elling cir­cuit, Pringle fin­ished in 12th place at a speed of 71.48 mph. The re­sult drew rave re­views from the press, in­clud­ing this piece from the highly re­garded Aus­tralian TT rider Arthur Sim­cock. “In my opinion you have in Pringle a rider who, given a lit­tle ex­tra ex­pe­ri­ence, will pos­si­bly de­velop into the finest road racer Aus­tralia has so far pro­duced. Pringle at the present mo­ment dis­plays a bril­liance which is un­canny in view of his slight ex­pe­ri­ence in se­nior com­pany. Although Pringle did not know it, I watched him on var­i­ous parts of the Isle of Man course, and he im­pressed me very deeply, and I should like to again see him rep­re­sent his coun­try in the 1933 TT events.” Pringle was in­deed back for the 1933 TT, where Nor­ton (through Mel­bourne dis­trib­u­tors Dis­ney Mo­tors) pro­vided him with ma­chines for the Ju­nior and Se­nior races. It was how­ever, des­tined to be a dis­ap­point­ing re­turn, re­tir­ing af­ter 3 laps in the Ju­nior with en­gine trou­ble, and crash­ing in the Se­nior, for­tu­nately with­out se­ri­ous in­jury. The bright side was that he was able to bring the 500cc Nor­ton home with him, and this ma­chine would serve him very well over the next five years. Back in Aus­tralia and now re­lo­cated to Sydney to work at Hazell & Moore, Pringle set­tled back into the lo­cal scene. At the 1934 Aus­tralian TT at Bathurst he fin­ished sec­ond to Queens­lan­der ‘Cur­ley’ An­der­son in the Se­nior TT. At the Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Phillip Is­land in 1936 he de­feated Norm Os­borne to win the Se­nior GP and one year later in the Aus­tralian TT at the same venue, beat South Aus­tralian Clem Fos­ter and Ir­ish star Stan­ley Woods to again take out the Se­nior. In 1938 he made it three Phillip Is­land Se­nior wins on the trot, beat­ing Ge­orge Han­naford’s Ve­lo­cette to win the Vic­to­rian TT. His best lap of 89.9 mph re­mains the all-time lap record for mo­tor­cy­cles on the 6-mile cir­cuit. Soon af­ter­wards, he made the de­ci­sion to re­tire from rac­ing and his ex-works Nor­ton was sold to Sydney rider Leo Tobin, who used it to win the Se­nior TT at the first races held at Mount Panorama, Bathurst in 1938.

In the early post-war years, Pringle acted as tuner and me­chanic for the ace speed­way rider Vic Huxley, and made sev­eral trips to Eng­land for the speed­way sea­sons. He re­turned to live in Mel­bourne but died sud­denly at a rel­a­tively young age. His funeral at Fawkner Cemetery on Jan­uary 2nd, 1952 was at­tended by many for­mer rac­ing ri­vals, friends and mem­bers of the mo­tor­cy­cle and al­lied trades. In an era where road races were usu­ally feats of en­durance for both man and ma­chine (his 1932 Isle of Man Se­nior ride lasted 3 hours 41 min­utes), Pringle had few equals. But races in Aus­tralia in the ‘thir­ties were few and far be­tween, the dis­tances be­tween venues vast, so top com­peti­tors were strug­gling to get more than three or four rides per year. Had Jimmy Pringle taken Arthur Sim­cock’s ad­vice and con­cen­trated on the boom­ing in­ter­na­tional scene, he could well have be­come a world class rider.

ABOVE Pringle takes a back­ward glance as he rounds Craig-ny-Baa in the 1932 Se­nior TT.

Prior to the 1932 Se­nior TT in the Isle of Man, where he fin­ished a sen­sa­tional 12th.

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