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
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.