Roger Barker

A short life

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Charles Rice, Keith Bryen, OBA ar­chives.

In 1957, Roger Barker, orig­i­nally from the NSW coun­try town of Mudgee, achieved his life­time ambition to com­pete at the Isle of Man. He did so with dis­tinc­tion, finishing the in­cred­i­bly gru­elling eight-lap Se­nior TT in tenth place, af­ter nearly three and a half hours of rac­ing, and av­er­ag­ing an im­pres­sive 90.79 mph.

In the ear­lier Ju­nior TT he worked his way up to 8th place be­hind a string of works ma­chines but was forced to re­tire with ma­chine grem­lins. Just three weeks ear­lier, he had cel­e­brated his 30th birth­day. Fol­low­ing the Isle of Man, Roger lined up for the Dutch TT at Assen on June 29th. He only gained a start when English Guzzi star Bill Lomas crashed in prac­tice and was un­able to start, but Roger made the most of the op­por­tu­nity, finishing eighth in both the 350 and 500 races. Two weeks later was the fourth round of the Cham­pi­onships, at the fast and dan­ger­ous Spa-Fran­cor­champs cir­cuit in Bel­gium, but on the same day there was an in­ter­na­tional event in East Germany which of­fered much bet­ter start­ing money for the im­pov­er­ished pri­va­teers. Roger and his trav­el­ling companion Dick Thomp­son were soon on the road to East Germany to com­pete in the an­nual races on a 7.6km pub­lic road cir­cuit in the Thiringia prov­ince known as Sch­leizer Dreieck which had been in op­er­a­tion since 1923. It had been a long jour­ney to Europe for Roger, who worked at the Mudgee ra­dio sta­tion, 2MG, even­tu­ally tak­ing the role of the break­fast an­nouncer at the sta­tion. Roger and his el­der brother Aub were keen rid­ers, hav­ing honed their skills on their par­ents’ farm, and both com­peted at the lo­cal Minia­ture TT cir­cuit which held a big an­nual event fol­low­ing the Easter races at nearby Bathurst. There were sim­i­lar dirt cir­cuits scat­tered around the dis­trict, in­clud­ing Gir­raween near Bathurst, but Roger was more in­ter­ested in the tar and af­ter

rac­ing a Tri­umph sin­gle in Club­men’s events he man­aged to pur­chase Mau­rie Quincey’s very suc­cess­ful 350 KTT Ve­lo­cette in 1951. There was pre­cious lit­tle road rac­ing to be had in NSW, so Roger and Aub both moved to Vic­to­ria, where there were more than half a dozen tracks op­er­at­ing, al­beit mostly on an an­nual ba­sis. Both joined the big Hartwell club and to sat­isfy his pas­sion Roger also com­peted in scram­bles in both solo and side­car classes, sprints and tri­als, and ex­celled at them all.

To pay for all this, he worked at a car deal­er­ship in Mel­bourne, driv­ing taxis to sup­ple­ment his in­come. It was while com­pet­ing at the Aus­tralian TT at Lit­tle River, be­tween Mel­bourne and Gee­long in 1953 that he met Doug Fug­ger, who was a keen racer and suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, based in Al­bury and later in Syd­ney when he owned the prom­i­nent Ford deal­er­ship Nu­ford at Lakemba. At Fug­ger’s in­vi­ta­tion, Roger moved to Al­bury and worked as Sales Man­ager at Rive­rina Mo­tors and Mo­tor­cy­cles. With an­other ex-Quincey ma­chine, the long-stroke 350 Manx Norton orig­i­nally brought to Aus­tralia by Ken Ka­vanagh, Roger de­vel­oped into a pol­ished com­peti­tor, win­ning the Vic­to­rian Grand Prix at Vic­to­ria Park, Bal­larat, and the Vic­to­rian TT at Fish­er­men’s Bend. He also at­tracted the at­ten­tion of prom­i­nent spon­sor Jack Walters, who pro­vided a 125cc MV Agusta on which Roger won the Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Ban­di­ana. In his quest to find the com­pet­i­tive edge, Roger ar­ranged to buy a new ‘full bin’ fi­bre­glass fair­ing made in Mel­bourne by ace pho­tog­ra­pher and for­mer top Club­man racer Char­lie Rice, and Bob Ed­monds. In fact, Barker car­ried out much of the track test­ing (at Dar­ley and Bal­larat) for the fair­ing be­fore it was put into pro­duc­tion. These shells were mar­keted un­der the name of Ri­mond and other cus­tomers in­cluded the Hin­ton broth­ers, Eric and Harry Ju­nior, Jack For­rest and Jack Ahearn who took them to Eng­land for the 1957 sea­son. Rice said that around thirty were built, al­though this de­sign was banned from in­ter­na­tional rac­ing from 1958. Barker was quoted in the Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cling press as say­ing the fair­ing was worth 12 mph and 200 rpm on tall gear­ing. Roger was be­com­ing rest­less for the big time, and when he gained the cov­eted nom­i­na­tion for the Aus­tralian team to com­pete at the 1957 Isle of Man TT there was no hold­ing him back, ex­cept for the fact that he had lit­tle money and no com­pet­i­tive ma­chin­ery. Walters stepped in to solve the lat­ter prob­lem, or­der­ing two new Manx Nor­tons from the Vic­to­rian agents which Barker would col­lect from the fac­tory in Birm­ing­ham. And so on Fe­bru­ary 27, 1957, Roger packed his Ri­mond fair­ing and his rac­ing gear and set sail for Eng­land aboard the P&O liner Ar­ca­dia, ac­com­pa­nied by Bob Brown who would also form part of the Aus­tralian TT squad. Barker had ar­ranged to pur­chase an Austin van from Keith Campbell and was soon set up for his Con­ti­nen­tal de­but on the cob­ble­stone streets at Salzburg, Aus­tria, scor­ing a pair of sev­enth places, fol­lowed a few days later by the tra­di­tional meet­ing at Met­tet in Bel­gium. De­spite the atro­cious con­di­tions, which in­cluded light snow, he fin­ished

sixth in the 500 race. He had one more start in Europe at St. Wen­del in the Ger­man state of Saar­land, finishing a fine fourth in the 500 race which was won by Eric Hin­ton, be­fore head­ing for Liver­pool to catch the boat to the Isle of Man. Barker found he slot­ted in well with the Euro­pean scene and his bub­bly per­son­al­ity made him pop­u­lar with his peers. He found it easy to make friends wher­ever he went, and for the long-es­tab­lished Sch­leiz races he cre­ated a great im­pres­sion with the or­gan­is­ers and amongst the towns­folk. In July 1957, Eastern Europe was in the grip of a ma­jor heat­wave, and on the week­end of the races the mer­cury hov­ered around 40 de­grees for hours on end. It was so hot that the race or­gan­is­ers de­cided to hold the 500 race straight af­ter the 350 and move the side­cars to the end of the pro­gram, which meant that Roger and most of the other rid­ers had two long races on the trot, each last­ing more than one hour. The Ri­mond fair­ing, al­though pro­vid­ing a vital in­crease in top speed, was also like an oven, trap­ping heat from the en­gine to fur­ther add to the rider’s dis­com­fort. Nev­er­the­less, Roger had a bril­liant start in the 350 race and had the event shot to pieces when he picked up a punc­ture in the rear tyre and was forced to re­tire. With the tem­per­a­ture con­tin­u­ing to rise, the fair­ing was quickly swapped to the 500 and he took his place on the grid, again mak­ing a great start to lead the field away. The race was sched­uled for 20 laps but Roger, lead­ing from the Ger­man rider Ernst Hil­lier on a BMW, only made it to half dis­tance when he blacked out, top­pling from his Norton as he ac­cel­er­ated from a slow cor­ner. He struck a road­side tree and died on the spot. The race was stopped soon af­ter and the Side­car race can­celled. Doc­tor Trau­neck from Sch­leiz, who was well known to the rid­ers who vis­ited the area an­nu­ally, said in a let­ter to Bob Brown’s mother, “We have had a ter­rific heat wave; he (Roger) must have been groggy and fell off his bike. We all have to be grate­ful that he wasn’t mu­ti­lated and ru­ined to the end of his days, but had an in­stan­ta­neous death. I am sure he didn’t feel a thing, it was so sud­den. His com­rades are look­ing af­ter his be­long­ings and af­fairs. It is very, very sad.” Eric Hin­ton said, “Roger was the safest and fastest man on the (Sch­leiz) course. Ernest Hil­lier, who was the only one still in sight of Roger said that he was rid­ing beau­ti­fully and could not un­der­stand how it hap­pened. All this sea­son, since we have been to­gether, Roger has been a good friend to us and all the other rid­ers and peo­ple with whom one comes in con­tact in this busi­ness.”

Roger’s obit­u­ary by Arthur New in the NSW Mo­tor­cy­clist said, “Scram­bles, tri­als, sports days, pic­ture nights, were all shaped to suc­cess by his dy­namic per­son­al­ity. Road rac­ing was, of course, his favourite sec­tion. Roger’s rid­ing, some­times astounding, was dom­i­nated by his drive to bet­ter him­self, even at times to the point above nor­mal en­durance. His se­lec­tion as Isle of Man TT rep­re­sen­ta­tive was the ful­fil­ment of an ambition that had ob­sessed him for many years. His ap­pre­ci­a­tion of good food, clothes and mu­sic, his abil­ity to hold the floor with a joke that was al­ways suitable to the com­pany, his var­ied ca­reer from cab driv­ing to ra­dio an­nounc­ing sets Roger up as one whose in­tel­lect de­manded of him more than one would ex­pect in a rac­ing mo­tor­cy­clist.” A mea­sure of Roger Barker’s charisma and es­teem was that even in a small town in East Germany, 2,000 peo­ple at­tended his funeral. Barker’s fam­ily and Doug Fug­ger had re­quested his body be re­turned to Aus­tralia, but there were no fa­cil­i­ties for keep­ing the body in the ex­treme heat so he was buried in the grounds of a church in Sch­leiz. Among the mourn­ers were Dick Thomp­son, Eric and Harry Hin­ton. Some weeks later, it was re­ported that the body had been ex­humed and flown to Mel­bourne for burial in Hei­del­berg Ceme­tery. The funeral was held on Mon­day 5th Au­gust, with the hearse car­ry­ing a large wreath bear­ing Barker’s Vic­to­rian rac­ing num­ber 9. The cof­fin was draped in the Harley Club’s flag. In Oc­to­ber, the Roger Barker Me­mo­rial Se­nior Clas­sic was held at the Fish­er­men’s Bend cir­cuit in Mel­bourne, and won by vet­eran Mau­rie Quincey from Ron Miles and Tom Phillis. The Nor­tons of both Quincey and Miles were wear­ing new Ri­mond fair­ings. Iron­i­cally both the mi­nor placeget­ters were to lose their lives in com­ing years while rac­ing in Europe.

Achiev­ing a life’s ambition: Roger Barker pushes off in the 1957 Isle of Man Ju­nior TT.

Jack Ahearn leads Roger Barker onto the main straight at the November 1956 meet­ing at Mount Druitt.

Roger (left) en­joy­ing a drink with his great mate and em­ployer Doug Fug­ger at Yar­ra­wonga in 1955.

Roger on a MAC Ve­lo­cette in a 1955 scram­ble at Mer­ri­ang, Vic­to­ria.

On his ex-Ken Ka­vanagh 350cc Norton with new Ri­mond fair­ing, Roger heads onto the main straight at Dar­ley, Vic­to­ria in 1956. Win­ning the 1957 Aus­tralian 125cc Grand Prix in Jan­uary 1957 at Ban­di­ana on Jack Walters’ MV Agusta.

Roger lead­ing in the ju­nior race at Sch­leiz, Thiringia, Germany, 1957. He was lead­ing by a wide margin when tyre fail­ure put him out of the event.

Lead­ing Ron Miles at Dar­ley.

Flat out on Dar­ley’s main straight.

On the back sec­tion of the nar­row Dar­ley course in 1956, Roger leads Mau­rie Quincey (8).

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