A short life
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).