’cross words

PART ONE Think youth is a new thing? Think again…

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

Is it the foun­tain of youth at which Mr Berry has been sip­ping? No, just a view that youth isn’t a new thing.

The school­boy move­ment of the late Six­ties rev­o­lu­tionised the sport of mo­tocross and a few years down the line would pro­duce world cham­pi­ons in Gra­ham Noyce, Neil Hud­son and Dave Thorpe. But long be­fore these su­per­stars ma­te­ri­alised, tear­away teenagers had been mak­ing their mark in the sport, much to the an­noy­ance of the es­tab­lished stars of the day.

One such young­ster was fu­ture dou­ble world cham­pion, Jeff Smith. Hav­ing made his mark as a tri­als rider and cap­tured the first of two ACU Stars in 1953 at the age of 18, the pre­co­cious teen turned to scram­bling, win­ning the Dutch GP in 1954 and tak­ing both the sup­port­ing races at the Bri­tish GP the same year; his fa­ther wouldn’t let him race in the GP as he thought it was too dan­ger­ous.

More sur­prises were in store the fol­low­ing sea­son, as he won the pres­ti­gious Ex­perts GN, beat­ing his il­lus­tri­ous BSA team-mates Brian Stone­bridge and John Avery and days af­ter his 20th birthday, won the Lan­cashire Grand Na­tional, tough­est scram­ble of them all, beat­ing the likes of Ge­off Ward, at the time a dou­ble ACU Scram­bles’ Star win­ner, and BSA team-mates Terry Cheshire and David Tye. Jeff went on to reach the very pin­na­cle of the sport, but was only a few days short of his 30th birthday by the time he was crowned world cham­pion. Like a good wine he ma­tured with age.

Within a few years Jeff, in turn, would find him­self chal­lenged by younger rid­ers such as Greeves’ star in the mak­ing, Dave Bick­ers, and Vic East­wood, a de­cep­tively strong rider who han­dled his 500 Match­less with great aplomb. Bick­ers would achieve great­ness at a ten­der age; just 22 years old when he won the first of his two 250cc Euro­pean cham­pi­onships and East­wood, who was dealt so much bad luck in a long ca­reer, emerged as the strong­est chal­lenger to Smith’s dom­i­na­tion in the 500 class, win­ning ACU Star races on the heavy, out­moded Match­less, be­fore join­ing BSA in 1965.

In 1967, Vic came very close to win­ning his first GP, an hon­our he ex­pe­ri­enced the fol­low­ing year when he fa­mously won the Bri­tish GP at Far­leigh Cas­tle, on a Husq­varna, in spite of a rear wheel punc­ture. Sadly, that win­ter an hor­ren­dous crash in a TV meet­ing at an ice­bound Hawk­stone Park, ef­fec­tively cur­tailed his ca­reer. He came back strong, but most who had seen him race in 1968 agree that he was never quite the same rider again.

An­other rider who came good as a teen was Bryan Goss. Men­tored by grasstrack ace Lew Cof­fin, ‘Bad­ger’ was a pro­lific win­ner, es­pe­cially on his home patch in the South­West, where on his light­weight two-strokes he took on the Sharp broth­ers, Triss and Bryan, and the Rick­mans, Don and Derek, all on full-500s. Early suc­cesses at­tracted Cot­ton, who sup­plied his first fac­tory ma­chine, but he was then snapped up by Greeves, join­ing the likes of Bick­ers and Alan Clough. Though he chal­lenged for 250 hon­ours for sev­eral years, iron­i­cally his Bri­tish cham­pi­onship suc­cess came in 1970 on a 400 Husq­varna, when he was crowned cham­pion just a few days short of his 30th birthday.

In the mid-1960s a new crop of very ta­lented rid­ers emerged, led by the likes of John Banks, Mal­colm Davis and Bryan Wade, all mul­ti­ple Bri­tish cham­pi­ons. Banks won a fac­tory ride with Dot as a teenager and en­joyed 250 GP ex­pe­ri­ence trav­el­ling with Bick­ers and Dot team-mate John Grif­fiths. But he ma­tured into a cham­pion in his mid-20s and came within a point of be­ing world cham­pion on his BSA in 1968. Davis and Wade were great ri­vals for 250 ti­tles in the late 1960s and their con­trast­ing styles, Davis a silky-smooth rider and Wade ragged and fre­quently push­ing be­yond the limit (tagged ‘Wild’ by Mur­ray Walker), en­ter­tained spec­ta­tors with each rider hav­ing his band of loyal fans.

But as men­tioned in my open­ing para­graph, a new train­ing ground for fu­ture stars was tak­ing shape as the Six­ties drew to a close. School­boy Scram­bling Clubs were be­ing es­tab­lished across the land and by the early Sev­en­ties a na­tional cham­pi­onship had been es­tab­lished. Amongst the ear­li­est suc­cess in this new ven­ture was Ge­off Mayes, brother of 1966 250cc Bri­tish cham­pion, Fred­die, him­self a very early starter. Se­nior School­boy cham­pion in 1970, he may not have scaled the heady heights of Noyce, Hud­son and Thorpe as an adult, but im­proved steadily enough to em­u­late his brother when he be­came Bri­tish cham­pion in 1980.

So, by the mid-1970s the Bri­tish mo­tocross scene ap­peared to be in a very healthy state and there was great hope that one of the grad­u­ates from the school­boy ranks would fill the void left by Jeff Smith and Dave Bick­ers. We all know how that panned out, but I’ll pick up on that again next time.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.