Is it the fountain of youth at which Mr Berry has been sipping? No, just a view that youth isn’t a new thing... This is part two!
In October, 1969, with Schoolboy Scrambling still in its infancy, the first British Schoolboy Championships were run by the Schoolboy Motor Cycle Association at Horley, near Banbury, catering for Juniors, Intermediates, and Seniors. Interest in this branch of the sport was increasing at that time and there is a Pathé News film of the event you might want to check out on Youtube.
Competitors came from pioneering clubs such as Reading, Ringwood, Corsham and Horsham and the winners on the day were a certain Dave Thorpe, Rene Stubbs and John Seward. The race footage ends with Seward confidently wheelieing to the chequered flag but what stood out most for me was the image of the three champs displaying their trophies. Seward looks very self-conscious, Stubbs happy with his day’s work and a 7-year-old Thorpe already seems relaxed and comfortable in front of the cameras. It would appear that even at such a tender age he had the confidence and self-belief of a world champion.
Seward was a tremendous talent; British champion at 14 years old, he was favourite to win the title again in 1970 on a 125 Puch, but was beaten into second place by Geoff Mayes riding a Bultaco. Geoff, who won all three races recalls: “On his day he was the man and going out in the third race I still felt that he could beat me.” Seward made rapid progress to Expert level in the adult ranks, though despite being a very smooth, stylish rider he had apparently reached a plateau.
The following year, 15-year-old Trevor Hardiman became British Schoolboy Motorcycle Association Champion at Matchams Park, Ringwood. In doing so, he beat both Graham Noyce and Neil Hudson; something to tell the grandchildren! Like Seward, Hardiman was well prepared for the transition to adult ranks, making Expert at 16, but he struggled to make the grade at national level and by the age of 19 he had stopped racing. He did return to the sport briefly at the age of 25 in the AMCA, where again he made Expert, but soon retired as a result of a string of injuries.
In 1970 the ACU had decided to run a national under-21 championship (sponsored by Shell) which gave the likes of Mike Jones and Roger Harvey (winners in 1970 and 71 respectively), Stuart Nunn, Vaughan Semmens and Martin Lampkin, who was still mixing his motorcycling, a chance to shine. And with riders such as John Banks, Malcolm Davis, Bryan Wade and Andy Roberton, all in their early to mid-20s, dominating the British championships the future appeared bright for British motocross.
However, the international scene the early 1970s largely proved to be a disappointment. John Banks had gone close to winning a world championship in 1968 and 1969 before injury curtailed his challenge and while Davis and Wade promised much they failed to deliver on the GP scene, albeit hampered by unreliable machinery while with AJS and Greeves, respectively.
When Noyce and Hudson graduated the schoolboy ranks they injected new life into a flagging motocross scene. Noyce was incredibly fast if always seemingly on the limit; I first witnessed his forceful style in the 125 British championship on his Métisse at Wakes Colne in 1973. Fifth in race one, won by Davis from Wade, he scored an amazing 3rd place in race two, beaten only by Wade and Harvey. In contrast, Hudson was already a very smooth rider showing maturity beyond his years. As a 17-year-old, he won the Somerton Club’s three-leg Experts Motocross, in February 1974 without winning a leg. Consistency, always a quality Neil had, brought him the win over more experienced and more fancied runners; Rob Taylor (his sponsor), Bryan Goss and Noyce.
When the British Championship took on its ‘Top 35’ format in 1975, Noyce especially was a sensation. He really shook things up, taking on and often beating the best riders of the last five to 10 years. Banks, Eastwood, Allan, Wade and Roberton would all feel the passion and desire of this young man as he showed scant regard for reputation. I once told Andy how I’d been a huge Noyce fan as a lad, to which, much to my surprise, he responded, “So was I.”
Within another few years Noyce and Hudson were dominating British motocross and in 1979 and 1981 they would each be crowned world champion, Graham (500) and Neil (250). However, they would soon be eclipsed by that small boy with the confident smile who had won his first title as a seven-year-old and by the age of 22 had matured into a world champion himself. Thorpe would go on to add two more titles, making him Britain’s most successful moto cross rider ever.
With a return of five world titles from its alumni, Britain’s School of Motocross had given us plenty to be grateful for and the movement, which had started out from such humble beginnings, had brought a professional approach to the sport. But looking back at that film from the autumn of 1969 I do miss those care-free innocent days.
…When Noyce and Hudson graduated the schoolboy ranks they injected new life into a flagging motocross scene… Ian Berry