The year turned into your best so far; you gave Suzuki its highest placed finish ever in a WTC event and you won your first BTC round
Yes, I had a fairly good first year, I think I won the ‘Lakes’ and a few other important Nationals, and was 3rd in the first BTC, my best so far. I was also 2nd in Ireland at the WTC again and later won my first BTC trial, the Victory. I also won the British Experts that year. It was about this time that Graham gave me a new fancy Opel Manta, which at the time was quite a cool thing!
Did you ever test the Ossa Yellow ‘Gripper’ or fancy a return to the Spanish brand?
I never tested it, but I was often in talks with Cliff about a return as we had remained friends but it never got much more than that. Also with a three-year contract we never looked too far ahead back then.
What was the Beamish Suzuki like to ride in the ‘Scottish’?
For me it was very difficult. I always struggled with it on the rocks and couldn’t hold a line. It was also prone to spitting loose rocks out instead of gripping. We changed the gearing so that 1st was 2nd and so on, to try to help with this and the road sections, as it definitely didn’t enjoy those. But I never had a strong week on it up there. I even got Mick Grant to graft some Bultaco yolks and forks in to help me steer it. We had to remove the forks after testing and kept the yolks, and tried to disguise them to look like Suzuki ones.
1980 started well but you suffered tendon damage in the WTC in Ireland, did this bother you all year?
Yes, I had another fall and damaged the tendons in my arm again, from a fall a few years before. It was a real struggle to hang on after that and I was about 15th and 7th the following week in England but still in a lot of pain. When you have the same injury twice it often takes a bit of getting rid of, and that proved to be the case with this injury.
You also became a TV star in 1980 when you won ‘Kickstart’!
This was one of the first events of its kind for us, and the new engine had a lot of power — which could be both good and bad. A few of us were quite close on scores but there was a high, muddy wall of death without much run-up that nobody else could get up, but the old Suzuki sailed up it. Well I say nobody else; Rob Shepherd went right over the top and nearly killed himself! This was all going on around the same time as Dallas being popular on TV so ‘who shot JR’ was a well-used phrase then!
In 1981 you had a good year, taking a BTC win and scoring regular WTC points but Beamish Suzuki pulled the plug on your WTC efforts
The year was okay, with quite a few good WTC results early on and a BTC round win at the Colmore, followed by six or seven national wins but by then Graham Beamish had sold up and was no longer involved. The new owners were pretty fair with me though, telling me early on that as they were not interested in the WTC, my contract wouldn’t be renewed and there would be no machine development. They only wanted to sell the machines they had left.
What happened next?
This left me with plenty of time to look around and I probably had more offers for 1982 than ever before. As I said before, I seemed to have been talking with Jim Sandiford every year but this time the offer was really good. I had tested Jaimie Subira’s prototype 348 on at least two occasions and I knew the machine was good, so with a good contract to follow I was happy. I think we only changed one figure before I signed. Suzuki was also kind enough to let me finish early.
You obviously liked the Montesa
That first Montesa I had was almost bog standard, and I loved it. Bill Brandwood had set it up and what a job he did. The only thing I changed was to put one of the Suzuki magnesium carbs on it, but when Jim saw it I got a bollocking and off it came!
Am I right in thinking you tested the green Moto-Gori?
You must never believe all the rumours, John. I spoke to Jim Jones, the importer, but nothing more.
On the 27th October you signed a one-year contract with Jim Sandiford, the UK Montesa importer, and won two National trials before the year end; why Montesa?
As I said before, Jim was really enthusiastic and had worked hard to get me a good deal from the factory. He really fitted his title ‘Gentleman Jim’ and I loved the standard machine. If the factory model was a bit better, I hopefully had a good year ahead. In about February or March we got our factory machines. Malcolm Rathmell got on well with his but I couldn’t ride it at all. I tried messing with everything, but it just wasn’t happening; I was still getting pretty good results in UK trials but I knew I was in trouble at World level and this turned out to be the case.
What happened at the SSDT?
Thanks for reminding me about that, John. Just before the SSDT we got some more factory machines. I don’t know what was different but I loved it again and trained hard for a good result that I really thought was possible. It was Wednesday and it was my late day. I was running about 7th but a good day would have sent me up the results as the marks were very close above me. I was actually having a good day, but then I was overtaking a double articulated trailer and missed a left-turn marker. I had a feeling I had gone wrong, but after about five minutes I saw an S O marker where the course re-joined so I followed it for about 20 miles. When I realised my mistake I raced back but due to my late number they were removing the flags. I rode them all okay but was given 300 marks for my efforts. I let the team down badly — it was not a good day.
Apart from the SSDT episode did you enjoy the year?
After the SSDT it was straight down to Italy and France with Martin and John Lampkin. Martin had just got this Citroen diesel with floating suspension, it was really comfortable. John’s CCM went inside, mine on the rack and Mart’s new SWM jumbo was being built, however when we got to Italy my lovely white Montesa was completely covered in soot from the exhaust! It was then that I witnessed two pretty cool things. Mart’s SWM wasn’t quite ready so we went to a bar to have a coffee and wait. We sat outside and saw five 50cc scooters being wheelied downhill with young lads on them. I then saw something even better! We went to the SWM factory where Mart’s machine was now ready. In jeans and trainers he stuck it in 4th gear in the car park and it nearly wheelied out of his hands! “Perfect” he said, “take it to the trial!” I know for a fact he had no testing on it and he then finished 4th in the trial. For myself I was under a bit of pressure as I had been told I had to score in each WTC to continue. I think I was 11th and so out of the points. Back then I always struggled on dry grippy stuff. It was then on to France and more dry ‘big time’ sections but I had a pretty good ride for 7th. The whole year was pretty good actually. I won about 20 Nationals and had my best Scott result of 3rd.
At the end of 1982 you could not find a new deal with an importer, tell us about the situation with you riding the Montesa as a privateer
After probably my best year it was hard to accept that there was nothing for me, but I knew times were hard and my contract was only ever for one year, and Jim had stood by his word all the way. He said he would help me with machine and bits for as long as I needed so I took him up on it for a few trials.
You obviously liked the Bultaco
For me the Bultaco had always been the benchmark for a good-steering machine. Yrjo Vesterinen had been developing it and I had massive respect for Reg May. He was an awesome character but some of the Comerfords management were a bit scared of him and told me to be careful, but I never had a single problem. I used to stay at his house or Bert Thorne’s, and he used to come up and stay with us as by then I had had to get a proper job. What that guy could do in his little comp shop was incredible. Unfortunately tricks were starting to be necessary in trials, and although the Bultaco was very good on normal terrain it was heavy and hard to do tricks on.
With the Bultaco factory now closed you stayed on the machine in 1984 and were still having good results
Reg did a great job of trying to keep the Bultaco up to date with the modern hazards; he made homemade air-boxes and swinging arms, and he even used to cut the pistons and taper them; it was all an eye opener for me. He even had a mono-shock rear end handmade with a lightweight frame before he started to become ill. I don’t know if that ever got finished, as I finished the year on the previous model. I still had a steady year but was having to ‘ride around’ the problems of trick riding, partly due to me struggling to adapt and partly the
machine’s age. I did manage to win the last BTC trial of the year, the Hoad, though. That was after I forgot my boots and had to borrow some from John Lampkin which were two sizes too big!
Were you still full of enthusiasm for trials despite the difficulties of trying to get a supported ride?
Yes I still loved trials, but bills had to be paid and working full time makes it hard to train or practice, especially in winter, so the results were going in the wrong direction and I thought it was the end. Then out of the blue Quinney — Keith Quinn — phoned me — I needed a translator — and offered me the JCM ride. It was actually not too bad although the rear air-shock used to lock solid at the most inopportune time, but in the first trial it was okay. This was the Trispen de Chuna in Cornwall. Six of us went down in my Bultaco van which I still had. John Lampkin will remember this too. He was riding his new Armstrong with the Rotax motor, which wasn’t the best engine. Despite this he definitely deserved to win. The trial was easy, and maybe three sections would decide the result. The first hard section was a second-gear one, twisting up roots and rocks, and nobody had got up it. He was looking good, when it jumped out of gear. Somehow he managed to stamp it into first and tease his way to the top! I can’t remember what I got on that trial, but I know he led me by a few marks going into the last hill-climb. His engine then had another plan for him and just bogged down. It scared me so much I nearly overshot the end cards; and that was my first JCM win!
The next few years you rode a variety of machines
I was now working for the RAC and a lot of their work had to be done at weekends, so I just rode anything anyone offered me, although it was nice to ride for John Lampkin on the Betas. The machines were competitive even if I wasn’t, and we had good fun doing it. About this time I also had a serious back operation on two discs, which took a lot of getting over, and when I started riding again I just rode PJ1 Richard Thorpe’s Yamaha. I had my last national win on that at the Bemrose.
You were a minder for a few years in the WTC
Well on and off, yes. With Steve Colley it was supposed to be a two-year thing but we just didn’t bring the best out in each other. Steve is a really nice guy, but sometimes these things happen and you have to move on. With Dougie, Martin was always going to do it eventually but he had been unable to sell his paper shop in time, so he asked me if I could do it — time permitting. Dougie was so rewarding to work with as he had all the skills but didn’t know where to apply them, so I just had to say “rev it here, feel for it here, hit that fast” and he just did it. We worked together on his first WTC points in Andorra; he was so well mannered and well brought up; he had a really good work ethic and temperament. A bit later that year, after he won his first World round, in the morning he was delivering papers on his push bike!
Do you still keep your eye on the world of trials?
I still get MCN, TMX and Trial Magazine. I also watch it when it is on TV. I think Dougie took things to an amazing new level and Tony Bou has done the same again. Some of the things he does I have to watch again in slow motion to see how he does it! These days I like tinkering about in my garage, and I have a ‘track-day car’ that I also enjoy.
1982: Seen here at the end-of-season British Experts on the Montesa
1982: On the way to 3rd position on the Montesa at the Scott
1982: After the SSDT it was straight down to Italy and France with Martin and John Lampkin for the WTC
1981: The low gearing of the 325cc Beamish Suzuki used to put extra strain on the motor at events such as the ‘Scottish’
1982: The move to Montesa heralded some very good results
1980: ‘JR’ was very much on form, taking many National victories during a successful season on the 325cc Beamish Suzuki
1981: The last ride on the Beamish Suzuki in the SSDT resulted in 11th position
1981: On his way to 10th position at the WTC in Spain. And, yes, the white is snow!
1980: Check out the water at Orgate Splash during the Scott
1985: Going for a big dab at the SSDT on the JCM
1983: SSDT – The Reg May prepared Comerfords Bultaco was for ‘JR’ the benchmark for a good-steering machine.
2015: ‘JR’ gets his thrills in the Ginetta sports car at track days