Classic Trial - - MEET­ING -

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

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