Saturday, 11 January 2014
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Great night everyone and we even got to see the sun go down before the rain arrived
|Sophie enjoying the summers evening and great company|
|OMG £red turned up!!|
|Kieth and Jeff marveling at arguably the best bike|
|Jim struggling with tight underpants|
|They finally arrived|
|What we all went to see|
|All too much for some|
|What those on the big bikes didn't see|
|Steve and Co lighting the balloons|
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
A very dear friend of mine turned up the other day with a present for me. Actually not really a present as it was technically mine already. On a small piece of card with a neatly punched hole holding a loop of string was the ornate logo of the Manx Motor Cycle Club and the inscription “Manx Grand Prix 1984. Pit Attendant Newcomer’s Race” I was instantly assaulted by heaps of wonderful memories.
Stan was a very handy Production bike rider and tuner in the early eighties. First on an X7 Suzuki and then a rapid LC250 Yamaha. His collection of tin ware as a result of his many race and championship victories would make an impressive display if he wasn't so modest. This wasn't quite enough, Stan wanted the challenge of the Isle of Mann’s notorious road circuit.
I had been accompanying him to a few meetings and begun racing myself only the previous year but our chosen machines were very different.
Yamaha, refusing to rest on their laurels, had moved on several generations from the 1930’s DKW the engines evolved from. However, Triumph had not so much rested on their Laurels as shredded them, stuffed a mattress with them and had the sort of snooze that would make Rumple Stiltskin late for work. In six decades they had managed to fit boingy bits to both ends, the first version for the rear being so complicated that even the designer could only assemble it with help from his dad, The gearbox had been glued to the back of the crankcases, and they over-bored the engine to the point where if you fired it up in the garage on the centre stand and tweaked the throttle you had to chase it across the floor. That was about it. But I love ‘em.
Anyway, whether it was my obvious race bike building and preparation skills (unlikely) or the fact that I was able to pay my own way (see developing theme) or the fact that we got on well and had both been through a bit of a rough patch recently, I was offered and accepted the job of spannering for Stan in the ‘84 MGP Newcomers Race on a 350 YPVS Yamaha.
This was serious stuff! We seldom fall out and if we do it’s because neither of us has any intention of backing down before decomposition has set in, but there was the makings of a good team.
Gerry, a friend and supporter of Stan’s efforts would take the racer and my Bonneville over in his van so we would have a bit of transport freedom on The Island and I could have a bit of a play.
I don’t usually make plans; they go wrong. Sadly not making them is no guarantee that things will go right. A race on the most challenging circuit on the planet is no place for flippancy but as Stan can worry for three people, I thought I would just do as I was told - when I was told - and we’d be fine. My lack of preparation could not have caught me out any earlier in the proceedings than it did.
My Bonnie was going through one of it’s many costume changes. Peanut tank, banana seat, Yamaha XS650 Custom bars. You get the picture. I’m sorry. I was young. I hadn't quite finished but it was going in a van so that didn't matter. I could finish a few jobs off when we got there. All I had to do was get from Norwich to Gimingham for the early start needed to make the ferry.
Early to bed for my nocturnal alarm call, a reasonable few hours sleep considering the excitement level was followed by an enthusiastic leap out of bed to get going.
Shit! It’s dark, really really dark. Of course it is, I hear you say, it’s silly o’clock in September. However, one of the simple jobs I had planned for later was wiring the lights up. There was no choice; I would have just have to chance it. Getting out of Norwich was all street lights so the only issue there was not getting nicked but the rest of the way was going to be interesting. By the time I left the street lights behind a beautiful almost-full moon hung in a clear sky and possibly the most enchanting ride of my life saw me arrive on time having troubled neither the local constabulary or any hedges.
An uneventful journey saw us safely on the Magic Isle and soon it was time for a first look at the most famous 37 ¾ miles of tarmac on the planet. Stan was in the van so he could have a good look around and I followed on the Bonnie. It quickly became apparent that I could never hold the level of concentration necessary to race there. I had been fantasising about building another bike like my 250 but with a 500 twin engine to do just that. Oh no, I would have been sticking my neck out way too far. It also became apparent that my clutch lever was coming closer and closer to the bars each time I used it, and somewhere after Kirk Michael it let go. Riding the flowing road with little traffic was OK but Parliament Square in Ramsey loomed ahead.
With much throttle juggling and lever stamping I managed to find neutral to coast up to the stop line that racers can ignore but I couldn't. Brilliant, a gap in the traffic opened up just at the right time and with a handful of throttle and a delicate size 10 whack on the lever 1st gear was abruptly engaged.
I don’t do wheelies. I am the man who bought a Supermoto and still can’t wheelie. But with two 375cc pistons and a flywheel as heavy as a small planet, enough tension was created in the top run of the drive chain to yank the front wheel straight up. With the local constabulary very much in attendance but thankfully momentarily distracted by female superstructure I waggled my way around and across the square on one wheel. To onlookers I hope I appeared fully in charge and brimming with skill rather than scared witless and wondering when it was going to end. I thruppenny-bitted my way round the Hairpin and off over the mountain to rendezvous somewhere near The Veranda to put the bike back in the van which was blessed with the working headlights which would be required in the building gloom.
Incredibly, Stan could already put bits of the track together in his head - further reinforcing the difference in his abilities and mine.
Stan and I shared a twin-bed room in a very traditional B&B with Gerry and his charming daughter in another. I think we were on the second floor with one room above. We had the use of a small unlit, un-powered garage just round the corner. Practice days began with me sitting on the back of the Yam with a red cantilever toolbox in one hand and a can of juice in the other as Stan rode up to Glencutchery Rd. At something like 4.30 in the morning this was almost as special as my earlier moonlit ride. We had about 10% of the gear for this endeavor that we now take to a track day. The limited budget resulted in Alex George asking Stan in a polite way W T F is that tyre you’re using on the back of that thing. He considered it so unsuitable he found a replacement which he gave him. The words “Alex George” and “gave” don’t normally occur in the same sentence unless followed by a name and the word “slap” but he was a star and Stan was much safer and quicker as a result. In fact the next morning Stan was mentioned on the radio having been 3rd fastest in practice. Also I got to hob-nob with someone who actually raced Slippery Sam.
It was late one night in our comfy room and we were well tucked up when the rhythmic sounds of what may have been a plumbing problem started to penetrate the ceiling from the room above. The sounds got louder and the rhythm sped up and water hammer seemed less likely to be the cause. As it reached a crescendo and then suddenly stopped it seemed appropriate to give a resounding round of applause and a bit of a cheer.
As we left our room to go down for breakfast the next morning we looked up the stairs to see two slightly tousled and comely young ladies coming out of the room. No one had been heard entering or leaving and indeed it’s unlikely that anyone would have got past the Turnkey/Landlady. Not a word was spoken.
Practice was going well and Stan could now run his own little private movie of most of the course in his head. His strategy was to do the bits he could visualise quickly, and treat the rest like a fast road run. This would ensure the safest and fastest lap possible. It was whilst he was laying in bed mentally running a lap, that I struggled to remove a too-tight sock close by . Poised like a plucked flamingo and at my most internally-taught I inadvertently blew him a wrong-end kiss. My apology probably seemed less sincere as it was delivered after a lengthy period of laughing like a hyena that had chewed through a gas pipe in a dental surgery. His threats of retribution delivered through puckered nostrils and pursed lips seemed only too real to me as I know Stan as a man who bears grudges with the passion that Charlton Heston bears arms.
Those of a certain age will remember the Griffon Clubman full-face lid. One of the better early offerings of such new fangled devices. Fortunately for me I had one of these with a nice new paint job that disguised the fact that I had dropped it on a flint which punched a big hole right through it. It also had a brilliant feature comprising several small brass mesh vents in the visor. This helped to avoid misting but caused your eyes to water like a new boy in an onion ring factory. These vents however made it possible to sleep with your lid on and the visor taped down without suffocating. As my ability to tell this tale 30 years later will testify. This meant direct retribution was avoided. If anything untoward occurred to my toothbrush or other toiletries I am blissfully unaware and would like to remain so.
An example of Stan’s logical approach to the racing game can be demonstrated by the oil he chose to use in the bike. His mother had a moped which kept seizing. Oil delivery and mechanical condition were spot on but the problem persisted. It became apparent that this was not just a problem with this bike but many similar models. The manufacturer fixed the problem not by modifying the machines but by introducing a special oil and it worked. If this oil can stop an engine designed to seize from doing that, figured Stan, it must be pretty good and that’s what we used. At the completion of practice and having successfully qualified we stripped the top end to check it over and the oil had indeed done a brilliant job. All was very well. After rebuilding I was given the privilege of running it round for a steady lap on open roads to bed everything in again and check for leaks etc. Another brilliant unforgettable ride. Just a final check over and then time to race. Oh dear. The final check revealed a warped brake disk. With no time to find and fit a disc and no budget to pay for it we were buggered.
I’d like to think that at this time my Dad popped up Jiminy Cricket style on my shoulder. He had died the previous year but had spent his entire life, private and professional, fixing things that anyone else would have thrown away. He taught me everything I knew about bikes and had gems such as “The only thing a timing mark tells you is where they put the mark” and “tyre levers are for taking tyres off, not putting them on” How many tubes have you wrecked ignoring that one. With nothing to lose I got Stan to balance the bike on a lump of firewood and spun the wheel feeling for the high spot in the disk. With a specially selected piece of kindling from the garage floor and a fairly chunky ballpene hammer I placed the “drift” squarely on what I thought was the troublesome spot and gave it one firm rap. Nervously spinning the wheel again we discovered we now had two perfectly true discs and we could go to the ball. Thanks Dad.
If you think I’m making this up for a good tale I promise it’s all as true as a 30 year gap will allow and about to get even sillier.
With a rest day ahead we decided to go and see the Steve Gibbons Band at the Villiers Hotel . They did all their bike songs and I bitterly regret not being able to get the cassette LP I bought that night on disc as I lost it years ago. My kids could sing the Triumph Bonneville song before they could walk. We impressed the girls with our driving licenses which proved that I was Steve’s brother and Stan rode for the “Turkey Racer” team. We were unable to press home the advantage due to the fear of extreme guilt and the threat of real and lasting injury when we got home. So guilty for nothing was I, that I decided to phone home to speak to my girlfriend who had recently moved in. She had moved in on Wednesday only to spend the next weekend in a boiling smelly caravan at Snetterton where I proceeded to achieve what Motorcycle Sport magazine called the most impressive blow-up of the weekend. The following weekend I buggered off to the Island.
How I thought calling her whilst completely pissed at 2.30 in the morning was going to cement our relationship I don’t know but her falling down the stairs to get to the phone thinking one of us was horribly mangled or worse did result in some frostiness on my return.
Race day dawns. We go up to the paddock and I send Stan off with a pat on the back to the parc ferme to be reunited with his bike and head off to pit 41. I am shown our quick filler and have to get the fuel in ASAP so we’re ready to go. Having tipped all our juice in the quick filler I give the trigger a squeeze to check it’s operation and am horrified to see rusty water shoot out. I grab an official who is less than sympathetic who finds me a clean QF but can’t do anything about the fuel. With all the petrol stations on the course closed for safety I discover that most of the island’s pumps are indeed on the course. This is why when my rider starts his race I am listening to the commentary on Manx Radio in a taxi trying to find fuel.
On my return I fill the QF and just get my breathing back to normal when my boy is in for his end-of-lap-two stop oblivious to the whole thing.( Stan, I think you still owe me for that juice) Our pit stop is faultless and he’s enjoying the ride, Off he goes again.
The modern Newcomer’s race ran concurrently with the Classic Race and I had a friend from CRMC riding a tasty B50 BSA special in the same race. I believe the next year he demolished his bike, a wall and his spine. His front disc sliced his crankcases apart but he’s doing OK and racing again now. As Steve’s distinctive sounding bike approached to complete his race I followed him with my gaze and gave him a hearty clap. As I turned round to look back down the road to wait for Stan’s arrival a red and white flash avoided my eyes and bugger me. Not only did I not see him start I missed his finish. He didn't win but he was far from last and going home in a van, not a box. Average race speed of a smidge under 90 mph and a fastest lap of almost 94 mph. Result
Fast forward 30 years, The girlfriend who fell down the stairs became my wife and mother to my two lovely kids and we celebrated 25 years of marriage this year. Stan and I are still getting out there on the track. After a lay off of about 15 years Stan is as fast as ever and he still says I’m very smooth which is polite for slow but still hurts. He’s still riding Japanese exotica and I can be found circulating on the very same Bonnie but thankfully those handlebars are now in my daughter-in-law’s shopping bicycle having been replaced with clip-ons to go with the café racer look. On trips, Stan thinks I let him have the big bed in the van out of kindness, but I know it would be much harder for him to climb up to my bunk in the front to fart in my face.
He hasn't said anything for about twenty years but I know he’s not forgotten.