A story of racing motorcycles:
Ducati 350 and Matchless G50 Metisse
I'd been out of the racing game some years during the time our kids were growing up but then in about 1996 with both daughters at university we found ourselves in a more carefree position with less responsibility (diminished responsibility some would say) with the freedom to do more of what we pleased. We decided to go back to the Isle of Man for Manx Grand Prix week (far better than the TT) and spectate at the classic races.
Spending a thoroughly absorbing week there it was no surprise that my enthusiasm was re-awakened, my taste buds tickled and the bug had bit. I told Kath I fancied a return to racing to do a classic Manx and was surprised and relieved when she agreed to the idea by telling me to get a bike (or was it on yer bike) and have a go.
I quite fancied the idea of a Ducati single as they were considered light and at 350cc not too powerful and of course not too expensive for a born again racer feeling his way back in. So about 6 weeks after coming home from the Manx I was the proud owner of just such a machine which, already in race trim needed little work so I was able to spend all winter just polishing it.
I contacted the AC-U about my by now considerably lapsed national road race licence and was told all I needed was signatures from competing at 3 meetings for it to be reinstated. Luckily I was doing this back then as nowadays anyone whose licence has lapsed beyond 3 years would need to start the whole qualification business from scratch.
So, starting early in 1997, and having squeezed myself somehow into my old leathers, we did several meetings at Cadwell and Darley Moor and whilst not exactly setting the world alight we didn't do too badly as the confidence slowly returned. It certainly felt strange sitting on the grid at my first race for many years, staring down an empty race track and thinking that I never expected to be doing this malarkey again.
An entry was sent off for the Manx but after what seemed an age of waiting we were disappointed (pissed off more like) to have the entry turned down as the event was oversubscribed and they felt a little more experience would help my chances for next year.
So with bottom lip on the floor we carried on racing at short circuits throughout the rest of 1997 and picked up things again in 1998. This time our Manx entry was accepted so all focus was on getting there with machine preparation and race accommodation to sort out.
Sitting on the bike on the Glencrutchery Road and waiting to be flagged off for by first practice I will never forget those emotions. Nervous and excited at the same time it was nearly 15 years since I had last ridden round this place on a racing motorcycle and I wasn't sure how I would take to it or indeed how the Duke would be. About a half hour later and back in the paddock I realised just how much of this place I needed to relearn but boy was it fun. Practice week passed well without disaster and with satisfactory qualification our place on the start line was assured. Race day arrived fine and dry and at the allotted time we took up our position in the starting line up. Being given a riding number somewhere in the sixties and with riders being set off in pairs it seemed like an eternity until it was our turn to go. Thankfully push starts were no longer the order of the day otherwise that may well have been the start and end of my race right then, so with plenty of revs I feathered the clutch and off we went. People often talk about the spectacle of the flat out run down Bray Hill and up again over Ago's leap but the sensation from a riders point of view is indescribable. The feeling of exhilaration as with a deep breath you hit the bottom of the dip, the suspension bottoms out and your arse meets your stomach when you climb up again is priceless. You have no time to think about it as you are already approaching Quarter Bridge pretty rapidly and now you need to think about losing all that speed as quickly as possible in order to get round the corner. You really do have to admire those who do this with the speed of a modern superbike as its scary enough on my little old classic.
Richard Stott (number 48) at Start Line, Douglas
Progress through the race was good until on lap 3 of this 4 lap race I was heading flat out downhill past the Highlander and something inside the engine let go with an almighty rattle. Pulling in the clutch as fast as my challenged brain would compute we coasted to a halt and that was the end of my return to the Manx - a DNF. A strip down later revealed a failed big end which was a bit disappointing as part of my prep. beforehand had been a crank rebuild with new bearing and conrod.
Overall the experience of my come back year had been terrific despite the mechanical setback but with lessons learned we started to lay plans for a return the following year.
Over the coming years I was to race the Ducati in the Manx 8 times altogether with a finishing/failure ratio of 50/50. Eventually I decided that the Duke was probably too fragile for the demands of Isle of Man racing but rather than let it go I held on to it and continue to race it regularly in short circuit events where abuse comes in much shorter bursts. And just to show no hard feelings it went on to take me to championship wins in the Aintree club 350 singles class in 2010 and 2011.
In the meantime, however, after a couple of years racing the Ducati I was beginning to hanker after a bigger banger to give me a ride in the Senior classic Manx. This was mainly because I had been kindly loaned the use of a Matchless G50 for the 1999 Senior race and had enjoyed the experience so much that I just had to have one. In late 2000 I became aware that a friend of ours was building for sale just the very thing I was looking for. A Matchless G50 Metisse. I went up to Yorkshire to see him and we struck a deal where the bike would be supplied 80% built with new replica engine and frame. Forks and wheels would come from the original donor bike and with me doing the finish build and detail work we were able to keep the price down a bit. All that was left to do was to get matrimonial approval for the project. As it happened the year 2000 was also the year of my 50th birthday so it seemed only right and fitting (I pleaded) to have a G50 for my 50th birthday present. And so the lady said yes.
I took delivery in early 2001 and set to work getting the bike ready in order to undergo plenty of non competitive testing and also to acquaint myself with my new toy. With an entry sent off for the Manx preparations were going well but then doom descended when as the season progressed the full horrors of the rapidly spreading Foot and Mouth outbreak became only too apparent. The unthinkable had already happened with the cancellation of the TT and then the announcement was made that the Manx also was to be cancelled. With 2 bikes prepared and ready to go I looked around to see where else we could go instead and with Northern Ireland not affected by travel restrictions found that the Ulster Grand Prix was still on. This normally runs over a long weekend just before the Manx so I hurriedly sent of entries for both bikes and received acceptances within a few days.
The races take place on the 7.5 mile Dundrod road circuit where we had some familiarity having competed the Ducati there a couple of times at the Dundrod 150 meeting held in June. We arrived in plenty of time the day before practice and completed all the signing on formalities and got the bikes through scrutineering. The next day, after the mandatory riders briefing, practice got under way with the schedule set for the classics to go at about 4 p.m. At the briefing we were made aware of a couple of temporary chicanes which had been added to the circuit for this meeting with the aim of slowing down the quicker bits, particularly the final right hand curve leading onto the start and finish straight. Here kerbing, prefabricated in plywood and painted green, had been laid down to produce a kind of single file bus stop chicane slowing down the approach to the fast curve. Unfortunately the alignment of this new feature had been badly designed with too narrow a line through and no escape route if things went wrong. This was to be my undoing. Out on the Ducati first I was on my 3rd lap of practice when arriving at the chicane I misjudged my approach speed into the first part of the corner. Realising that with such a narrow line through the chicane we were not going to get through I stood the bike up to try and loose some speed, hit the wooden kerbing almost square on and was launched upwards and forwards directly toward the straw baling at the far end of the chicane. Up until now I was still, in essence, on the bike but all that changed when we hit that straw bale. I was sent head over heels down the middle of the road whilst the Ducati took a fancy to the ditch. I came to a halt prostrate in the road, out came the red flags and marshals came running toward me. I remember seeing the fairing of the bike just sticking up out of the ditch and I could hear that the engine was still running. A marshal ran towards it clutching a fire extinguisher and I remember thinking please tell me you don't need that. Another marshal beat him to the bike and yanked the HT lead off bringing silence. The extinguisher was thankfully not deployed. Picking myself up I realised that with all the bits of me that were hurting it must mean something so I was lifted into the back of a car and taken to the ambulance. My shoulder was hurting, my ankle was hurting and to cap it all the paramedic wanted to hurt me some more with a syringe full of morphine that he insisted should go in my backside. I declined his kind offer by which time Kath had caught up with events and was running towards the ambulance anxious to see what the damage was. I asked her if she fancied a ride in the ambulance into Belfast and now our Ulster Grand Prix was over before it ever started.
At the infirmary they generously gave me 5 minutes to remove my leathers after which they would have to cut them off. With the pain kicking in big time now we struggled together to get them off (quite intimate really) and then x-rays revealed broken ankle and tibia left side and broken clavicle right side. They plastered up my ankle and put a sling on for my shoulder and sent us on our way whereupon I discovered I was totally unable to walk. With my left leg out of action along with my right shoulder I couldn't in any way use a crutch so was effectively immobilised.
They relented and said I could have a wheelchair but only to the front door. Once there we called a taxi and made our way back to our digs near the circuit. Here my good friend and racing companion Pete Goodacre was waiting for us having loaded the bikes into the van and taken care of all the kit. Pete comes with us on pretty well all our racing trips and I don't know how we would have managed without him, especially right now. Between them Kath and Pete got me into the digs and upstairs to our room where after a decent Chinese take away I enjoyed a far better night's sleep than I had anticipated considering my situation. Next day with Pete driving, we came home.
So now my 2001 season was over and I still hadn't raced the Matchless.
The season, as it turned out, was not a total write off and we did end the year with some good fortune. This came about because as well as my own two machines I had also been enjoying the use of a Seeley 850 Norton belonging to guy called Brian Garratt, which I raced particularly at Darley Moor. I had managed a couple of wins with it and with other placings was leading the Darley classic championship after the early August meeting by 2 points. With only the final meeting of the year to go a decent place would secure the championship. But now stuck at home and licking my wounds there was no chance of riding so I resigned myself that this one was going to slip away. On the day of the meeting, sat at home, the weather was atrocious with wall to wall heavy rain. Then the phone rang at about 4 in the afternoon, it was my pal and fellow competitor Ron Soar calling to say that the weather at Darley had been so bad that the meeting had been abandoned and that all championships would stand as per the August meeting. Lo and behold, what a result - I had won the championship sitting on my arse. Later, at the presentation I was handed the trophy and a cheque for £100. Never before had I been given money for doing something I loved. And never since.
Brolley dolly stalker
In 2002 at last I was able to use the Matchless for the Manx and what a lovely machine it proved to be to ride. With the suspension set up on the light side to suit me it handled and steered beautifully with plenty of front end feedback. Speed wise it was well up to the mark with power coming in from 5 and a half thousand and pulling hard up to just over 7 thou. For Isle of Man use there is no point revving it to the bitter end, especially if you want the motor to last the course. With this in mind, on the long flat out bits I would try and keep within 7 thousand although the motor was willing to do more. For short circuit events the revs would sometimes go nearer to 8 thousand, especially in those red mist moments. Between the Matchless and the Ducati I don't think I have a favourite one to ride. The Matchless with its bigger, heavier flywheels is a more relaxed ride than the higher revving and rather buzzy Duke. But on the other hand the Ducati is lighter and requires less physical effort in trying to push it around.
Since that 2002 race I have ridden the Matchless in the event every year and (so far) with no DNFs although one year, about 2007 I think, I was sure retirement from the race was heading my way. On lap 3 a misfire had set in, not too bad at first but getting worse as the miles rolled by. Half way round my 4th and final lap the misfire was chronic and making any sort of reasonable progress impossible. All sorts of thoughts rushed through my mind. Do I press on in hope? Do I stop and lose time trying to fix it? In my head I had decided that it must be a failing condenser that was giving the magneto grief and to carry on was only going to eventually cause mechanical damage to the motor. Now, as it happens I do sometimes listen to other people and I had been previously advised that condensers can fail without warning. To this end I had got into the habit of fitting two condensers to the outside of the mag. so that one of them was a spare. Continuing round we banged and popped our way through Ramsey but commencing the climb up the mountain was just too much. I stopped in a pull off area just before the Gooseneck and with motor ticking over in donk - donk style whipped off one condenser lead from the terminal and connected up the other. Immediately the motor would rev properly and I set off again up the mountain. It ran beautifully and got me successfully to the finish. By now of course I had slipped well down the finishing order but at least I had my finish.
Hard earned prize
Each year, I and two other riders have put in an entry for the team prize under the British Historic Racing banner. For this prize all three riders in the team must finish the race and the highest placed team on aggregate wins the trophy. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 our team won and in doing so became the first team ever to win the team prize over three consecutive years. In 2012 I achieved a long held ambition and somehow won a Replica. This award is highly coveted amongst riders and is earned for finishing within 110% of the winners race time. Doing the sums we reckoned that getting that Rep. has taken around eighteen years and cost about fifty thousand quid. Racing, we have found is not a cheap game and also can be very time consuming. With bike overhauls each winter, tyres and oil, race entry fees and travel to meetings the costs can sometimes be challenging for a self financed outfit. But up to now it's been brilliant because we have fun. Amongst other things, classic racing allows me to compete against like minded enthusiasts and, best of all, in the paddock when we take our helmets off we all look just as old as each other. Unforeseen circumstances aside, I can't see any reason to quit just yet, unless, of course, Kath knows different.
Richard (Dick) Stott