Stuart Graham on Phil Read: My Greatest Rival

For Suzuki’s top rider in the 1967 125cc World Championship, Yamaha was the team to beat. Stuart Graham just had to be ready when the flag dropped...

Stuart Graham and Phil Read in Ulster Grand Prix

August 1967, with Stuart Graham, right, leading Phil Read in the Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod

Stuart Graham archive

The fiercest rivalries in motorcycle racing back in the 1960s were not just between the riders but also the manufacturers, like Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda. Our Japanese masters kept the pressure on us. Those bikes were devilishly difficult to ride – we used to say they knew it would be easier to change the rider than change the bike. They reckoned, ‘If he’s not brave enough, we’ll find another one!’

My greatest rival was probably Phil Read who, with Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini, was a leading light of that era.

A race that stands out is the great battle between us for victory in the Lightweight 125 race at the Isle of Man TT in 1967. This was only my second grand prix season. I’d learnt a lot from Hailwood at Honda the previous year, then at Suzuki in 1967 our big rivals were Yamaha with Phil Read and Bill Ivy. They were the ones to beat.

Round the Isle of Man my Suzuki twin handled better than Phil’s four-cylinder Yamaha. We were fighting it out for the lead throughout the race. The enemy is unseen on the Isle of Man. You’re never quite sure where you are as there was only one pit signal point midway round the lap.

On the last part of the lap the signal said I was leading with a 3.5-second gap and I thought, ‘OK, that’s good,’ but Phil pipped me on the last stretch of the lap, beating me by 3.4 seconds, the closest ever finish at the time.

It was my fault because on the line at the start I was adjusting my goggles when the flag dropped, so I lost about three seconds right there. It’s haunted me ever since as I had a slight advantage up the mountain. I was lighter than Phil but on the final lap the engine started fluffing, on to one cylinder, as two-strokes often did going from sea level to the mountain.

Stuart Graham in 1967 TT

Graham in the 1967 TT near Windy Corner

Stuart Graham archive

It was an astonishingly exciting race, one of the closest that Phil and I had. Afterwards I realised I should have kept the pressure on all the way to the end when I saw that pit signal telling me that I was in the lead. Phil was a hard rider, he had more experience, and he was surprised that I put him under so much pressure.

After the race he joked that I shouldn’t be wasting time adjusting my goggles. The second that flag drops you’ve gotta be gone, then keep going flat out. I won the 50cc TT race for Suzuki later that week, came second to Bill Ivy in the Japanese GP on the new V4 Suzuki, so the 1968 season looked promising.

They were great days, we were a travelling circus, and we virtually lived in the paddock. It was a very dangerous sport and I’m just pleased to have got through and still be racing historic cars today.”

Stuart Graham and Phil Read head-to-head

Driver stats for 1967 Grand Prix 125cc motorcycle racing season

Graham vs Read
Suzuki Teams Yamaha
1 Wins 2
0 Fastest laps 1
6 Podiums 4
38 Points 40