The season of road-racing got under way with an excellent start at Easter, with a galaxy of events in this country and the International meeting at Pau on the Continent. While events up and down the country produced a lot of new names among the successful riders, many of them up-and-coming stars, the International events saw all the old familiar faces with the same names figuring in the results. Admittedly Pau is very early in the season as an International event, but it was interesting that the entire entry consisted of names already well known in Continental racing. Privately-owned Nortons had a field day, winning the 500 and sidecar classes, in the hands of Auguste Goffin, the Belgian rider, and Eric Oliver, respectively, while the 250 events went to Tommy Wood on his Guzzi, though that old hand Fergus Anderson should have won, had not his plug died on him, causing him to lose a minute. The results could have been almost any circuit meeting during the past four years, for the same riders seem to go on and on winning at this very specialised form of road-racing. Presumably they will have to retire one day and doubtless there will be others to take their places, but whether the lists continue to be dominated by the British remains to be seen.
On April 18th the B.M.C.R.C. held its annual Silverstone day and a first-class day’s racing it proved to be. In very strong contrast In the Pau meeting the results lists were full of names of young riders who are heading for stardom, while the accepted masters were completely outridden. We must admit that aerodrome racing is just as specialised as Continental street racing or Grand Prix racing, so that many of the riders were at a distinct disadvantage due to lack of continued practice on the wide open spaces, and whether the youngsters will be up in front in the more normal type of racing is not sure. Some of them definitely will, but others may find themselves in difficulties when their judgment has to be tested to inches instead of feet. It was not so long ago that new names were beginning to worry the pre-war stars; riders like Frith, Daniel, West, and Foster were being severely chased by young riders like Duke, Dale, Doran and so on, and now the full circle has turned and they in turn are being worried by youngsters like Surtees, Storr, Keeler and McIntyre. They are all solo riders, of course, but in the sidecar class it is a different story for at Silverstone both races were won by the absolute king of the “chairs,” Eric Oliver, who is now in his 43rd year. As far as this country is concerned, Oliver got to the top immediately after the war and has stayed there ever since, and has never really looked like being superseded. World Championship honours were not his last year due almost entirely to mechanical troubles, and they deservedly went to Cyril Smith, a brilliant rider and a real trier, but Oliver was the undisputed master and still is.
Watching all the races at Silverstone there was much to learn, and the 125-c.c. race produced some brilliant riding by Burmann with an E.M.C.-Puch, a two-stroke machine made by Erlich. He only just failed to beat Webster with a new production M.V. Agusta o.h.c. bicycle. This class produced a very varied entry and showed an immense amount of enthusiasm, if not a great deal of ingenuity, but many riders had obviously spent weeks on preparation and immeasurable time in the search for more power only to throw away 5 m.p.h. by not tucking themselves away. The “tiddler” has so little power available that the raising of the little finger will lose revs, yet riders were going round with inches of daylight between their chins and the tanks and wondering why they were not as fast as chaps like Sandford. In the 250-c.c. class there were just as many riders throwing away free speed, but equally there were some really first-class examples of riding. Outstanding was Sandford on a pushrod Velocette with rigid frame, he kept out in front for some distance before being passed by the superior speed of Maurice Cann’s Guzzi. This class was a wonderful example of mechanical ability of the ordinary chap who races for a hobby, for it contained two one-off double-knocker twins, the R.E.G. and the Jones, as well as numerous special frames, suspensions, engine modifications, adaptations and so on. When one considers that there were nearly 50 starters and only about 10 of them left their factories as racing machines and only two of those were post-war, it does pay a wonderful tribute to the 250-c.e enthusiasts who keep this class going. In contrast the 350 and 500-c.c, events comprised nearly all production racing machines which this country expels in producing. As I have already mentioned, the newcomers dominated these two races, the first three being Storr, Surtees and McIntyre, while Ray Amm upheld the honour of the established riders by coming home fourth. This race was especially interesting as it marked the return to racing of Geoff Duke and Dickie Dale, both mounted on ordinary Manx Nortons. Anyone who expected to see these two riders perform miracles were disappointed, and to expect them to start in their first race after a long break and be in the same form as when they left off would be idiotic, but it was quite obvious that they had not lost their touch for Duke looked just as smooth and relaxed as he ever did and kept up with the leaders for a number of laps with very little effort, while Dale rode in his usual forceful style and had no trouble keeping up with his contemporaries. Without question Storr and Surtees were the stars of the meeting, setting such a pace on their Standard Nortons that the works A.J..S.s were completely overshadowed, Doran, Sherry and Ring being quite unable to cope. In the 500 race the same two riders were strongly challenged by Doran with the latest Porcupine and though he kept up with them he could not lose the Manx bikes and before the end it went very woolly, leaving Storr to beat Surtees, as he had done in the 350 race, by a few inches. Fortunately aerodrome racing is so specialised that the results cannot be acted upon too seriously, otherwise the Ajay team might as well retire from racing, for if they cannot keep Manx Nortons away what could they do with Gilera, M.V.s and works Nortons, as it is, I feel there will be a different story to tell when they get on to proper road circuits.
As I have already mentioned, Oliver won both sidecar races, not with any ease, but convincingly. It is true to say that both Smith and Harris were well able to keep up with him, but not beat him. If International factory sidecar racing was as strong as solo racing is, then a team consisting of those three riders would be invincible. Although there was a very good sidecar entry Oliver, Harris and Smith were in a class by themselves and finished in that order on both occasions. A close study of their outfits proved most interesting, for they were all basically Featherbed Nortons, except that Oliver had his ex-works engine, but their detail approaches to the same problem differed widely. Wheel sizes, tyre sizes, heights, trails, suspension and so on bore no relation and each used a different sidecar. Oliver had the latest Watsonian, Harris one of his own construction and Smith a Norton factory sponsored sidecar, again being three very different approaches to the same problem, all apparently successful. Oliver made a real effort to cut down frontal area by fitting a fuel tank down by the rear wheel, pumping fuel direct to the carburetter by means of an S.U, pump operated by a battery carried in the sidecar nose. This resulted in his being able to get his chin right down onto the rocker box, reducing windage to good effect.
Perhaps the most outstanding thing about the Silverstone meeting was the fact that there were well over 300 entries. Without a doubt this country leads the world in enthusiasm for motor-cycle racing, for nowhere else can one get so many racing bikes and riders together for a meeting. Italy has a very strong following, but never does a national event attract so many entries, nor does Germany, while France is lucky to get 100 entries. It is indeed strange that with this vast following we are still not allowed to race on the normal roads in England, yet little countries like Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and so on, can close public roads for race meetings, when they have only a handful of riders. I know all the answers about Government legislation and the like, but I still think the state of affairs is quite absurd and out of all proportion. If 100,000 people will watch a meeting and thousands more listen to a broadcast, it is obvious that public opinion is not against racing, and yet we still have to make do with aerodromes and parks when we have some of the world’s finest roads simply asking to be raced upon. It cannot be the Government that is at fault because it is changed at regular intervals and none of them has any effect upon our problems. Could it be that our enthusiasm is not so deeply rooted as it is in the Continentals, something is evidently lacking in this country and it is difficult to lay a finger upon it exactly. The tendency is to point to the Government and say it is the stumbling block, but I feel that maybe we are looking at the wrong end of officialdom. Obviously a Government official cannot be expected to listen closely to the individual and act for him, it is more the job of local councils, and it could be that if 75 per cent. of the county councils or borough councils and similar bodies applied to the Government for permission to close roads in their county towns, for example, somebody somewhere would listen and realise that something should be done. With more corporations like Scarborough and Brighton all pulling together this country could be put on a similar footing to the Continent, assuming it wants to be. It certainly does seem a shame that the most racing-minded country in the world is prevented from having real road-racing.