Around and About, September 1973

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A different attitude.

By way of a change I took a trip to Silverstone last month to have a general look round at a big motorcycle meeting. The event was the John Player International and with Giacomo Agostini, reigning 500 Champion Phil Read, Yvon Du Hamel from Canada and many top names on the bill it was obviously going to produce some fireworks.

Unfortunately my schedule precluded a visit on the main race day – Sunday – but even the trip for Saturday’s couple of races plus the practice was worthwhile. It is a strange feeling visiting a place you know so well, where normally one is greeted by friends and acquaintances at every turn, and know hardly anyone. But it is also rather pleasant to scout around in anonymity, dropping a listening ear into conversations and generally being a spectator.

In fact I took a camera along in an attempt to build up our motorcycle photographic library – which is minimal – and immediately I was struck by a couple of interesting pointers. For a start the entry list “seeded” all the riders by numerical order, almost like a rally. Thus Agostini was No 1. Phil Read No 2 and so on. If the chap had a number under about 20 he was a big name. Of course several of the competitors were racing more than one bike – maybe a 250 and a Formula 750 – but they kept the same number for both. Perhaps the system could be expanded for car racing.

One other way to find one of the big names was to simply use one’s eyes. If there was a little knot of people gathered around it was almost certain that in the middle would be one of the “Stars” signing autographs. Motorcycle racing fans seem far more enthusiastic in their autograph hunts than the car racing equivalents and the average age very much older. And the riders from Ago downwards seem to enter into the task much more gracefully than their car racing opposites.

For a start they make themselves available. Phil Read has just won the premier road racing championship but he wasn’t hiding behind the curtains of a caravan or a mobile home. He was sitting on the back of the Avis van, rented by MV Agusta, along with golden boy Agostini and the pair solidly signed autographs for over half-an-hour. Rarely will you catch Denny Hulme doing likewise and certainly not with a smile on his face and a word for almost every fan. Something about understanding your audience!

In another part of the paddock I found Paul Smart, one of our leading riders who now operates mainly in the USA. Paul was working on his own bike but stopped every few seconds to tender his signature to anyone who wanted it and then thanked them each as he handed the book back. To put things in perspective Paul won the main race of the day for the growing Formula 750 category, this meeting being a qualifying round of the FIM’s new championship.

When I aimed my camera at a rider to record his facial profile for prosperity I was amazed to find they actually stopped what they were doing and held still until they heard the sound of the shutter – try that with a Grand Prix driver.

All this aside I found the actual practice far less interesting than at a four wheel meeting. In general the practice sessions are much shorter – there were two sessions of a quarter-of-an-hour for the main race – and there seems to be very little in the way of setting the bike up for the conditions. Even adjustable shock absorbers seem a luxury that has not been accepted yet. Of course grid positions are a lot less important, firstly because you can pack a great number more motorcycles on the front row of a grid than cars and secondly because the faster rider with the more competitive bike can overtake so much easier. It is much harder to baulk anyone in motorcycle racing. This, of course, helps to make the racing itself very exciting because riders can make some superb rushes up the field. The added element of extra overtaking also helps keep the crowd on its toes.

So I counted my visit to Silverstone well worthwhile and something of any eye opener. I only wish some of the Grand Prix stars had been present to see how the motorcycle stars treat their public.

A pits ban

Talking of those Grand Prix stars, and more particularly their club called the Grand Prix Drivers Association, now with Denny Hulme as President, they have been making some interesting moves recently.

First the good news. They have at last appointed, after a break of several months, a new secretary to replace Nick Syrett. If you remember, Syrett was the man who made such a fine job of running the BRSCC for many years. He joined the GPDA, lasted about six months, and ran screaming into Surrey to run a restaurant vowing never to go near another Grand Prix again. The brave new man who has taken over the job is Robert Langford, who is probably a new name to most of our readers. Although thoroughly British, Robert has worked the past ten years or so in South Africa mainly as an actor, but more recently as Alex Blignaut’s right-hand man in SAMRAC. He was also the main commentator at Kyalami and a prolific broadcaster.

He recently, returned to Britain and only a few weeks passed before he was offered the new post. As a very diplomatic kind of gent who knew his motor racing well, he obviously had the right credentials. His first task was to make the Press more amenable to the GPDA. One of the biggest bones of contention over recent months is that the GPDA never really explains their decisions.

This leads us to the had news. Just about the first thing Mr Langford has informed us is that everyone other than the Grand Prix drivers and teams is banned from the pits and that includes all Press including members of IRPA as well as the sponsors.

I am writing this before the Austrian Grand Prix, the first race where this new scheme is being brought into use. It will be interesting to see if and how it works. MOTOR SPORT readers needn’t worry that they won’t get the full story in future because I can assure you that there is absolutely no way that Denny and his lads are going to keep D.S.J. out of the pits.

The world of Grand Prix racing is trying to squeeze more and more money from the spectators and sponsors and now they attempt a foolish trick like this. How did I learn about Grand Prix racing as a short-trousered schoolboy? I read D.S.J.’s reports in MOTOR SPORT that’s how it was those reports that made me determined to go Grand Prix racing. I am fortunate enough to make a living out of it but there must be tens of thousands of others like me who pay good money to watch their Grand Prix racing. Denny Hulme and his friends can thank D.S.J. and others for that.

I believe that any serious motor racing reporter needs to be in the pits for at least some period of practice. Certainly not all the time, but, how else can one really understand the nature of the problems?

I agree the pits are far too crowded with pressmen, sponsors, hangers-on, friends of friends and so on, but a blanket ban is sheer lunacy. Certainly let’s restrict the number of personnel in the pits and make sure that those who are allowed in are actually doing a job.

Leading from the news of the ban, the President of the International Racing Press Association called for all his members to boycott the meeting. I personally can’t see that this will do any good at all but the problem needs to be sorted out very quickly. Mr Langford has a hard job in front of him. – A.R.M.

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