By Wednesday evening Nation had made it to Biarritz, France’s surfer capital, just north of the Spanish border. He pitched his tent and got some kip. When he awoke the next morning he still had 500 miles ahead of him – with few major roads in northern Spain – and first practice was due to get underway at teatime.
“Then I went and got a puncture – the bike was still running the same Metzelers I’d used in the proddie TT. I was thinking I was going to struggle to get to Vila Real in time and I was wondering if I should fit the slick or what should I do? So I took the screw out of the headlamp surround and screwed it into the hole in the back tyre. I’d fixed enough tyres with screws and nails, so I thought I might as well try.”
The bodge worked and Nation arrived at Vila Real just in time. “What a fantastic feeling – I’d set out to get there and I’d got there! Practice had already started when I arrived, so I dumped my kit off and practised on the bike as it was. I actually did first practice using the tyre with the screw still in there.”
Vila Real was a scary, high-speed street circuit running through towns and villages near the eponymous city, home of Mateus Rose wine.
In the race, Nation was running an impressive fifth – behind Joey Dunlop, Graeme McGregor, Mick Grant, and Gary Padgett – when the GSX-R’s gear linkage fell apart. Time to visit the pits for another bodge; this time involving a cable tie and a hammer. Again, the trick worked. Nation finished the race out of the points and out of the money but nonetheless a happy man. After all, he had achieved a minor miracle.
“I’d made enough from start money, so I didn’t have to dig in my pocket, so that was fine.”
“Apart from that problem with the gear linkage I didn’t have to do anything to the bike the whole trip, apart from putting petrol and oil in the thing.’
The race – won by Dunlop aboard a factory RVF ahead of McGregor and Grant on factory Suzuki F1 bikes – ended in chaos with a full-on pit-lane brawl between Dunlop’s Honda crew and some local mechanics. Honda team boss Barry Symmons suffered three cracked ribs and a broken toe in the melee.
Nation’s next ride – 700 miles from Vila Real to Barcelona’s Montjuic Park, Spain’s original GP venue and another deadly street circuit – was mostly uneventful.
“It was quite hot, so I was riding along in a T-shirt. When I got to the east coast I had a few days to kill before practice, so I got a cheap B&B north of Barcelona and got some kip. That was luxury, I didn’t want to be camping all week – I wanted to get me head straight.”
At Montjuic Nation again ran fifth in the race, chasing Andy McGladdery’s F1 GSX-R, when bodge number two came home to haunt him.
“Beating the gearshift shaft back into place at Vila Real had put a little fracture in the casing, so when that chunk of casing broke, that was that. My race was over.”
In fact, this disappointment was no curse, it was a huge blessing. The very next lap McGladdery’s engine blew, spewing oil across the track through a high-speed section of the parkland circuit. This was the first year of Suzuki’s seminal supersport bike and tuned GSX-R engines were dangerously fragile. The next six riders crashed on McGladdery’s oil. Tony Rutter – riding a Ducati v-twin – sustained serious injuries in the pile-up that ended his racing career.