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Kork Ballington’s 500cc dilemma

Submitted by on November 1, 2010

Kork Ballington had a dilemma at the end of 1979 – stay with Kawasaki to develop a new 500 racer or sign with Suzuki?

In 1978-79 he’d won two world 250 and two world 350 championships, and 22 GPs on Kawasaki’s rotary disc valve tandem twins. He’d raced head-to-head with Australian Kawasaki rider Gregg Hansford and, in the first half of 1978, against Kenny Roberts on a Yamaha 250.

Ballington, then 28, chose Kawasaki. “Suzuki was an option, but I wasn’t happy with the money,” he said. “Kawasaki offered more money and more loyalty. I was worried that if I didn’t ‘click’ on the Suzuki, I would be gone at the end of the first year.”

The result? Ballington spent three frustrating years riding a bike that was very reliable, but too heavy and too long. However, the decision says plenty about Kork’s struggle to become a GP rider.

Born in Zimbabwe, where his father was managing a printing works, he raced home-built machines, production bikes and second-hand race bikes all over South Africa, before wining a small scholarship to ride in England. Arriving in March 1973, Kork’s first home was a tent in Kent, shared with future wife Bronwyn and brother/ace mechanic Deryck (aka Dozy). A tough, cold introduction for three people from sunny Durban, but the Ballington family didn’t lack grit, having already produced two marathon runners.

By the end of 1977, Kork had won four GPs on private Yamahas, including a 250/350 double at the ’77 British GP.

In 1980, Ballington appeared on course for another 250 crown, winning five more GPs – until he nearly died from a stomach infection.

Kork left the GPs after 1982 but re-started his career in 1986 racing 250 and 500s Hondas in the USA. In the late 1990s, the Ballingtons migrated to Brisbane and Kork established a fastenings business.

Don Cox

Images via JumpingJack.nl

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