Legends: Kel Carruthers
Kel Carruthers’ winning ride on a Benelli four to secure the 1969 world 250 championship on the treacherous streets of Opatija (in the old Yugoslavia) was the most dramatic title-clincher of Australia’s ten successful world GP championship campaigns.
He’s on record as saying: “a bloke was crazy to ride there”. But also that: “it was one of those races where it was better to be 31 years of age than 22”.
Kel won seven world championship 250 GPs in two seasons, all of them on unforgiving circuits – including the Isle of Man (twice) and the Nurburgring.
It was all about precision. In five European seasons, he never broke a bone, went to hospital or missed a race through injury.
In 1970, he went within an ace of being the first rider to win a world GP championship on private machinery. He won more GPs on his self-tuned Yamaha than had the previous year on a works bike and set fastest lap in five races. But broken contact breakers on the TD2’s standard ignition caused several DNFs.
In addition, Carruthers finished third in the 1968 350 championship on an Aermacchi single and was runner-up in the 1970 350 championship, riding most of the season on a second-hand Yamaha TR2.
Carruthers’ work took him to the USA in 1971, where he soon won more prize money than in his entire European career, as well as mentoring a brash kid named Kenny Roberts. Carruthers went back to Europe as Roberts’ team boss in 1978, eventually overseeing three championships with Roberts and a further three with Eddie Lawson on works Yamahas.
Today, 73-years-old Kel is Australia’s senior statesman motorcycle champion. He’s lived in the US for 40 years, yet still travels on an Australian passport and has never lost the accent of his birthplace in Sydney.
by Don Cox