People, places, motorbike races – 20 questions with Jim Scaysbrook
Titled “Along for the Ride”, author Scaysbrook describes the hard cover release as a tale of people, places and motorbike races. It’s categorized as an autobiography, which given the common theme of motorcycle racing throughout his life, could very well be a pun. Jim has raced on two wheels in more or less every manner possible – motorcross, road racing, Isle of Man TT, you name it.
Along for the Ride tells of the stories he’s collected across a span of 65 years – larger than life characters are dotted throughout unbelievable tales of adventure and racing, set across the backdrop of traditional Australian life. We sat down and hit him with 20 questions regarding his amazing experiences, enjoy:
What was your most satisfying race, whether you won or not?
This would have to be the 1977 Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park, the first time I teamed with Mike Hailwood. An enormous crowd turned out, and because Mike was still carrying an ankle injury from his big Formula One crash, I took the Le Mans start. I really felt the pressure of trying to maintain a competitive pace without crashing, and to finish the first stint so I could hand over to Mike and the crowd could get to see the bloke they had heard so much about. Because we didn’t get our fuel calculations right (we didn’t do any!) we did about 75 minutes between stops, which meant three shifts for me and two for Mike. In the final run to the flag we had worked into the top six but I thought the race would never end. On the slow down lap when the pressure was finally off I just about collapsed. A few glasses of champagne helped get me back to normal!
What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money?
Just about all my early bikes were bought with some degree of financial help from my parents, but in 1967 I bought a second hand Cotton scrambler from Blair Harley which took every cent I had, and I hated the bike. It wouldn’t start reliably and had leading link forks so the handling was a bit peculiar, so I unloaded it as quickly as I could and ordered a brand new Bultaco Pursang from Jim Eade’s shop in Ashfield. That cost $800 which was a fortune (to me) at the time as I was only on apprentice’s wages.
Who was your fiercest rival and why?
Racing across several different disciples (scrambles/motocross, Short Circuit/ Dirt Track and eventually road racing) meant facing lots of fierce rivals. In the early motocross days the man to beat was Matt Daley. Not only was he a brilliant rider, he paid a great deal of attention to physical fitness and diet, which most of us didn’t. When I did manage to beat Matt a few time when I was riding a Yamaha, his sponsor invited me to join the team with a pair of new CZ motocrossers – the top bike of the time – supplied. In Short Circuit there was a bunch of riders that rode hard and fast, notably Keith Davies, Kevin Fraser and Bill McDonald, who all rode English Grass Track bikes (“Sliders”) like Hagons, Goddens etc, while I was on Maicos supplied by Blair Harley. I used to enjoy carving up the “sliders” on the MX bike, and I think the spectators did too. When it came to road racing later on, I never had the time/budget/inclination to contest the national titles which would have meant travelling all over Australia, but I did ride against most of the big names and I usually went well at Bathurst which was my favourite event each year.
Which bike you’ve raced is your favourite?
Sentimentally I guess it would have to be the Ducati 750SS (owned by Malcolm Bailey) that Mike and I rode in two Castrol Six Hour Races and once at the Adelaide Three Hour. I also raced this at Bathurst in 1978 and won the 750 Production race with a new lap record that stood for a few years. It was pretty knocked around after the multiple crashes in the 1978 Six Hour (Mike, reserve rider Stu Avant and I all crashed it during the course of the event) and it disappeared off the scene (actually into Malcolm Bailey’s lounge room after it was rebuilt) for decades. Then Motorcycling Australia bought it as the first acquisition for their museum and I have been riding it in various demonstrations ever since. Next Easter MA will be holding a Castrol Six Hour Race celebration as the highlight of the annual Broadford Bonanza and it will be fabulous to ride the old Ducati again surrounded by bikes and people associated with the event. It’s hard to believe it’s 37 years since I first raced the bike.
What is the greatest racing motorcycle ever built?
Strewth, that’s a tough one, but I discount the factory exotica in favour of the bikes that actually filled the grids and allowed the privateers to race. In that respect, I would have to say the Manx Norton, or from the boom ‘seventies era, the Yamaha TZ250/350 and the Suzuki RG500.
Who is the greatest motorcycle racer of all time?
Mike Hailwood. Of course, I’m biased but Mike could ride anything, anywhere, and also ride around inherent faults, as he did with the works Hondas.
What was your closest shave or “holy shit” moment ?
Having the throttle jam wide open on the works NCR Ducati at the Isle of Man. It’s seriously fast across the mountain section and when I realized the front carb was jammed open I had a nano-second to negotiate a corner that I’d never taken flat-out before. Fortunately there was a straight section after that and I managed to get it stopped eventually. If this had happened pretty much anywhere else on the course I think the outcome could have been fairly messy.
What is your favourite racing livery or logo?
In terms of instant identification, I always thought the red and white Marlboro livery was great – it worked just as well without the brand, and on the McLarens it looked like the car had been made for the livery. The works Yamahas in the same colours always looked distinctive and professional.
Which riders, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?
For fun company, Graeme Crosby is hard to beat, and he modeled his act on Mike Hailwood. Going back a long way, Geoff Duke was the epitome of the dashing English sportsman. I met him when he was in Australia in the ‘fifties, although I was only a kid, but much later met him again in the Isle of Man, where he has lived for many years. A real charmer, magnet to the ladies, incredibly talented rider. From more recent times, and from four wheels, someone I have always respected but never met is Keke Rosberg. I was in charge of creating the advertising for the F1 GP in Adelaide, and I used to admire Keke for speaking his mind when most of the others were already slipping into the political non-speak that is now so mind-numbingly boring.
Who was the best rider you saw, who didn’t make it to the big time?
A strong candidate would be Michael Dowson, who had the ability to do well at Grand Prix level but failed to get there for a number of reasons. True, he had a lot of success in Australia but there were many Aussies either in, or trying to get into GPs (Gardner, Magee, Mal Campbell, Doohan) so it was a crowded scene. But on his day, I reckon Dowson was a match for any of them.
What was your biggest disappointment in racing?
Probably crashing in the 1978 Six Hour, although I always maintained this was not my fault and the proof only came to light in fairly recent times when it was discovered that the gearbox had locked up, which I had always maintained it had. Another blow, my own fault, was falling off in the Australian 350cc Short Circuit Championship final at the Amaroo Park Dirt Track. I had won my heat easily but I made a terrible start in the final and instead of using my head and picking off those in front of me, I threw the bike away coming onto the back straight. Of all the races I did on Blair Harley’s Maicos on Short Circuit, I think this was the only time I fell off.
What made you retire from racing?
Discounting Historic Racing, which I am still doing on a small scale, my last ‘serious’ race was the Australian Grand Prix at Bathurst in 1982 where I rode Peter Addison’s Yamaha TZ750 – the bike that Ron Boulden had ridden to victory in the amazing 1979 Unlimited GP against Croz and John Woodley. The foot I mangled in the 1978 Six Hour crash was giving me hell (still does) and it seemed to me that road racing was developing into a tyre science. I used the one Goodyear front for the entire meeting and at the end of my last race on the Sunday it was down to the cord on the left side. By this stage (1982) I was concentrating on carving a career in advertising and I guess I just ran out of enthusiasm and couldn’t be bothered putting in the effort any longer.
Is there an event you would still like to race in?
I have really enjoyed racing at the Goodwood Revival six times since 2000, on a variety of very nice bikes all provided for me, so I’ve been lucky there and that really spoils you. I believe the Historic Festival at Barber Raceway in Alabama has developed into a really good thing, but at age 65 I realize I am unlikely to get there. It’s not a race, just a ‘spirited demonstration’ but I would love to have a go at the Spa-Francorchamps Bikers Classic held each June, and my friend and colleague Alan Cathcart has indicated that he could organize something there. More temptation!
What do you think of the historic motor cycling scene?
The general (non-racing) side is going great guns, there are rallies all over the country and they are wonderful social occasions. Pressure of work keeps me from attending as many of these as I would like, but I hope to get to at least four or five next year.
On the racing side, I don’t feel as confident for the future. In NSW there is now only one major meeting – the Barry Sheene Festival at Eastern Creek – so that’s sad compared to how healthy it used to be here when we had Amaroo and Oran Park. Queensland is also suffering but hopefully the running of the Australian Historic Road Racing titles at Lakeside in September 2014 may be a shot in the arm. Victoria has the circuits and it seems to be going quite well there, but the dominant class is now Period 5 for bikes up to 1983 so that means over-bored Suzukis, Hondas, Yamahas, Kawasakis that are expensive to run. The answer is more circuits, smaller tracks where clubs can afford to promote meetings and hence help the sport to grow. As the participants get older, it is vital to help the younger ones get into Historic Racing or it will be in bad shape in a few years. People point to the big entries for events like the Island Classic, but that’s just one meeting and it’s expensive (and hard on machinery). There needs to be more tracks of the Broadford size, or like McNamara Park in Mount Gambier, which is terrific circuit and the meetings are always friendly, but it’s a long way away from the eastern seaboard.
Electric racing motorcycles? Yes or No?
For someone brought up on big four stroke singles with open megaphones, electric bikes don’t do much for me, and frankly I don’t see the point.
What is your current state of mind?
Having a bit less on my plate next year! With editing Old Bike magazine, finally completing my autobiography, racing in New Zealand, Goodwood and a few events in Australia, 2013 was pretty exhausting. 2014 marks 40 years of marriage so I am working towards doing something laid-back to celebrate that. But overall, no complaints at all.
Along for the Ride is now on sale at a RRP of $46.50 plus postage or freight ($12.50 within Australia). Full details are at www.alongfortheride.com.au or by calling (02) 4572 2226.