John Surtees special: part one

The MotoGP™ Podcast offers an in-depth chat with the late MotoGP™ Legend John Surtees in the first of two episodes

Episode 24 of the MotoGP™ Podcast is a special one. This week, listeners will get to hear the late seven-time Grand Prix World Champion John Surtees remember his very first memories of being involved in motorsport, how it all started and what racing was like back then.

“There are pictures of me in my mother's arms at Brands Hatch and other race circuits when they were grass track, before the war,” begins MotoGP™ Legend Surtees. “But of course I don't remember that. My first memories of motorcycling are when the war finished. My father had come out of the army and had started his motorcycle business again. He had also got his motorcycle and sidecar which was a 596 Norton, which was a very good machine for sidecar racing and he had been British champion before the war.

“So we all went in, he borrowed a big American car with what they called a 'dickie seat' in the back, where the boot came out. My mother and father always sat in the front and my brother, my sister and myself, we were all pushed in the dickie seat in the back and if it rained we had a tarpaulin to put over us. Behind we were towing the motorcycle and sidecar with the toolbox in the sidecar.”  

Surtees, a 350cc and 500cc Champion in 1958, 1959, 1960, then discussed how he started racing: “It was all by accident! We went to a speed trial in a park called Trent Park which was in the north of London. This speed trial was not a circuit but it was through a wooded road. My father had taken his Vincent, because by this time he had changed from a Norton, and he was riding a Vincent HRD 1000cc in sidecar.

“His passenger didn't turn up. He turned around and he said, 'Lad, you've seen it done before. Have a go!' (...) and we won! But we got disqualified because I was underage! Someone protested. But it was my first introduction to racing I suppose.”

The British motorsport icon, who sadly passed away in March 2017, spoke about what racing was like back when he first started. Surtees first raced on the Grand Prix motorcycle scene in 1952 when he started one race on a Norton. His Grand Prix career stretched across eight years as Surtees claimed an impressive seven World Titles with MV Agusta before swapping two wheels for four.

“The fact remains that all one can do is extend the machinery to the maximum and at times a little bit beyond it,” said Surtees. “So people racing at the time obviously went as fast as the machinery and circumstances would allow. In the '50s when I started, the British teams were extremely strong. You had AJS, who I think has won the first World Championship with their Porcupine after the war and you had Nortons who then became more dominant.

“You then had the Italian machines who would come along, particularly Moto Guzzi and Gilera, so racing was extremely competitive and there was of course an enormous amount of racing here in England on the short circuits. This brought through a lot of riders. If you look at the grids of the races you would see that there were an awful lot of British riders. You also then started to attract riders from New Zealand and Australia and around the world.”

To hear more from the late, great Surtees, listen to part one of the two-part special by clicking this link.

Keep an eye out for part two on Thursday 1st August!

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