Photos & Musings: Early Days

Go Back Go Back

Hawkstone Park, 1979, and a hijacked chequered flag.

This photo is from the New Yearís Day ĎHangoverí national race at Hawkstone Park on January 1st, 1979, and thereís a cool story attached to this.

I had started racing in Spring 1977. After a seasonís racing, and really getting into the sport my Dad and I had heard that there was a big race at Hawkstone every New Yearís Day and so we went to watch. It was the first time we had watched adults racing and the first Ďadultí track that we had been to, having only ever seen local schoolboy tracks. Compared to the flat fields with thin posts and plastic tape that defined our schoolboy circuits, Hawkstone was like nothing we had ever seen. Wide, long, incredibly rough, and fenced in with chestnut paling it was amazing, and also intimidating. I assumed that all adult tracks were like this, but as I was to find out some time later when I graduated to adult racing myself, Hawkstone was an exception.

As we watched this event we discovered that there was also a schoolboy expert class racing. Packed with all the best schoolboy racers in the country, this invitation-only race was enthralling. As an impressionable 16 year old I stood there considering how cool it must be to be good enough to be invited to take part in this meeting, racing on an awesome, menís GP track, in front of paying spectators and all the movers and shakers in the sport. There were top names there in the adult classes Ė riders like Bob Wright and Willie Simpson and Billy Aldridge Ė riders that I had read about in Trials & Motocross News. They even had a commentator! How cool was that?

The next season, which was 1978, was my second year of racing and I switched to a Maico 125 in the schoolboy expert class and started to get a few results, winning local club races from time to time. Come the end of the season I was ecstatic to receive an invitation to take part in the New Yearís day race at Hawkstone! I would be racing in the event I had dreamed about 12 months earlier! I couldnít believe it.

My buddy Jeff Neathway, who is my oldest friend (we were at primary school together), had come to a few races with me in my first year, and he also came along to this one, sharing in my excitement to be at such a top-line race. When we arrived at the race the the track was frozen solid, so it wasnít ideal conditions. All the good schoolboys were there, although in truth I didnít know too much about most of them. I had not competed in any of the schoolboy championships in 1978 as it was only my second year of racing and I didnít really think it would be worth competing outside of local races. I knew some of the names from the newspapers though.

Anyway, in the first race I started outside the top ten and just rode my own race. Hawkstone is a tough circuit, especially for schoolboys, and riders were soon spread out and even lapped. As the race drew to a close I had no idea where I was. I was riding well, I thought, and just tried my best to pass whichever riders were ahead of me. However I really didnít know what place I was in - I think at that stage the concept of a blackboard for pit signals hadnít occurred to us. What I didnít realise was that I was leading! I was given the last lap board, evidently, but never saw it! I carried on riding, and put together a smooth, safe last lap (although I had no idea) and came up towards the finish line.

As I rode up towards the finish line, watching for my arrival, and readying the flag for my victory was Jeff! My 15 year old buddy, overwhelmed my my unexpected success, had jumped the fence and gone up to the chequered flag guy, explained that he was the leaderís best mate, and could he possibly wave the flag please! You can see the excitement in Jeffís face and he waved that flag like it was the Monaco GP!

I donít think I did so well in the other two races, but the feeling of my first victory in a top-level race is something I will always remember, and even today Jeff still talks about his own moment of fame at Hawkstone in 1979.

Jeff Neathway celebrates his friend's unexpected victory at Hawkstone Enlarge image