Absolute rotters

From Cyril's memoires dated 20 August 2006

When the MotoGP circus cavorted into Britain recently, it made me think not so much of the great victories, the thrilling skills, the memorable races, but rather of the downright skulduggery that has gone on down the years. Some rivalries reached such a pitch as to drive even level-headed riders to acts of near lunacy.

The spats between Phil Read and Bill Ivy in the Sixties were legendary and while Read’s manoeuvres on Ivy have been well documented, he’s been a tower of discretion in not revealing some of the provocation coming from ‘Little Bill’.

During the 1968 season the Yamaha team mates both had a chance of winning the 250 world championship. Things had been especially fraught during practice for the Dutch TT at Assen. The evening before the race, while Read was back at the hotel completing his life-size bust of Queen Elizabeth II made out of plum stones glued together with Bostik (a grotesque thing that he shows to visitors to this day) Bill nipped into town on a borrowed bicycle and returned with a packet of itching powder, which he emptied into his team-mate’s leathers hanging in the pit garage.

Race day came and although Read was leading comfortably he was clearly in some distress and began to lose ground. On lap 12 he pulled over and threw off his leathers and rode the rest of the race pretty much naked. He made up many places but narrowly lost to Ivy by a tenth of a second. With the Summer of Love fresh in the memory no one batted an eyelid at the time, in fact much of the Dutch crowd had consumed copious amounts of LSD, with many copulating openly in the grandstand. However, footage of the race was subsequently doctored using the latest Hollywood techniques to make Read appear fully clothed throughout.

Barry Sheene was always one for the ladies and it was with this in mind that his old rival Johnny Cecotto decided to attempt to put Sheene out of the 1977 Finnish Grand Prix. Cecotto aimed to ensure that Sheene was simply too tired to race to his full potential and through a series of messages sent via mechanics and local gofers arranged for a beautiful and indefatigable prostitute to be sent to Sheene’s room the night before the race.

However, there was a dreadful muddle and instead of a high-performance tart, Sheene took delivery of a nanny goat. Never one to be overawed and a keen practical joker himself, he set about milking the goat and by morning had produced several small cheeses and bowl of yoghurt, which he presented to a crestfallen Cecotto at breakfast. But Cecotto had the last laugh as Sheene, ever the perfectionist, had laboured feverishly on the dairy products throughout the night, at one point sending out for a second goat as the first batch of cheeses were not up to scratch but the original nanny had been squeezed dry. Our Bazza was too exhausted to put in his best performance on the track, finishing an uncharacteristic sixth while Cecotto took the win.

One of the great rivalries of recent times has been between Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi. The most memorable manifestation of this was the infamous ‘fight’ between the two after the 2001 Catalunya Grand Prix. Much was made of it at the time but few real facts emerged. However, living in Italy I’ve made a few contacts in the racing fraternity and it appears the truth was stranger than any imagined scenario.

Italy is a country engulfed by superstitions dating back hundreds of years and that still hold sway, especially in rural parts of the peninsula. It seems Rossi and Biaggi had been involved in Il Passaggio della Cacca (The Passing of the Turd), a complex and ancient form of hexing with, to the outsider, an impenetrable set of rules. Basically, the hexer must touch the victim with a bony part of the body to pass on ‘the turd’, but the subsequent re-passing must be done with a body part appropriate to the strict rules of conduct. It seems that in the days prior to the race Biaggi had ‘toed’ Rossi and Rossi had ‘kneed’ Biaggi some time later. This went on even during the race where if one watches closely there’s a clear clash of elbows on lap seven, a complex manoeuvre that left Rossi with ‘the turd’. However, Rossi’s decisive use of the knuckles immediately after the race turded Biaggi once and for all, a crucial moment that even today seems to be dogging the Roman’s MotoGP career.



From Cyril's memoirs dated 8 July 2006

Smiffy is a character from my past with whom I’ve had many adventures, several of which I’ve tried hard to forget, though they return in fevered dreams. I shall now tell you of one I’ve kept to myself for many years.

Carl Smith is one of the finest motorcycle mechanics I’ve ever met. Known to his mates as Smiffy or Smudger, we’ve been firm friends since school. He was a bull of a youngster, a superb lose-head prop and bore huge forearms which easily powered him to the position of school’s top arm-wrestler. And even at that relatively young age he already packed a fearsomely destructive punch.

In 1985 we both celebrated our 50th birthdays and decided to mark the occasion with a motorcycle tour of Britain. I was working for Suzuki and got my hands on the then new RG500 Gamma – not ideal for touring, but hilarious two-stroke madness. Smiffy had his Kawasaki Z1000-engined Harris Magnum, a beast he’d spend years tuning to match his rather volatile but ever entertaining personality.

On a bright summer’s morning we headed for Dorset, for no other reason than as kids we’d had a great holiday together in Weymouth. Early on there were tedious dual carriageways to clear and what better way to clear them than quickly? It was still early morning and the long stretches of open tarmac were too much to resist so Smiffy and I lined our bikes up side by side and wound up the throttle.

I was caught napping with the Suzuki out of its power band and the Magnum pulled away in top gear on torque. Down a gear and the Gamma’s revs pushed to the magical 9000, the exhaust note crisped and Smiffy was reeled in. As I crouched behind the fairing I turned to see him braced hard against the wind blast. I flashed a victorious grin and screamed off with 148 on the clock. I didn’t know it then, but I’d sown the seeds of disaster. Smiffy has never taken defeat well. (As kids, we once battled to capture the most disgusting fart in a jam jar. After several attempts my gaseous resources were exhausted but I’d produced the most nasally damaging parp. Smiffy, straining desperately to produce one final example, went a little too far with dire consequences.) Laying the Magnum to waste had lit Smiffy’s fuse and he would have revenge.

We left the dual carriageway for a twisting B-road and the Magnum filled my mirrors. We came to a short straight which, at most, was good for 100mph before a sharp bend. Half way along the Magnum came by doing about 130. By the time I was braking hard Smiffy was bursting through a flimsy gate into a field, feet down and elbows raised like a motocrosser.

Somehow, he stayed upright. I found him sitting on the edge of a trough lighting a cigarette. The Magnum was his pride and joy and the thought of it being totalled in a crash had shaken him up. I approached with caution as at times of high excitement (and damaged pride) Smiffy could be unpredictable, but he smiled ruefully and we laughed about it.

As we chatted, a fat Friesian cow wandered over to drink from the trough. When it had finished, it lifted its tail and a steaming gush of piddle cascaded over the Magnum. Horrified, Smiffy leaped up and tried pushing the cow aside, but the pee kept coming and the cow wouldn’t shift. Incensed, Smiffy took a step back, threw off his jacket and let go with one of his trademark right hooks. Well, I’ve seen him lay out a few blokes in my time, but a cow? The creature’s back legs buckled, it lurched backwards, knocked the Magnum onto its side then squatted with its full weight on the bike. But the searingly hot engine against the cow’s backside caused it to jerk back up, wide-eyed and mooing, inadvertently head-butting Smiffy full in the face.

I’m afraid that was the end of our celebratory jaunt. As I said, Smiffy never could take defeat, and being knocked cold by a dairy cow was a personal disaster. To this day his explanation for the clearly broken nose involves a yarn about a gang of skinheads. And I, naturally, have never contested that in public. Until now.