by Shawn Downey
What time is the wedding?” I ask my lounging companion.
“The invitation says 2:00,” she responds.
“If we leave right now, we could head to the Fuel Cafe for breakfast, slide to Concord for the annual British Bike Cooperative, change our clothes in the car and slip into the church before the groom breaks a sweat.”
Aiming the remote at the TV she comments, “That’s a lot of slipping and sliding, but what the hell. Judge Judy doesn’t hold any promise. She looks as if she is operating in a Midol calm today.”
We follow the British flags to Concord, Wisconsin. Rounding the last bend before the entrance to the campground, we see a red Norton Roadster being trundled to the side of the road. A rather mature man is standing over the bike pouring liberal amounts of Turtle Wax Chrome Polish on all of the exposed aluminum and steel components.
“Wow, that bike is pretty (expletive) cool,” remarks my wife. “Let’s check it out.” After a brief examination, my wife goads me into tearing open the wedding card in search of a down payment to hold the bike. The entire transaction takes all of about eight minutes. Our next cognizant memory is standing on the sidelines of a grassy volleyball court watching classic bikes from the 50’s and 60’s battle each other in a series of events. If you have never attended the British Bike Cooperative’s Concord, Wisconsin gala, I highly recommend it. They have a rather creative and unique methodology of displaying their Brit Iron.
Coming out of the morphine-like state brought on by the eight minute buying experience, I hear myself addressing questions to no-one in particular. “How am I going to get the Norton home? What was I thinking there? Which Spice girl left the band? What was that box of crap the guy gave me to take home?”
The box of crap becomes my immediate focus. I race back to the car and begin rummaging through the box. I soon realize that the “box of crap” is actually a treasure chest full of period relics: a full set of tools, spanner wrench for the notorious exhaust manifold, single Lectron carb with two-into-one conversion manifold, the original Norton manual and a stack of motorcycle magazines from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I find two articles that hold my interest. One is an interview with Giacomo Agostini from 1970 and the other is Mike Hailwood from 1967 shortly after winning 12 TT’s.
Numb to the current day reports of multi-million dollar contracts, drug violations, dissension between racers and owners, and the obvious canned responses to press inquiries, I seldom spend time with race reports.
But these interviews from long ago wreak of political incorrectness and I love the smell. Within a couple of minutes I learn that Ago and Hailwood both hailed from wealthy parents and because of this background, both legends chose race teams based upon the motorcycles and the tuners versus the size of the monetary reward. Ago and Hailwood rode for the same MV team in 1965 and although competitors, became great friends. Hailwood even took it upon himself to educate the young Ago in the ways of the English language. After several months on the racing circuit, Ago discovered that it was not appropriate to order breakfast by saying, “Two (censored) eggs, a pot of (censored) coffee, and make it pretty damn swift, you greasy great (censored) twit.” Another example of Hailwood’s sense of humor was exhibited in his riding style. In addition to achieving inspiring lean angles, Mike the Bike was also known for trailing riders with his toe perched on their back fenders. This served as a calling for those riders to increase their pace or risk being kicked in the arse.
Ago was courted for years by the film industry hoping to take advantage of his stellar appearance and natural ease around the public. After being offered copious amounts of cash, Ago finally closed the offers by issuing a statement,”Arrivederci, not today, thanks. Count Augusta says I ride his bikes, so I do. Come back again some time when I am older and not so fast, maybe then I think of your films!” The studios found some relief in getting him to agree to a syndicated comic strip portraying his likeness and name.
To the dismay of his sponsors, Mike was infamous for revealing subtle weaknesses in his bikes to the press. Consider this interlude between a reporter and Mike Hailwood:
Reporter: How did the Honda 500 handle in the Island Of Man TT?
Mike: Not very good, really. It felt like a combination of oil on the rear tire and a hinge in the middle.
Reporter: Because you went so quickly on the Island with the 500, do you think Honda will have you continue with this frame?
Mike: Yes, unfortunately. I told them what’s the matter, but they’ll say, “Look, it’s gone quickly in the Isle Of Man and it’s gone quickly here. What the hell’s the matter with you–it can’t be that bad.”
Reporter: What is the horsepower of the Hondas?
Mike: Who knows? They’ve quoted figures, and I don’t know who to believe or what to believe.
Reporter: What about physical fitness and training?
Mike: I don’t do any.
Laughing, I look up at the hot afternoon sun and surmise that the church service was probably about to start. The correct thing would be to jump in the car, race back to the church, insert a check into the card and steam it shut. “Aw hell,” I comment to wife as we head towards the bike judging, “they’ll probably end up divorced anyway.”