STM: Greatest Motorcycle Racing Achievement

June 24, 2014
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Jim Redman.
Jim Redman achieved one of the greatest feats in motorcycle racing when he took three Grand Prix victories in 1964 at the Dutch TT.

Whenever two motorcycle racing fans get together there will be an argument about the best rider, the greatest comeback or the finest race.

Agostini – 15 times World Champion and racing on public roads?

Mike Hailwood – able to win anything, in any conditions and against any opposition?

Rossi – beating the toughest racers on the planet and on equal machinery must be the greatest of the modern era – but Vale has never won a TT?

But for me, one beacon stands out since the start of motorcycle racing. What greater achievement can there ever be than Jim Redman’s triple win at the 1964 Dutch TT, where he claimed three Grand Prix victories in one day on three vastly different motorcycles?

Three-hundred racing miles (500km) and three hours racing in one day – and every second a battle for every inch of the track against the best riders in the world, competing with the ultimate in factory machinery, is beyond comprehension today. This is how it happened.

First, a prologue. In 1964 Jim was not only Honda’s top rider but also Team Captain and Manager. In short, he carried a lot of responsibility. Jim tells the story:

“I came to Assen following two wins in the Isle of Man. As far as I was concerned, I should have won three races because the throttle came loose in the 125 race and Luigi Taveri, who was Honda’s lead 125 rider, only beat me by three seconds. But I didn’t win and that’s racing.

“People said I was too tall and heavy for a 125 but I thought, ‘Let ‘em say what the hell they want. The results will show whether I can ride a 125 or not.’

Mighty Suzuki team were Jims  and Hondas  biggest rival in the 125cc class.
Mighty Suzuki team were Jim’s, and Honda’s, biggest rival in the 125cc class.

“When we got to Assen it was baking hot – absolutely on fire! Luigi was injured in practice so Aika San (the Honda Team Manager) said I would have to ride the 125 race and just keep Hugh Anderson, on the Suzuki, from taking too many points from Luigi. Aika San’s idea was never for me to win but just to keep the Suzukis and Yamahas off Luigi.

“Luckily, the 125 race was my last race of the day so I could do the 250 and 350 races first and then get on with helping Luigi.

“My real targets were the 250 and 350 races because Honda had given me the job of winning those two world titles. The 250 race was going to be tough because Phil Read was riding the RD56 Yamaha which was streets faster than my Honda 4. The Yamaha was 15 kph (10 mph) faster down the straight than even my really quick 250 Honda 4, which was the best one by far that Aika San had provided for me.

“The 350 race wasn’t a problem. The only real challenge was from Mike Hailwood and his four cylinder MV. This was too slow and heavy to cause me any concern, even with Mike riding it.

“The 350 race was first and then the 50s. This meant that I could have a bit of a break before the 250s.

“I had another break during the sidecar race and then there was the 125 class. Since my job was not to win but just to keep the Suzukis and Yamahas from taking too many points off Luigi, I told everyone this was what I was going to do. I made sure that the whole paddock knew this plan.

“But of course, this is not what I was really planning because I only ever raced to win. Right from the start, I was aiming to beat them but it was easier if everyone thought I was not going to ride to the limit.

“I often rode in all three classes at GPs. If the circuits were twisty enough to keep the distance under 500 km we could ride all we wanted.

“You couldn’t do it at fast circuits like Hockenheim, where you covered a lot of miles, so I only competed in two classes there.

L-R Jim Redman  Ralph Bryans  Luigi Taveri and Mike Hailwood. Best friends off the track - arch enemies on it.
L-R Jim Redman, Ralph Bryans, Luigi Taveri and Mike Hailwood. Best friends off the track – arch enemies on it.

“At Assen, the races were short enough to run for just over the compulsory hour and still stay under the mileage.
“I knew it was going to be a tough day at the office but I was a professional motorcycle racer, and Honda works rider, so tough was what I expected. In my position, there were no easy days.

“It also wasn’t anything particularly special to race 500 km in a day. I did it. Other riders did it. We raced motorcycles for a job so that’s what we did.

“Assen was no different from any other GP for me. Giacomo (Agostini) never used to have sex for ten days before a GP but that didn’t suit me. I had no hesitation in this respect. Ago would go up to Marlene (Jim’s wife) and say, ‘Yes or no?’

“Then he’d go away when Marlene always said yes.

“It was over 30 degrees (nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit) as we lined up for the 350 race but I was very relaxed. I never did any physical training because I rode so much. I would start at over 100 races a year – anywhere there was money to be earned, every weekend and sometimes mid-week too. A lot of racing, and sex, kept me very fit.

“A flag start is very different from starting with a clutch. The silence on the grid is deafening. You’ve fiddled with your goggles and got your gloves comfortable and the tension builds. Then you carefully pull the bike back on compression. With the Honda 4 it was tricky to get a piston actually at top dead center by feel.

1960s push starts were desperate things.

“You tense your legs and get ready to hurl yourself forward like one of those bobsled pilots.

“Then you watch the starter. You don’t think of anything in the world – not the bike, your family, winning or losing or crashing. Your mind almost climbs on to the starter’s flag you’re watching so closely.

“Everything goes into slow motion. It’s like being in a different world. The flag moves very, very slowly and you push like bloody hell. All around you is an explosion of noise from unsilenced engines. It’s like being in a war – but you don’t hear anything as you would normally.

“Then, automatically, you know exactly when to drop the clutch. It’s all just by feel with no computers or anything else to help. You know the perfect timing as much as you know how to breathe or walk.

“You know by touch and sense if the bike has fired and you feed in the clutch and swing your legs over the bike in one movement and then get your head buried in the tank. It’s all one fluid movement and you go from total silence stood at the side of the bike to 13,000 rpm and tucked-in with just one smooth motion.

“The 350 race was straightforward. I led from the start and won by 12 seconds with Mike second and Remo Venturi on the Bianchi Twin a long way back in third.

Even with Mike Hailwood in the saddle  the 350cc MV Agusta was not quick enough to be a threat to Redman.
Jim Redman loved the 250cc four cylinder Honda.
(Above) Even with Mike Hailwood in the saddle, the 350cc MV Agusta was not quick enough to be a threat to Redman. (Below) Jim Redman loved the 250cc four cylinder Honda.

“It was nothing special and I won at the slowest possible speed. I always aimed to win as slow as possible. No-one pays you extra prize money, or gives you bonus points, for lap records.

“I knew that the 250 race was going to be a lot different. The 250 race was considered to be the main race of the day because there were so many good riders and so many factory bikes. As well as me and Phil, Benelli had a quick four cylinder bike ridden by Tarquinio Provini, and Mike Duff and Tommy Robb were on Yamahas. On paper, there were plenty of potential winners but in reality there was only me on the four cylinder Honda and Phil with the disc-valved, two-stroke Yamaha.

“The flag dropped and we screamed off the start line together and I knew that this was going to be one hell of a race.

“Even though it was a public road the Assen track had a lot of grip and neither of us would give an inch. We were both hard riders and neither of us was frightened of anything so we were close to banging into each other on every corner and flat out at over 130 mph. I was determined to win that race and nothing was going to stop me.

“The problem was that my four-stroke Honda was 10 mph slower than Phil’s two-stroke Yamaha so for a lot of the race I had to slipstream just to stay with him. The 1964 Honda was the last of the 4s and we weren’t supposed to rev the bikes over 13,500 rpm, but I took it to 15,000 rpm in every gear just to stay with Phil. I had complete faith in Honda, in Aika San and Nobby as my mechanic.

“On the last half lap, I outbraked Phil time and again. Phil braked on the inside of the corner at the end of the back straight and I just rode right round the outside of him, right on the limit but in control.

“I was riding absolutely on the limit but never stupidly. The key thing was that I expected to win. It was just a matter of doing the job. I never thought about crashing or not winning,

“The problem was that Phil’s Yamaha out accelerated the Honda on every corner. I was going to have to do something different.

“As we approached a fast right hander I decided that if I could get through it without lifting my chin off the tank, I could carry extra speed on to the finishing straight to win. It was a mistake, as the extra speed caused the back wheel to step out in a big slide and Phil went past again as I fought for control of the bike.

“I always raced with my brain, and to a far lesser extent with my balls, so I really cursed my mistake.

Phil Read was Redmans main threat in both the 125cc and 250cc races.
Luigi Taveri in tense team conference with teammate Ralph Bryans.
(Above) Phil Read was Redman’s main threat in both the 125cc and 250cc races. (Below) Luigi Taveri in tense team conference with teammate Ralph Bryans.

“As we approached the second-to-last corner I made up my mind that wherever Phil braked, I would go down the inside and pass him. I had to change down two extra gears to try and stop for the corner and when I cracked open the throttle the bike surged forward, with the rev counter needle two or three thousand revs over the limit.

“I had no time to worry about the bike blowing up because I had no choice. If I changed at 13,500 rpm, I was going to lose and if it blew up I was going to lose so it either took the extra 3,000 rpm and stayed together – or didn’t. Second place was not an option.

“When I saw how well this had worked I did exactly the same on the last corner. As we approached the finishing line, I saw Phil coming up alongside and I knew that if I changed gear I would lose the race. I decided not to change gear and let the engine rev its heart out: if it burst I lost, and if I changed gear I lost, so I hung on and won by one hundredth of a second.

“In those days, the bloke with the checkered flag used to stand on the track and he really panicked when he saw these two maniacs screaming towards him with their heads buried in the tanks.

“He jumped back somewhere a bit safer but Nobby Clark, who was quick-thinking, rushed up to the finishing line and took a picture in case there was an argument about who had won.

“No-one will ever know what figure that motor revved to because the rev counter only read up to 18,000 rpm and the needle was stuck there. And this was a bike I had never pushed over 15,000 rpm before! What a little beauty that motor was.

“Aika San stripped it after the race and found nothing wrong but still replaced everything as every part must have been unmercifully stressed.

“During this last lap, Phil and I passed and re-passed each other no less than 12 times. We were way ahead of all the others, lapping the entire field, except for Tommy Robb in third place who was nearly three minutes behind. The lap and race records for this race were well and truly smashed!

“Once I got off the bike my legs felt like jelly and I could hardly stand up. It was like coming on to dry land after a bad ferry crossing.

“People were slapping me on the back, there were congratulations and smiles, the crowd was yelling. It all seemed so far away from me at that moment. I wanted only one thing – to collapse and be alone.

“When I got to the winners’ rostrum I was met with a standing ovation, the press called it the race of the century, just as they had a week before in the Isle of Man.

“Nobby said to me ‘This is getting real rough, a race of the century every weekend.’

“In the shade of the Honda garage I lay spread eagled on the concrete floor because this was the coolest place we had.
“Not only was I melting physically but I was burning inside with the satisfaction of having ridden the race of my life and won, despite having a slower bike.

Suzuki team leader, Hugh Anderson, was another big worry for Honda in the 125cc race.

“I took down the top of my leathers and washed my face with Eau de Cologne, all the while thinking, ‘I’m too old for this type of race. I don’t ever want to have to ride like that again.’

“However, just an hour and a half later I had to be on the starting line for the 125 race, again with Phil and the rest as opponents. I knew I could expect another very difficult race.

“I just lay on the concrete and tried to get a bit cooler. Everyone left me alone because they knew the state I was in.
“I had won two races and all that I could think of was whether I could get three in a day. Following team orders, and just riding for a finish, never crossed my mind.

“I knew Phil was just as exhausted and weary as I was. I heard that Phil was lying on his camp bed, a cigarette between his lips, and I knew that he was wishing the 125 race was over as much as I was, and he hadn’t done the 350 race like I had.

“We walked slowly to the start line again as our bikes were brought out for the 125 race. For the public it was going to be an incredible race but for us riders it was a job that had to be done. However, very quickly excitement had the adrenaline pumping: I didn’t feel tired anymore and the aches and pains were gone.

“In their place now was a burning desire to win again. I was going to win and there would be no second place or riding for a finish.

Phil Read on his 125 Yamaha.

“Phil Read took the lead because I made a terrible start – almost last away – but I was so keyed up from the 250 race that I just carved my way through the field from nearly last.

“I caught up and passed Hugh Anderson, Suzuki’s top rider, who had made a good start. I had to barge past him on a tricky right hand bend that normally I would have had more respect for but I had to take big risks coming from the back if I was going to catch Phil.

“Once I caught Phil, I just sat behind him. Phil maintained a good rhythm, and in no time we’d left the others far behind. This time I had the extra speed and so waited for the right moment to overtake.

“With three laps to go to the finishing line, I saw a chance to go ahead. We’d just reached a slower group of riders and I shot past Phil and overtook them.

“Phil pulled out all the stops, taking all kinds of risks to try and pass me, but I knew it was too late for him: from now on he would not be able to do it.

“Racing is a lot in your mind. I knew that I could beat Phil and that was all there was to it. It wasn’t being hopeful or confident but simply 100% certain that I was going to win. No bullshit or bragging – just total certainty that I was going to win.

“What I didn’t want was a repeat of the 250 race – that had been too close for comfort and I had taken too many risks. I knew Phil wanted revenge, but I had the speed advantage, so I just got my head down and took off.

“I finished six seconds ahead of Phil, and smashed the lap record, with all of the first six finishers beating Hugh Anderson’s old record.

“The increase in speed was thanks in part to Phil and me because our battle had carried the field along with us.

“Hugh Anderson, not known for throwing compliments around too readily, shook my hand warmly, saying, ‘Brilliant, bloody brilliant!’ His praise meant a lot to me since it came from an individual I respected immensely.

“The 125 race was the third of the day and it completed my hat trick. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but so satisfied: I had won three races and beaten six records.

“I was bone weary as I climbed the rostrum to stand again on the top step again but I knew that I had achieved something that no man had ever done before: three GPs in one day for a man too big for a 250 or 125!

“The crowd was wonderful and went crazy and you can imagine my feelings as I looked out over it, wondering could anything be better than this?

“Everyone should experience the euphoria of victory,” says
Redman, “in some part of their life, at least once.”

“Lots of riders would like to win three GPs in a lifetime and I had done it in one day!

“Although I was totally exhausted at the end of the race I was still pumped up. After a nice hot shower back at the hotel it was off to prize giving to collect all my trophies and enjoy the party. And it was a bloody good party too!

“I was the star and I enjoyed it. Loads of riders came up to me and there were a lot compliments. This meant a lot to me, and still does, because these were my fellow professional riders – and every one of them was bloody good in their own right. It was the best day of my life.

“Aika San and the Honda team were just as excited as me. I made sure everyone knew that if they hadn’t done such a good job making the bikes for me I could never have won. This meant a lot to them. I felt very fortunate to be a Honda factory rider and I wanted them to know what I felt in my heart.

“It wasn’t PR or keeping sponsors happy like riders have to do today. I was just very grateful to Honda.

“I told them all how I felt, but especially Aika San, and all this was with the beer flowing and the party in full swing. We were more than a team. We were family and we had achieved something remarkable together.

“Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and I made sure that Marlene was looked after too!

“In 1995 I returned to the Dutch TT once more but this time demonstrating my old Hondas rather than as a racer. Kevin Schwantz was there and he said to me, that he had heard what I had done in 1964 and that he was lucky to win three GPs in a year, never mind in one day!

“Everyone should experience the euphoria of victory, in some part of their life, at least once.”