Classic Racer


Geoff Duke won six 350cc and 500cc world championships between 1951 and 1955 and six TT races between 1949 and 1955. He was racing’s first true superstar and household name, winning the Sportsman of the Year award in 1951 (the forerunner of today’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year), and becoming an OBE in 1953. He was credited with inventing the one-piece leather race suit and his clean-cut looks and dapper dress sense did wonders for the image of motorcycling. He passed away on May 2, 2015, at the age of 92 in an Isle of Man nursing home. On September 22, 2005, I had the privilege of visiting Geoff Duke at his home on the Isle of Man, to talk about his astonishing career and to get his take on modern racing. Soon afterwards I lost my computer hard drive and thought the interview had been lost with it. Only recently did I discover I had actually made a copy... This is what the great man had to say:

On being suspended from the world championship in 1956

After supporting privateer riders in a bid to secure better payment for them (most were living a hand-to-mouth existence while race organisers made huge profits), Geoff Duke found himself banned from the first six months of the 1956 season, despite being the reigning world champion.

“I was shocked at being suspended in 1956. It seemed to be very unfair – overdone, shall we say. But I think the powers that be were wanting to make an example to make sure that it didn’t happen again. So Reg Armstrong and myself were the ones who suffered most. We had nothing to gain by the strike, we just supported the private riders, but that didn’t seem to make any difference. Unfortunately our own governing body, the ACU, didn’t seem to make too great an effort to assist us. We looked at the legal side of things and everything but when you’re up against the governing body of the sport then the law, as it stands, is not that powerful – they (the FIM)

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