During those early years, the Wildcat team scored success on
success at scootering events far and wide, including the Isle of Man, and the
Hampshire Union became one of the biggest racing clubs in the country. There
was hardly a grass track, rally, hill climb or road race meeting (called 'time
trials' with impossibly high average speeds) that did not have a full compliment
of wildcat machines in every capacity class going.
The atmosphere at these events was wonderful, with every rider knowing every other rider in their classes. It was a great way to spend a weekend away, and was more like a family outing than a serious motor sport. Though we all took our racing very seriously indeed. Once on the track, all acquaintances were forgotten and it was devil take the hindmost to the chequered flag.
We would quite often set off late Friday afternoon in convoy, and all meet up at a pre-arranged meeting point for a well deserved break from the quite often long distances involved getting to the track. Cadwell Park was one I remember well as being one of the killers, quite often taking nearly all night travelling to get there in our ragamuffin collection of hired vehicles.
The closer tracks, such as Mallory Park and Lydden Hill were great for the social aspect. I remember Mallory in particular had an excellent club-house which was always heaving with bodies by the time we arrived. By the time we had 'refreshed' ourselves with several pints of local beer, quite often the labours of putting up our tents seemed a particularly silly idea, especially in the earlier or later parts of the season when there would quite often be a sharp frost, and we would just throw our sleeping bags into the back of the vans and crash out where they landed. Quite often regretting this later in the night, when struggling to get out over a myriad of snoring bodies to empty our straining bladders.
Les hardly ever missed a race meeting, despite his increasing workload. Often driving up in his own car to meet us first thing in the morning, or joining in the convoy overnight. He was an invaluable asset to have in the pits, since he would never shy away from a complete engine strip down between races if he thought it would improve the chances of a win. Many of his high compression racing engines were very sensitive to air temperature and weather conditions, sometimes proving a devil of a job to start and keep running on the same spark plugs. He would run up and down the pits, pushing a coughing and spluttering 'drowned' bike in sometimes desperate attempts to get the machine out on to the start grid for the parade lap prior to a race.
Because of Les's pioneering experiments with over-boring and advanced porting methods, some of his larger engines proved to be prone to heavy seizures during a prolonged race due to thin cylinder walls. This was very frustrating, since we would see our riders in a leading race position, only to be thwarted by an engine lock up just before the end. The 225cc sidecars were particularly vulnerable to this type of miss-hap. Poor old Pete Hockley sometimes seemed to have the Angel of Death looking down on him. He was a particularly skilled rider in all aspects of the sport, but had terrible luck in some events. The race results often not reflecting his incredible riding prowess.
I sometimes thought that he didn't possess a sense of balance such as was bestowed on other human beings. He rode like he was on gimbals, getting away with almost impossible angles of lean and ridiculously high speed through corners. At places like Lydden Hill, he was simply terrifying to watch. Overcooking it on every bend, then grass tracking for another 100 yards as he wrestled with a bucking machine to regain the track. Never once falling off, as I remember. His adventures on his sidecar outfit with 'Dudley' as passenger were equally as exciting to behold, though often abruptly terminated by the aforementioned horrendous engine seizures.
A History of Rafferty Newman 'Wildcats' (Part 3)
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