Racing Classic Norton Motorcycles
The Norton Champagne Racing Team
The Norton Champagne Racing Team's 1937 Norton and 1961 Norton Manx.
Photo by Stephen Clark
Bob McKeever first raced at Daytona in 1948, riding a new Norton Manx motorcycle. Sixty-two years later, he’s still active in classic motorcycle racing, still going to Daytona — and still racing classic Norton motorcycles.
OK, so maybe that’s a bit misleading. Bob, now 90, keeps to the pits these days and no longer pilots either of his two classic Norton motorcycles: He gave that up five years ago when he was only 85. “I was riding the ’37 at Albuquerque, and I ran wide the first time around,” Bob recalls. “Then the second time I went off the track, and when I was done I thought, ‘You know, if you’re dumb enough to be a motorcycle racer, you gotta hope you’re smart enough to know when to quit.’” Bob bowed out as the then oldest active classic motorcycle racer in the world.
The motorcycle racing bug first bit Bob in the late 1930s, when he started dirt track racing in his native Maryland, running against the local competition aboard a 1936 Ariel Red Hunter, a 500cc British single. His racing was strictly at the amateur level, but he kept at it, taking lessons from Norton rider Clark Trumball Jr., who took second place at the first-ever Daytona Beach race in 1937. Eventually, Bob moved up the charts enough to get an offer from George Taylor, a Norton dealer in Ambler, Pa., to ride a new Norton Manx at Daytona in 1948.
For a budding young racer, that was an amazing achievement, almost like getting factory support, Bob recalls, although he did have to go fetch the bike himself and get it to Daytona. “I put the thing in the back of a DeSoto Club Coupe, then went to Daytona. He [Taylor] took the magneto points out so we wouldn’t run it till he got there, but we used some points from my Velo.”
Bob’s Daytona experience wasn’t exactly a fairy tale, although he did come in 14th — not bad considering he was racing in a field of 155 starters. “I rode as part of a team of three,” he says, adding, “and I was the only one who finished.” He probably would have done better if he hadn’t fouled a spark plug and then fallen off his Norton while going full bore down the beach portion of the 4.1-mile circuit. “I had one spare plug in my pocket and the wrench, and my crew heard it quit and they ran down and changed the plug, and away I went.”
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