Racing Classic Norton Motorcycles
(Page 2 of 3)
That was Bob’s one and only professional race at Daytona. At the end of the race Taylor took the Norton back to his shop and never asked Bob to ride for him again.
Although Bob stayed active in the local racing scene, building his sewer and water construction business and raising a family became priorities that kept him closer to home and farther from the track. Yet he still managed to go to Daytona every year. “I had a KSS Velo and went to lots of little races, but I’d fly our Beach Queen Air to Daytona every year. We’d leave at 6 a.m. and be back by 10 p.m.,” he says.
As the vintage race scene started building in the early Eighties, Bob decided it was time to race at Daytona again. His choice? A Norton, naturally. “I bought a bitsa ‘Garden Gate’ from a guy in England and then rode it in 1988 at Daytona in a vintage race,” Bob says. “I finished seventh, and a guy said, ‘See what 40 years of practice will do for you?’” That was the start of Norton Champagne Racing Team, a name picked to reflect Bob’s love of the bubbly.
As Bob settled into his second career on the track he became acquainted with a new generation of riders, including Alex McLean. The pair first met in the mid-1990s when Alex, then a commercial photographer in New York City, was at Daytona with Team Obsolete. Alex, who had raced Nortons for a few years in Europe in the mid-1970s, was trying to engineer a return to racing, and he’d talked a French magazine into running an article on Team Obsolete. That bit of enterprising then created an opportunity to get in a little riding with the team at Daytona.
By this time Bob was racing a 1937 Norton he’d bought from British Norton guru Stu Rogers, into which he’d slotted the Manx-spec engine from his bitsa racer. “One day he called me and asked, ‘Alex, do you want to ride the Norton?’ Who would refuse that?” Alex recalls. Alex, who was riding 2-strokes at that time, says the Norton taught him a lot. “I’d go into a corner and this thing would start shaking around and I couldn’t ride it properly. Then I realized if I started working my body it changed things drastically.” Bob agrees: “He’d never ridden a bike like that, but he jumped on and he’s done very well with it.”
Indeed, since the pair started racing they’ve racked up over 120 wins on the ’37, aided in no small part for the past 10 years by the wrenching skills of Nobby Clark. Nobby, former mechanic to racing greats like Jim Redman, Mike “The Bike” Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini, was one of Honda’s top Grand Prix mechanics during the 1960s. “Nobby knows what goes and what doesn’t,” Bob says, adding, “when Nobby’s there, everybody respects him.” Clearly Nobby knows how to keep a bike running; the ’37 currently has over 1,000 race miles on it and according to Alex, it’s never been apart.