Motorcycle Classics

Racing Manx Nortons at the Daytona 200

Success in competition — especially in the crucial Daytona 200 — was an important yardstick by which a marque’s excellence was judged, so in 1948 Norton’s managing director Gilbert Smith entered a team of specially prepared factory machines for the second postwar 200-miler. That initial foray, under the guidance of noted British tuner Steve Lancefield, yielded a second place for Canadian rider Bill Mathews.

Mathews scored Norton’s debut Daytona 200 win in 1941, the first victory for a non-American bike as well as for a foreign rider, defeating the factory Harley-Davidson and Indian machines in the final race held there before Pearl Harbor. Mathews did so riding a 1939 single-cam Norton International customer model tuned to Manx spec by Norton’s Canadian importer, J.M. McGill of Toronto, setting a new record speed for the 200 miles by averaging 78.08 mph despite crashing out of the lead in the early stages and re-mounting.

Mathews was originally acclaimed the winner of the 1948 race after a wheel-to-wheel battle with local favorite Floyd Emde’s Indian. Indian lodged a protest, however, and AMA officials reversed the results after seven hours poring over the scoring charts for the 140-plus field of bikes.

Finishing second best wasn’t what Norton’s tough-minded boss Smith wanted, so Norton returned in 1949 with another, even more legendary tuner in charge, Francis Beart, famed for his organization and detailed preparation. Beart rewarded Smith with three successive Daytona 200 victories for Norton on the Florida sand in 1949, 1950 and 1951. MC

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  • Published on Apr 8, 2013
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