Great racers become famous, but a great motorcycle mechanic labors in obscurity. Nobby Clark, however, deserves to be well known.
Nobby Clark probably never worked on a Laverda, but editor-in-chief and motorcycle mechanic Richard Backus still appreciates his contributions to motorcycle racing.
Somebody needs to write a book about Nobby Clark. Nobby, if you've never heard of him, was one of Honda's top Grand Prix wrenches during the heady years of the 1960s, years when Honda was trying — and succeeding — to establish supremacy not just in the showroom but on the track as well.
Born in Rhodesia. Nobby was hired into Honda's GP program in 1962. He kept Honda's racing machines in tune until 1968, when Honda and other Japanese manufacturers pulled out of GP racing. When Yamaha climbed back on the GP wagon a few years later Nobby was with them, working his motorcycle mechanic magic as a new era of racing unfolded.
At Honda in the 1960s, Nobby made sure stars like Jim Redman and the immortal Mike “The Bike” Hailwood got all they could out of their Honda racers. At Yamaha in the 1970s, he made sure greats like Giacomo Agostini, or “Ago” as he's better known, made it around Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Daytona in the U.S. as quickly and reliably as possible. At both companies, Nobby worked on the bikes that still drive our imagination today, tuning and fettling Honda's jewel-like 250cc sixes and Yamaha's howling 2-stroke triples and twins.
Although those glory days are long gone, Nobby maintains an active interest in racing, but now at the somewhat more sedate level of AHRMA vintage racing. I had the fortune to spend a few days with Nobby recently, at the Bonneville Vintage GP at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele. Utah. Lean and spry. and looking much younger than the 73 he claims to be, Nobby was doing what he does best, wrenches in hand, keeping his latest team Norton Champagne Racing Team roaring down the front straight.
Team patrons are Bob McKeever and Robert Jr ., a father and son combo with a passion for getting the best out of their bikes. Bob, who turned 90 this month and was still racing until just a few years ago, piloted a brand new Norton Manx at Daytona in 1948. A Norton fan through and through, his devotion to the brand remains to this day. Norton Champagne Racing Team's stable (the name reflects Bob's love of the bubbly) includes a 1937 Norton Manx, a 1962 Norton Manx and, in a bit of odd contrast to that old iron, a 2004 Honda 125GP 2-stroke racer — all piloted with great precision and success by teammate Alex McLean, and all kept perfectly tuned by Nobby.
With decades of experience working the GP circuit, and with some of the biggest names in our sport, you'd think Nobby's name, at least in our corner of the world, would be a household word. Yet outside a small group of diehard motorcycle racing fans, he's almost unknown. Google "Nobby Clark" and it's amazing how much information you won't find. Unlike the men he wrenched for, men whose exploits fill books and literally thousands of web pages, you'll find no biographies of Nobby, no paeans to his skillful and hugely important role in one of the most glorious eras of motorcycle racing.
A kind and unassuming man, until recently Nobby seemed unaware that anyone would care to learn about him or his experiences. But as memories of the 1960s and 1970s racing era recede farther back in time, and as fewer of his contemporaries remain to recount them, Nobby is slowly appreciating the unique story he has to tell. Whether we get to be a part of the telling remains to be seen. I hope so. But mostly, I hope Nobby gets his time in the sun.