RIP, Nobby Clark, Mechanic to the Stars

Reader Contribution by Richard Backus
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Mechanic to the stars Nobby Clark (far right) with Team Norton Champagne at the 2009 Bonneville Vintage GP. Photo credit: Stephen Clark.

Derek “Nobby” Clark. If you’ve paid any attention to motorcycle GP racing history, you know the name. A tuner and mechanic for some of the greatest riders in motorcycle racing history including giants like Mike “The Bike” Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Gary Hocking, Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene, Jarno Saarinen and more, Nobby became a giant in his own right. As recently as a few years ago Nobby, who passed away last Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, at the age of 81, was still hitting the circuit and still doing his tuning magic, making the Norton Champagne Racing Team’s 1937 and 1962 Manx kings of the vintage race scene.

A young Nobby Clark with Mike Hailwood and the epic RC166 Honda six in 1966. Photo credit: Frank Melling.

I first met Nobby in 2006 at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid-Ohio race track. I had tagged along with a group gathering to meet some of the great Daytona Beach racers of the ’50s, and was standing off to the side when I looked over and saw Nobby, also standing off to the side. Although I knew I’d seen his face, I couldn’t quite place it, so finally I walked over and said something to the effect of, “You look really familiar. Have we ever met?” To which Nobby, in what I would learn over subsequent years was typical classic understatement, simply replied, “Maybe, I’ve been to a lot of races in my life.”

Nobby Clark in the early 1970s, venue unknown. Photo credit: Australian Motorcycle News.

Recognized and respected by the racing community to a degree usually reserved for the most successful racers, Nobby was down to earth and honest almost to a fault, unique qualities in a sport peppered with larger than life personalities. For years I’d hoped that someone would sit down with Nobby, put a tape recorder on the table and get him to share all of the stories of his incredible 50-year racing career, start to finish. That never happened, although thankfully he gave many interviews over the years, particularly after his 2012 induction into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Of those interviews, one of the best was also one of the last when he sat down earlier this year with Australian Motorcycle News’ Michael Scott and shared stories of his life in racing. Click here for the full interview. Rest in Peace, Nobby, you’ll be missed.

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