Late last year, my friend of over 60 years, James ‘George’ Ward lost his long, brave battle with cancer.
George was an enthusiastic club racer in the 1960/70s. His first mount was a 500 BSA Gold Star and very early in his racing career he had his one and only serious accident as he and two other riders approached the Cadwell Mountain section.
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George was forced on to the grass as he and the other two riders approached the corner three abreast. Local newspaper reports told of his machine clearing the 15ft tannoy wires.
In fact, it was George who sailed over the wires and afterwards he went to Louth hospital to have a dislocated shoulder joint popped back in place.
He raced for around 12 years after that incident and although he had a few spills he didn’t suffer any other injuries. The Goldie was soon replaced by a new G50 supplied by my-then employers North Anglian Autos of Kings Lynn.
George was by profession an engine driver working out of Peterborough. I would stay on after work and prepare the bike in the evenings ready for race weekends.
We had the use of my employer’s transporter which was a Ford Thames pick-up fitted with an extra wide body.
Soon after buying the G50 George entered his first Manx GP. The works pick-up couldn’t be spared for a whole two weeks away, so George came up with a cunning plan: as a British Rail employee, he enjoyed free rail travel.
So the G50 was man-handled into the guard’s van at King’s Lynn station and off went George to Liverpool.
He had imagined it would all be downhill from the station to the pier head, but he was wrong. With a full toolbox across the seat, and all his riding gear draped over the tank, George said the push to the dock nearly killed him.
I followed next day with his other clothes stuffed in with mine on the back of my Dominator. We decided it was time to buy a van of our own.
I think it’s a fair bet that George’s travel arrangements to race in the Island are unique. He entered three senior MGPs on the G50, his best placing in 12th and he finished all three races.
Availability of spares for the G50 became difficult, and George decided to sell it. North Anglian Autos were Royal Enfield agents and George was persuaded by the Enfield rep to buy a GP5 250 production racer.
Although it gave us lots of headaches George stubbornly refused to be beaten by it and raced it for the next eight years.
The GP5’s worst trait was that it destroyed primary chains at a frightening rate. After every practice I would take off the outer case and dozens of broken rollers would fall out.
Twin-row chain was purchased in bulk and at short circuit meetings we would use at least two, sometimes three chains.
At the Manx the Enfield would destroy at least a dozen primary chains during practice week.
Despite all this, George managed to finish five Manx GPs on the Enfield with a best of two 17th places.
It would be unfair to blame the little Enfield for all our chain problems.
Modern chains last for at least a season’s classic racing on a GP5 today, so the root of the problem was poor quality 1960’s chain.
On one occasion at the Manx the landlady at our digs told George how he could buy a bucket of fresh fish for two shillings.
At first light next day George woke me and we walked down to the harbour. Waves could be heard crashing onto the beach so it had obviously been a rough night at sea.
The fishermen looked as if they were on their last legs. As George lowered his bucket to the deck he called down to the crew: ‘Are they fresh?’
He was told not only where to stick his two bob, but he could do the same with his bucket!
Eventually the swearing died down and they shovelled fish into his bucket and as we headed back he turned to me, a big grin on his face and he said: ‘Do you think I upset them?’
George even had two superfans in the form of two British Rail workmates – ‘Whistle’ and Derek. Wherever we were racing they would be there.
They travelled to all mainland meetings using their free passes to reach the nearest station and then hitched lifts to the circuit.
When they arrived on the Island, a friend who had been told of their impending arrival said: ‘Oh! There are two of them: I was expecting one chap called Whistlin’ Derek!’
One of life’s irrepressible characters is how I would describe George.
In all the years that I knew him I never saw him lose his temper, or say a bad word about anyone and those racing years were a bank of memories of our youth.
Above all, George made me laugh a lot. What more could I ask?
I am proud to have known him. He will be sorely missed by us all, not least wife Hazel, daughter Mel and the rest of his devoted family.
Read more Letters, Opinion, News and Features online at www.classicracer.com and in the September/October issue of Classic Racer – on sale now!