About the CRMC
The CRMC was founded by Alan Cathcart along with his wife Stella and Dick Linton. Here Alan gives us some background about the foundation of the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club. It is a long article over 7 pages, but great reading and worth 10 minutes!
Most of them came from my own burgeoning collection to be ridden by my friends – machines like my CR93 Honda (yes, running a Japanese bike at a VMCC meeting was heady stuff back then!), 350 Aermacchi, ex-works F750 BSA-3, the ex-Pasolini XR750 Harley, my Matchless G50 about which I’d just made my first ever racer test article in company with Rupert Murden’s 7R AJS for the fledgling Classic Bike magazine, and so on – bikes that I’d acquired simply because I liked and admired them, representing an era which the two-stroke revolution had recently turned the page on.
That first Brands demo was pretty successful, and although there was a purist faction in the Vintage Club which reckoned the bikes were unsuitable to appear at their meetings because they were too new, we were invited back again in 1979, together with a band of Dutch riders with bikes of a similar era, as well as Vintage machines. This time, though the secretary of the meeting was a gentleman named Jack Walton, and it was evident that he was not a fan of our kind of bikes, and didn’t want us there. Maybe he had a thing about Hondas – but anyway, while I can’t remember the final straw which broke this camel’s back, I do remember being accused of ‘cheating’ because I’d brought along my 1962 Matchless G50 and tried to pretend it was a Vintage bike. I’d done nothing of the kind, of course - and anyway, how could you ‘cheat’ in a Parade?! Pausing only to note that there were several alleged pre-1955 Manx Nortons racing that day which looked exactly like the much later ones my G50 had dead-heated in birth with, I was told that I’d be reported to the committee for ungentlemanly conduct, with the recommendation that my VMCC membership should be terminated – as indeed happened. To which I remember as clear as yesterday uttering the fateful words – “Suits me – we’ll go and found our own Classic Motorcycle club for this kind of bike,” a statement that was met with ribald laughter and the comment, “Good luck – you won’t last a year”! Well, here we are just racking up over 30 of them…
But – it’s one thing to say you’re going to do something as momentous as that, quite another thing to see it through, and here I was lucky on a number of counts. Firstly, my wife Stella chipped in to do the vast amount of paperwork and organization in making it all possible – even more onerous after the arrival of No.1 child in July 1981, but no less demanding when combined with her fulltime job, especially as I was away abroad a great deal through my work back then in the travel industry, during which she had to hold the fort.
Secondly, my good friend Dick Linton who I’d teamed up with to race in the Isle of Man aboard our Aermacchis in the Formula 3 TT, in which we did OK thanks to the 250cc two-stroke/400cc four-stroke equivalency rule, and who then as now was making the spares to keep Aermacchis around the world still racing, had been supposed to ride my ‘cheater’ Matchless G50 at Brands Hatch, and he’d been just as put out as me at Mr Walton’s behaviour. Dick and I sat down to work out the framework of an organisation I’d decided to call the Classic Racing Motorcycle Club, and we opted to cater for all postwar racing and sporting motorcycles built until the 1972 watershed year when the mainly Japanese-led two-stroke revolution finally took hold. Remember, this was just seven years previously, so we hoped that there’d be enough such bikes that hadn’t reached the scrapheap to make the CRMC viable – and it’s also important to stress this wasn’t ever meant to be an anti-stroker club. We already enjoyed racing against the early two-stroke singles from Bultaco, Montesa, Greeves, and suchlike in Singles races, and I myself owned the ex-Chas Mortimer 125cc Villa amongst other two-stroke classics – but the arrival of the liquid-cooled TZ Yamahas, RR250/350 Harley-Davidsons etc. had changed the face of road racing for ever, so we wanted to cater for the surviving air-cooled Japanese twins like the TR Yamahas and Suzukis. And in the bigger classes a similar thing had happened around the same time with the arrival of the Japanese fours, which is why we decided to cater only for bikes with three cylinders or less, unless specially invited – so a four-cylinder 500cc Benelli or MV Agusta GP racer was very welcome (we could only dream!), but 750cc Honda fours and Z1 Kawasakis were modern items of hardware we didn’t envisage including – I’d raced my P&M Kawasaki in the Formula 1 TT that year, and I certainly didn’t see a place for that in the club, even if its engine dated back to 1972!
The third stroke of good fortune was that someone else had beaten us to the punch in recognizing the need for such a club, even if at this stage he hadn’t got any further than getting a couple of mentions in MCN and Motor Cycle Weekly (remember that?!) for people to write to him if they too were interested in the idea. His name was Steve Finch, and though not a racer himself he’d already collected a 90-strong mailing list of people with what we’ll call Post-Vintage racers, which he readily turned over to me. Steve lived in the West Midlands while I then lived in West London, and though we spoke on the phone a few times, we never met before he was tragically killed on his road bike in the Isle of Man in a head-on collision with a German tourist who’d forgotten he was supposed to ride on the left in the Island. RIP, Steve – I hope you’re pleased with the way we took up your idea and ran with it
Having done our groundwork, the next thing for Stella, Dick and me to do was to see if there were enough like-minded souls beyond the Single-Cylinder brigade to make the CRMC viable, so choosing the then recently opened Donington Park as a suitable central venue, we booked the Redgate Lodge for a Saturday evening after the end of the racing season, placed mentions in as many bike magazines as I could persuade the editors to give us, wrote to Steve Finch’s mailing list and anyone else we could think of who had the ‘right’ kind of bike – and then drove up to Donington on November 10th, 1979, hoping desperately that we hadn’t organized a party that nobody would bother coming to. Well – anyone who was there that day will agree that under today’s elf’n’safety regime we’d have been slung out of Redgate for dangerously overcrowding the joint, and the support for the idea of the CRMC manifested by the huge turnout showed us we were on to a winner, even if it still made you wonder why nobody else had done this before!
However, better late than never, and having gone there with membership cards already printed up, Stella then took six quid off everyone there to join the fledgling organization, with Aermacchi rider John Hammond from Swindon first with his pound notes to become CRMC member No.1 out of the 300 or so who joined that day – Dick and I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to bag that for ourselves! The meeting was not only vital as an expression of support for our concept, but it also gave us lots of ideas from the floor about how we should go about organizing things, as well as offers of help which we gladly took up. Even so, I remember Stella and I driving home to London that night in a kind of stunned silence, as the enormity of what we’d taken on finally sunk in…
The first thing to do was to form a Committee to run the Club, which above all had to be a National one, not just composed of people in the southeast of England where Dick and I lived. It would take up too much space to mention here by name all those who played a fundamental role in moving the Club forward in those early days, but you know who you are, and you have my deepest thanks for supporting us with your time and hard work. I will mention one man, though, who’s sadly no longer with us, and that’s Allan Robinson, the voice of Classic racing and an early Committee member. Vale, Allan…
So now that we had a Club, we had to actually do something for the membership – and that meant organizing our own race meeting. Easier said than done – not only in terms of the organization of it, and the financial considerations, but simply getting a date at a recognized circuit was next to impossible – and don’t get me started on the bureaucracy we had to go through with the ACU back then, just because we were a so-called ‘Non-Territorial Club’, unaffiliated to a regional centre! I’d put my own racing career on standby to get the Club started, but first I had to pick up a pot for winning the 1979 Bemsee 350cc Single-Cylinder championship, and at the club’s dinner/dance in London not even a month after the Donington Park inaugural meeting, Stella and I found ourselves seated at the same table as Peter Stayner, the circuit manager of Snetterton. We didn’t let a chance like that go amiss, so by the end of the evening Peter had introduced us to his boss Chris Lowe, who ran MCD which in those days owned Brands, Snetterton and Oulton Park. The net result was that not only were we offered a one-day meeting of our own at Snetterton the following August, but I managed to persuade Chris to let us run invitational CRMC Parades at MCD’s British National meetings during the coming season, to let people see the kind of bikes in action that we catered for. He liked the idea of having a programme filler that contrasted with the modern MCN/Duckhams Superbikes, Forward Trust TT F1, Vladivar Vodka 250 etc. classes that were the main events at each meeting, while we helped condition the public’s mind to the kind of bike we catered for via live demos. We had some unlikely participants in these, and I remember one memorable wet Snetterton Race of Aces meeting when the irrepressible Graeme Crosby, who’d become a good friend of Stella’s and mine since his arrival from NZ, insisted on riding a borrowed 7R AJS complete with right-foot gearchange in the pouring rain, on which he lapped practically all the rest of us before pulling in early to get ready for the next race, the British TT F1 Championship round which he won going away on his 1000cc Suzuki XR69 - with left-foot shifter! What a hero…
We’d arranged with Chris Lowe to get a plug for the CRMC in each race programme, and this helped us build up awareness of the club, as well as its membership, which by the time we came to Snetterton for our first-ever race meeting on August 17th, 1980, numbered 540. We’d also established several CRMC regional centres, which in due course led to clubs like the Aintree and Auto 66 running races for Classic machines according to CRMC rules, and we’d had a surprising response from further afield, too, where it turned out there was a similar need for such a club catering for the lost generation of racing motorcycles.
We founded affiliate CRMC centres in Australia, Canada, New Zealand (where our liaison officer was none other than former world champion Hugh Anderson, soon to become one of the stars of Classic racing worldwide) and the USA – which thanks to CRMC member Will Harding in Florida, and his friends Bob and Marie Barker, was duly transformed into the basis of today’s AHRMA after they first ran a Classic race at Daytona to CRMC rules in 1981.
But then the crunch moment arrived at that August day at Snetterton in 1980, and thanks to the huge support we got from the membership, it really was the start of something good. The experienced officials of the Snetterton Combine each gave up a summer weekend to teach us how to run a race meeting, and without Dave Bailey, Colin and Marie Armes, Eddie Carter and Harry Clenshaw, it would never have happened. Val Ward had spread the word as our PRO/Public Relations Officer, helping get a good crowd through the gate that allowed us to turn a profit on what was frankly a risky undertaking for such a young club – though we were looked after from on high, too, with some glorious summer weather. Ron Lewis took on the unenviable task of being the first Eligibility Scrutineer, and while nobody was actually forbidden to start, Ron ran into a second exercise book in listing needed changes, and lots of people went home with lists of things to do to satisfy what from the beginning were quite high standards of authenticity, as expressed through the so-called Eligibility ‘Guidelines’ that Dick Linton and I had dreamed up over a bottle of vino in an Italian transport hotel restaurant, later enshrined as Regulations that winter. But the way the Club took off at Snetterton showed we had it right, confirmed by the full grid of 42 bikes for our first-ever race (for Period 1 pre-’63 Solos up to 500cc), plus four reserves who rather unchivalrously included Ann Murden on her Ducati, our first lady racer!
Legendary tuner Francis Beart was our Guest of Honour for our debut meeting, donating one of the historic trophies his Norton and Aermacchi machines had earned to the winner of the Classic Race of the Year, and he also wrote the foreword to the programme, noting that “the younger generation, too, will be able to examine these Post-War Classic Racing machines and see them running - many for the first time in several seasons.” That’s still a key aim of the Club, and as today, alongside the 12 races in our 15-event debut programme there were three parades – devoting track time to owners of unusual and interesting bikes who didn’t have a competition licence was unusual back then, but it encouraged them to bring them out on track, and many in due course took the inevitable next step, and went racing.
The Parades that day brought out some Historic riders, as well – men like the only recently retired Percy Tait on his works Triumph-3, Arthur Wheeler on his Argentine GP-winning Moto Guzzi single, road racing and scrambles great Ron Langston on his 500 Manx, TT-winner John Kidson on his unique Reynolds-framed NSU Rennmax 250 twin, and others. But we had more riders of note in the races, too, with 1978 British TT Formula 1 champion John Cowie on a Triumph triple leading an array of current stars whose support for what we were trying to do – provide a place to race bikes that were also ‘interesting’, rather than just past their best – gave us heart. Remember that Percy’s triple had been racing in the Transatlantic Match Races just eight years earlier, since when its glorious howl had abruptly disappeared from the race tracks.
Is it worth starting a club to cater for a 2002 Ducati 996 or Aprilia RSV Mille today, as opposed to a Honda Fireblade or Yamaha R1? Discuss…! But the Club’s creation brought so many hidden jewels out into the sunlight, epitomized by our first Spanish member, Joaquin Folch, who was then working as a trainee banker in London and came to our inaugural Snetterton meeting with his wife Virginia. Seeking me out, he wondered if the three John Player Nortons he had in his garage, a 1972 pannier-tank model and two 1974 spaceframes he’d acquired from the Spanish importer when Norton went under, were too modern for the CRMC to cater for. I think we all know what I told him…
That Snetterton day’s race programme established a form of two-wheeled cuisine we’re still cooking today, 30 years on. Thanks to its active and supportive current membership headed by the Committee, the Club continues to flourish, and I sincerely thank everyone who’s played a role, however minor, in making a success out of the idea that Stella and I, Dick Linton, and our small band of helpers, managed to turn into reality three decades ago. And now, in some ways best of all, we’re friends with the Vintage club again – two clubs with a common purpose, the preservation AND USE of historic motorcycles, but of different era.
By Alan Cathcart, 2010