Stories You’ll Find in The Flying Penguin

No Easy Option
Here’s the situation. I am almost, but not quite, unconscious with the Honda lying across me. The water is choking me because, with the bike on top of me, I can’t get my head clear of the stream bed. It’s now snowing and I am shivering very severely and in a lot of pain. I actually just want to relax, shut my eyes and give up. That’s the easy option – but not one which I can take. I have to survive.


Three Hours Cooking – and No Still No Fringe Benefits
I had one girlfriend who became increasingly ambitious for my cooking and she would phone me every Thursday, with her order for Friday evening’s dinner. She became ever more gastronomically demanding so I had to toil like a Master Chef contestant to get everything ready for eight o’clock when she arrived. She was a very lively girl, but there were no fringe benefits for me after dinner – I was too exhausted after cooking for three hours!


A Perfect Day
After six very tough laps, I did win and on our way home, Carol put the seat down in my car, cradled the little plastic cup on her lap and fell asleep. I drove home in silence, continually sneaking glances across to check that she was still there – frightened that she would evaporate like some lovely dream as the morning sun streams through the window, because truly I had never been so happy in my life. I wanted nothing and needed nothing except to see Carol sleeping next to me, with a £4.99 trophy in her hands.


Looking Down the Wrong End of a Colt .45
MG picked up the pistol, cocked it and I saw the hammer come back into the firing position. I have a very, very clear understanding of weapons and of how dangerous they are: the Colt was now ready to do nasty things. It’s not like the films in real life. No-one ever gets slightly wounded and cries “Ouch” from a close range pistol strike. In the case of a Colt .45, the best which could happen was that someone was going to lose a limb – and that would be the optimum outcome: much worse was likely! Everything went very quiet as MG picked up the Colt and delivered his next line: “You know Frank, a stranger could die out here and it would be 50 years before anyone would find the body…”


The Many Faces of America
So this was truly America. The land of plenty; of supremely skilled business people; of immense excess walking hand in hand with abject poverty; of gentle – almost touchingly naïve – kindness alongside a violent gun culture. We had not come to America to judge but only to observe, and try to understand this wonderful country of immense contradictions.


Just Like a World Champion
Fifteen seconds later, I was at the top of the giant hill. I turned the bike at 90 degrees to the hill and waved to the crowd like some World Champion on the top step of a Grand Prix podium. Clubman racers really are easily pleased! The tiny figures waved back and I soaked up the ecstasy of success. Motorcycle racing is a hard, dangerous pastime even for muppets like me but at moments like this it was worth every penny I had spent, and every minute I had been in hospitals up and down the country.


My Baby’s Got a Pointy Head
All new babies are stunningly ugly. They don’t look much like real humans at all and have absolutely nothing to commend them. Elizabeth actually wasn’t too bad, except that she had a very pointy head. I mentioned this to the mid-wife who said that I should be grateful that everything else seemed to be okay and I should stop complaining. It was fair comment. All the key bits were there – plus a bonus.


A VIP Hotel – For a Race Bike
The hotel manager was a bike fan and when he saw the Suzuki in the trailer, and I explained that it had won a TT, he virtually dropped on his knees in worship. Clearly, a motorcycle of this legendary status was far too important to be left outside all night so, as all true race acolytes would do, he opened up one of his spare rooms so that the Suzuki could have a peaceful sleep in air-conditioned comfort. Thank goodness it was well-behaved and didn’t hit the mini bar during its stay!


The Only Way to Fly
I can’t really provide an in depth appraisal of business jets, only ever having flown in two, but if you do happen to win the rollover lottery, I would highly recommend even a second-hand Falcon because it is a seriously lovely way to travel. Equip it with a couple of delightfully attentive cabin staff – “Would Sir care for champagne and canapes now or a little later?” – and you could get me interested in flying again. For sure this beats “Grottair”, with your knees around your ears in some new Yoga position, every time.


High Wire Act
Now, I wanted to walk across the high wire completely solo and with no safety net of any kind. I wanted the chasm to be lethally deep if I fell into it, and I needed the raging waters to be full of crocodiles and sharks and fire breathing dragons (it was a saltwater river because I do like my fantasies to be technically accurate) and for my broken body to be torn apart and never seen again.


Must Try Harder
I hope that the passenger was suitably embarrassed at berating his dead driver but, from what I know of sidecar crews, he probably wasn’t. Death isn’t considered to be a valid reason for not finishing a race in the sidecar world!


No Sleep Tonight
I didn’t sleep much at all during the night before the first Thundersprint and so the 4am start was more of a relief than an imposition. As I drove east into the pale lilac and grey tinted, pre-dawn light I had the same metallic taste in my mouth that was always a certain indicator that I was ready for battle. The flag had dropped. The bulls***t had stopped and now all that remained was to see whether I would be an event organiser the following year – or a “Meeter and Greeter” at a well-known chain of DIY stores!


I Need the Toilet – Now!
Jim had been knee deep in fans all day and by 5.45 was pretty desperate to visit the Gent’s toilets. I intercepted him by the door and, 60 seconds later whilst he desperately hopped from one foot to the other, we reached an agreement for Jim Redman MBE, six times Champion of the World, to ride at our sprint. I went back to Carol dizzy with excitement. Now we had an “A” list star, whose presence would lend the Thundersprint real status.


Learning the Facts of Life
From the first Thundersprint, star riders had to be seen for what they are: an expensive marketing tool. It didn’t matter who they were, what they had achieved in the past or their apparent status. We were paying them – so they either did a good job for us or didn’t come because, for 100% certain, I was not going to stump up a lot of money for someone to cause me problems.


Gods Have a Lot of Common Sense
No God, of any shape kind or form wants to see our fellow human beings maimed and killed in his or her name. Gods have more sense, and greater vision, than to ask for such petty, narrow minded acts of cruelty and violence – or worse still demand them. To be a God, you would have to do better than this so I wish that no religious group would inflict such suffering on the world and then claim their particular deity had told them that this was the right thing to do – because it isn’t.


Killing the Dream
Stephen left the room for some reason and the Senior Civil Servant looked at me through ruthless eyes and said: “I don’t give a f**k what the Minister thinks or says. There’ll only be racing on public roads in England over my dead body – so forget it. And I’ll be here long after he’s gone.”


Walking the Walk
I walked through a gap in the fencing and stood, completely alone, on the track. No-one had yet ridden a race bike on it. It’s fine writing an event plan and then selling an idea but, in the early dawn light, I felt very lonely and vulnerable – but not frightened. If I was right, if my dreams, ideas and doodles were worth anything then the event would be a success. If I was wrong then I would be found out. There would no committee to blame – no system to hide behind, no wall of anonymity. Vale Royal had backed my ideas. Carol and Colin had put them into action and now, all that remained was the test.


A Grand Prix in a Car Park
I loved the gladiatorial atmosphere of the Thundersprint – the spectators pressed up against the safety fence so near that you could see the colour of their eyes. The scent of the race fuel and the aroma of burnt castor oil was nectar to me. The Thundersprint was never a real Grand Prix but it was a great experience.


Everyone Loved the Thundersprint
For many of the Cavalcaders, as well as the racers, the Thundersprint was the highlight of the year – and I don’t say this lightly. For example – and I promise you that all these examples are completely true – we had wives who induced births to get the baby out on time for the Thundersprint. There were plenty of examples of divorces being pushed through just to get the job out of the way before the Thundersprint and a few cases of break ups being delayed, and then abandoned, because the two battling lovers had such a good time at the event. Relatives were buried with haste and holidays booked to avoid the Thundersprint weekend. Marriage proposals were made and retirements celebrated. There was even a foal named Thunder because it was born on the morning of the event. This was particularly lovely for us.


Giacomo Agostini Rides at the Thundersprint
The following weekend at Spa, we stood in the long line of fans waiting to see Giacomo and eventually we were ushered into the inner sanctum for a private meeting with the great man. Carol got a hug and a big smile: I didn’t. The good news was that Giacomo was agreeable to the idea. Now, there was only the money to discuss. We did our “Good Cop – Bad Cop” show and Carol negotiated a fee which was both impressively high – and incredibly good value. Wow and then a lot more wows! We had Ago as our star rider.


The Best Spitfire Display in the World
I did my homework and checked where the sun would be at 13.25 and then drew a reverse course away from this, so that the Spit would fly away from the track. That was the first part of the finale. Now I needed the pilot to waggle the Spit’s wings in salute to the crowd, so that the sun would catch on the wing tips. That was the second part. Finally, I needed the aircraft to climb away from the crowd so that the Rolls Royce engine was under load and the roar of the supercharged, 12 cylinder engine ricocheted off the spectator banking like cannon fire, whilst the aircraft was silhouetted against the sky. At its best, when we had perfect weather at the Thundersprint, there was no better finale to an aircraft display anywhere in the world – and that’s the objective truth.


How Many People Came to the Thundersprint?
The expert assessment was 145,000 spectators and I don’t think that this was very far out. The Cavalcade route was just under two and a half miles in length and it was lined with spectators, in some parts five deep. This meant that we had five miles of spectators – plus those who preferred to stay in the town centre because watching the Cavalcade meant getting next to the route early for a good view – a bit like seeing a Royal visit but with race bikes instead of the Queen in a horse and cart!


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