PAUL SMART: MOTORCYCLE RACING'S "MR NICE GUY"


In 1971, Paul Smart led the British team to victory in the first Transatlantic Trophy Series


When talking about competitive activities, whether in business or sport, there is a school of thought that claims you can’t be both a winner and a nice guy. Not true! And as far as motorcycle racing is concerned, you only have to mention the name of Paul Smart to prove that point.

Which is why it is so tragic and ironic (writes Bruce Cox) that I am mentioning his name today because he died on October 27th while riding his motorcycle not far from his home in Kent - the county where he was born in 1943 and which was always home to him, even when he was travelling the world as one of motorcycle racing’s true international superstars. Initial reports indicated a collision with a car for which Paul was not to blame,.


A testament to Paul’s personality is the fact that he remained the same down-to-earth ‘nice guy’ even after he bookended his 1972 season by winning the two richest motorcycle races in the world at that time. The winner’s share of the combined prize funds for the Imola 200 in Italy and the Champion Spark Plug 250 at Ontario Motor Speedway, California totalled US$25,000 back then. Which is the equivalent of US$165,000 today – around 125,000 pounds back home in the UK! Surely his rivals would have liked to have had those big paydays, but I would wager that not a single one of them personally resented Paul for banking the cash. He remained one of the most popular men in the paddock until his retirement in 1977 after suffering a succession of injuries over the previous two seasons. His memory will be as a rider who was well respected on the track by his rivals and revered by the legions who admired his skills from the other side of the spectator fencing.

Although universally known as ‘Smartie’ by friends, rivals and fans alike, it was almost inevitable that he would also be nicknamed ‘Small Part’ by his mates! The part he played in motorcycle racing, however, was a big one indeed. He rode for four different factory teams, Triumph, Kawasaki, Ducati and Suzuki and won major races for each of them as he contested Formula 750 races (the fastest class in motorcycle racing back then) in parallel careers on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1972 to 1974 seasons,


Paul’s racing career started in the mid-1960s and followed the same early path as young British aspiring racers often did back then, riding lightweight 125 and 250cc machines in club races with ambitions of moving on to bigger bikes and bigger things.

Given his teenage years of fast rides to Johnsons, it was only natural that his racing started at nearby Brands Hatch. Early on he decided to sign up for a day at the circuit’s racing school to see if a few sessions on one of its 250cc Greeves Silverstone two-strokes. would improve his lap times. It obviously did, because the school principal Charles Mortimer Sr. (who had been a successful racer of both cars and motorcycles in the Brooklands days) recognized Paul’s potential and provided one of the school bikes for Paul to contest the Motor Cycle News ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ meeting at Mallory Park in 1966. He duly won the 250 race at that event and began to fulfil the prophecy that its title implied.


One thing that did result in was a job at the school, helping maintain its fleet of bikes as well as acting as one of the riding instructors. Working and riding alongside Paul was another young racer aspiring to stardom, was the son of the school ‘headmaster’ Charles Mortimer Jr. The pair both achieved their ambitions. Chas (as he is now universally known by fellow racers, friends and fans) went on to win eight Isle of Man TT races in classes ranging from the 250cc Production through 125, 250 and 350cc categories. He also has the remarkable distinction of being the only rider to have won races in the 125, 250, 350 and 500cc Grand Prix classes as well as in Formula 750. And though they each pursued their respective careers, occasionally as rivals, he and Paul became friends for life from those early days working together at the Brands Hatch school.


From Paul’s viewpoint, the 1966 ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ win led almost immediately to the next step, which was to race on the fabled Isle of Man Mountain Course. Little more than two months after his Mallory Park success Paul headed across the Irish Sea armed with one of the school’s Greeves to contest the 250cc Manx Grand Prix. To race on the Island was almost a rite of passage for young British riders in those days but the MGP was no dream debut for Paul as the Greeves failed to finish.


Nine months later, however, Paul would be back on the IOM to race in the 1967 750cc Production TT and the result would be very different. His talents had been recognized by Paul Dunstall, the well-known manufacturer of special high-performance components for Norton twins and he was signed to race a Dunstall-equipped Norton Dominator. It was one of the prime rides for the class and Paul did it justice by finishing second to the factory team Triumph Bonneville ridden by Grand Prix star John Hartle and doing so at a 94.63mph average speed.

Two years later, Paul was back for another crack at Production TT victory, having disappointedly retired his 750 BSA with mechanical problems in 1968, For 1969, he was again Norton mounted, this time on one of the new Norton Commando production racers.

Unfortunately for Paul and Norton, that was the year that Triumph Bonneville rider Malcolm Uphill posted the first 100mph lap of the IOM Mountain Course by a Production class machine, as well as averaging 99.99mph for the race.


Lost in all of the admittedly deserved publicity for Uphill’s feat, however, was the fact that Paul had been oh-so-close to the Triumph rider, finishing in second place at 99.37mph and only a fine hairsbreadth away from a 100mph lap of his own. Nevertheless, Paul’s effort had not gone unnoticed by the Triumph factory and its race team management was quick to get his name on a contract to race one of their new 750cc Trident triples for 1970.His season did not, in fact, get off to a good start. In the Production TT he rode one of three Tridents prepared by the experimental department at Triumph but had to retire on the second lap due to a frustratedly minor reason – merely a faulty inner tube valve on the front wheel. But at least Paul had underlined his talents and the bike’s potential by recording a speed of 99.30mph from a standing start on his opening lap. It was the fastest lap of the race so a 100mph flying start lap for the new triple should have been just a formality. As it was, the victory again went to Malcolm Uphill. But it was at a 97,30mph average – more than 2mph slower than his 1969 average with the Bonneville twin. There was at least some consolation for Paul later in the 1970 TT period, however, when he took his third TT podium place by bringing his Yamaha home in third place in the 350cc Junior race behind Giacomo Agostini’s MV Agusta and Alan Barnett’s Aermacchi. And who was fourth in that race? None other than Malcolm Uphill…


Back on the Trident two months after the disappointment of the Production TT, Paul found himself involved in a whole different form of motorcycle racing. Triumph had nominated he and Tom Dickie to ride the triple in the world’s most famous endurance race - the 24 Hour Bol d'Or (translation: the Bowl of Gold). It was on August 8th, 1970 that ‘Le Bol’ took place at its traditional home of the old banked track at Montlhery near Paris for the final time before moving on to newer circuits at Le Mans and Paul Ricard. After 24 hours and 1838 miles, Paul Smart and Tom Dickie ran out the winners at an average speed of just over 70mph. They had covered 469 laps, nine ahead of their nearest rivals, Peter Darvill and Olivier Chevalier on a four-cylinder Honda 750. In doing so the Trident triple averaged 20mpg and went through four rear drive chains


It was at this point in his career that Paul widened his racing horizons still further. He had won the world’s most famous endurance race, was doing well on both the British short circuits and on the Isle of Man, albeit frustrated at being so close to a TT victory but never quite making the top step of that famous podium. Now, with ten World Championship points to his credit from his TT result, it was time to go Grand Prix racing. Armed with a pair of Yamahas (250 and 350 twins) Paul contested the 250cc, 350cc categories over the 1970 and 1971 seasons and, although a win eluded him, took a total of seven podium placings.

In 1970 he finished second in both the 250cc Finnish and Ulster Grands Prix. In 1971, he finished second in both the 250cc and 350cc races at the Swedish Grand Prix, whilst finishing second and third respectively in the 350cc class in West Germany and East Germany. His 350cc placings were enough to put him fifth in the World Championship standings.


It was during the 1971 season, however, that the direction of Paul’s racing and personal life changed dramatically, Most important of all, he married Barry Sheene’s sister, Maggie, and they remained together until his death fifty years later. Back at the end of 1971, being a married man quite probably changed Paul’s feelings about trekking around Europe as a privateer rider for relatively poor remuneration.


Besides that, he had been to America to contest the Daytona 200 for Triumph and got a glimpse of what might be on offer on the other side of the Atlantic. He had impressed everyone there at the Florida track by being the fastest qualifier at a 105.80mph average speed around the awesome 3.81 mile track that was essentially a speedbowl which combined two massive and steep bankings with five corners through a flat and featureless infield.

Paul had covered 160 miles of the 200 Mile race before his engine blew. That represented 42 laps of the 53 needed but there was still some financial reward for him. The rider who led each lap got a payout for doing so – and Paul had led on many of the 42 he completed. And the cold, hard financial facts were not lost on him. When his lap money and fast qualifier cash prize he had earned more at Daytona in March – a race he didn’t even finish – than he had for all four of his Grand Prix podium placings later that season!


He had also got on well with the American BSA Triumph riders at the first Anglo American Match Races (aka the TransAtlantic Trophy series) that had taken place soon after that 1971 Daytona 200. Paul and Ray Pickrell had shared individual rider honours in the match race series with three victories each from the six races at Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and Oulton Park, with Paul missing out on the top spot by falling at the Mallory hairpin. Ray won both races at Brands Hatch and at Mallory, where Paul fell. Then Paul came back to win the second race at Mallory and both of the final ones at Oulton Park.


The big 750cc triples from BSA and Triumph were very much the big attraction in the UK in that 1971 season and riders like Paul and Ray, Percy Tait, John Cooper and Tony Jefferies – and even Mike Hailwood - were earning decent money to ride them on a race-by-race basis.

But with the BSA budget spread amongst so many riders. and rumours already circulating about cutbacks for 1972, the prospect of going it alone and maintaining his own pair of Yamahas while racing as a privateer on the grinding GP trail was looking like perhaps the only option for Paul.


One influential man in American racing, however, remembered Paul’s pace at Daytona. Bob Hansen had run successful racing efforts for both the Matchless and Honda factories in the past and now had a contract in his pocket to run the US Kawasaki race team and the budget to do it properly. He felt that Paul would be just the wild card he needed to join with French-Canadian and American stars, Yvon Duhamel and Gary Nixon in a three-man Kawasaki superteam. So he made an offer that would financially stabilize Paul’s 1972 season and still allow him to return to Europe should any worthwhile but non-conflicting opportunities arise.

The answer was not long in coming. Paul and Maggie packed their bags and headed west. A whole new chapter in their life was about to begin.

Next Instalment: Part Two, Racing with Kawasaki, Ducati and Suzuki.