A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


The Whizz Kids!

Sometime ago this article came into my hands and at the time I didn’t think too much about it apart from the fact that the younger lads, interested in motorcycle racing might now get a chance to train and develop skills that previous generations had to wait for or, give a different birth date, to ride under age. 

It is also interesting to note that if the 50cc bug, which began in 1953,  had not swelled the ranks of people wanting to develop and promote the Road Racing part of motorcycling, within small pocket budgets, the basic article written by Malcolm Gough (MCM 1982) might not have been possible. I have used the article as a basis and added information and photographs to it that were not available at the time.

“MARCH 16, 1981 will probably go down as an important day in the history of motorcycle racing in Britain”.

For that was when a small, enthusiastic bunch of 15 year-olds lined up on the grid at Elvington race circuit, in Yorkshire, for the start of the country’s first ever junior road race. The first suggestions to run a series of races exclusively for 15 year olds came from Mike Cook of the 50cc Road Racing Association and Peter Hillaby of the Auto 66 Club, which has long supported senior 50cc racing.

Eight two-race junior events were organised for 1981 and held at the same meetings as the seniors. The juniors are restricted to 50cc machines fitted with a carburettor no bigger than 22mm. That size was chosen to restrict the machine to an estimated top speed of 65mph - something the ACU’s insurers had called for.

You can race after your 15th birthday and if you become 16 during the season, you can either move up to senior racing or complete that season in the juniors. You can’t d both at the same time. Junior road racing might only be one season old but it has already thrown up some potential “winners”.

Steve Patrickson of Shipley, rode in 20 junior races altogether (eight of them counting towards the UK championship) and he won the lot. He was 16 in the August. He has always had an interest in the sport and went to race meetings for about three years with his dad, Ian, who raced a TZ350. Ian now tunes his bike. Steve Patrickson - A Winner in the Making

Steve started the season racing a Fantic, powered by a near road-going 50cc Minarelli engine. He already had the championship in the bag when he (or should that read his dad paid out £300 for a faster Fantic engine) which was transplanted into the bike. Steve gave another hint of his promise when he was given permission to ride in his first senior 50cc race at a meeting at Three Sisters. 

The officials decided to start him at the back of the grid and before falling off on the last lap, he had ridden his way to second position and broke the lap record in the process. “I want to have a go at the senior 50cc championship next season and then try for the European championship, unless anything else comes up,” says Steve who is still at school. 

Ron Gardner of the Gardner 'Flat Slide' carburettor fame has offered to be his manager and organiser for next season. Mike Cook has also offered help. “He’s got every possibility of being a champion,” says Mike. “He rides hard and neat. He’s certainly worth sponsoring.

He has bought my water-cooled Kreidler and I have said to his father that I will show him the way round, what to do and what not to do” Praise indeed. Mike should know what he’s talking about. He won the senior 50cc championship in 1980 and would have retained it if he hadn’t decided to follow the European scene.

In 1983 Steve achieved the PINHARD PRIZE

'The Pinhard Prize is awarded annually to the young motorcyclist (under 21 years) from an ACU affiliated club, who is adjudged to have made the most meritorious achievement in motorcycle sport in the preceding year. This can be from any discipline and can include organisational prowess.'  This is a 3 gallon cup and purely for interest to fill this and drink the health of the winner would require 17.7 bottles of Champagne. This prize is still being awarded to achievers of merit. Editor. 

He also achieved Six Lap Records: Aintree, Brands Hatch (Indy), Cadwell Park (Short), Cadwell Park (Full), Elvington, Silverstone.  106 Race Wins From 144 Starts

In the junior championship, it was a close run thing for second place overall between Tim Bradley of York and John Dixon from Doncaster. It all depended on the final round at Cadwell Park on October 18th. It was a real nail-biter, with Tim and John seemingly locked together for much of the race. 

All eyes were on the finish line as Tim surged home in third spot, ahead of John, to clinch runner’s-up position. Tim was the second youngest to hold an ACU licence. He was 16 in December. He rode a Yamaha FS1E Fizzy for all but the last two races, when he used a Fantic, which he bought from Steve Patrickson for £425 (the engine was fitted to a new frame).

If success was dependent on the amount of enthusiasm and help shown by parents, Tim would he world champion by now. They have rallied round and helped him in every way they could. It’s been fairly costly as well. The fizzy cost about £165, about £300 to convert to road race trim plus about £200 for Tim’s gear. 

“It can be expensive,” said 'Brad' his father, “but he likes it, we like it and it’s good.” Tim has also had a little help from a friend in the plant hire business (hence the ‘JCB livery’ of his bike) and the local blacksmith. He will be hoping to attract more sponsorship next season when he hopes to ride 125s or 250s.

John Dixon, the rider just pipped for second spot in the championship, rode an air-cooled Kreidler for much of the season. It cost him £250. Unfortunately, it nipped up in a race at Darley Moor and he subsequently hit trouble finding a new piston. For the last couple of meetings, he rather surprised onlookers by turning out with a seven-speed water-cooled Garelli, one of two similar machines loaned to him by Brads Motorcycles (Brads CR shop now). Next season, water-cooled machines of any description won’t be allowed in junior races. Getting to the meetings was the most expensive part of the sport for John and his family.

“I used second-hand leathers and my brother’s helmet. It cost £4 to take part in each meeting, except for Cadwell which was £8 plus a fee to join the club,” he said. John, l6 this month (January), intends to stay with 50cc racing. Junior racing, he says, has helped him approach the seniors with some confidence.

Tony Croft of Eccles near Maidstone didn’t have his 15th birthday until September 21, so he only qualified for the last round at Cadwell. His dad said: “We only wanted to test the bike and see how Tony got on". In the first race he was going well before he burnt a plug out, and in the second race he came third. That was a real bonus. Picture: Tony Croft only qualified for the last round at Cadwell.  Picture below: Tony Croft in action at Cadwell Park.

Tony has been grass tracking since he was nine and that gave him his competitiveness. says his dad. To give him some track sense, Tony attended Chas Mortimer’s racing school once a month for seven months. “Next season will show whether the training was worthwhile,” says Dad. Compared with the £800 his dad was prepared to fork out for a second-hand grass tracker for Tony, the £325 a second-hand Minarelli cost him seems quite cheap.

Fourth placed in the junior championship was Robert Taylor from Saxilby in Lincs. Sixteen in April, Robert impressed many people with his performance at Cadwell Park, where in the first race he scored a creditable second place to Steve Patrickson, sharing the fastest lap of 1 minute 37 seconds at an average speed of 55.67mph. Not bad for a machine which is supposedly restricted to 65mph! And even more remarkable when you realise that Robert’s bike is only a Yamaha fizzy without a fairing. Next year, Robert has to concentrate on school exams so there will be no racing.

Kevin Burton was one of the school boys at the 1981 beginning of the Juniors 50cc Racing period and has maintained his interest and love for the Wasps up to now. The picture on the right is of Kevin in 1981. He is still riding competitively in 2021 and is a force to be reckoned with along with his 'Classic' class mount. The following is part of an ACU overview on the 50cc ACU class of three years ago prior to the final meeting: The East Midland Racing Association's final Heads to Mallory Park, Thursday September 20, 2018.   The race meeting is the final round of the ACU 50cc championship, and the penultimate round of the Classic and Modern 50 championships. Kevin Burton has already tied up the ACU championship, but second place is currently a tie between Paul Whiting and James Widdowson with Michael Houghton a close fourth. In the Classic Championship Kevin Burton has taken his Minarelli to victory in eight out of the ten races and so far holds a 44 point lead over James Widdowson (Derbi), but as there are still four races to run then James can still catch up. Michael Houghton has won every race in the air-cooled class while the 'modern' i.e. post-1983 class has been dominated by Shane Norval on his RSK. The speed of these tiny bikes is quite remarkable, especially given that most of them are well over thirty years old, and last year we were seeing race averages of over 70mph.

David Boothroyd, a full-time youth worker with Scarborough Youth Club, is always on the lookout for new activities and when he heard about junior road racing he jumped at the chance. The club raced four bikes in 1981, David’s own Minarelli which he rides in senior events, a Yamaha fizzy, a fizzy-engined special with a long, low frame and a single-shock suspension system using a shocker from a Honda 90, and a bike they call the 'Dawtune' fizzy after the name of a local, helpful dealer) which is a standard fizzy cut in half. Picture: Scarborough Youth Club's 'Radicule' 50 with a Home Made Frame

Like any youth leader worth his salt, David has scrounged, begged and grovelled for the bits he needed to keep his lads riding and he says he is only too willing to tell other clubs what they did and how to make road-going fifties go faster. “It’s been great for the lads,” says David. “You meet the nicest bunch of people you could ever wish to meet in 50cc racing. Anyone taking up the sport will never be hard up for a friend.” Picture: Steve Patrickson with some school friends.

He said he would prefer to see junior road racing run in two classes: pukka racers and production bikes, so that lads who can’t afford the out-and out racers have a chance of winning something and don’t get disappointed. He’ll be pleased to know that the organisers are already thinking along these lines.

All the lads taking part in junior racing are members of the 50cc Road Racing Association whose annual membership costs £7.50. For that you get a regular monthly newsletter among other things. There were only about a dozen ACU licence holders in the first year of the sport, but who knows how quickly it might grow, given the right presentation and Organisation. Meanwhile, here are some names to look out for in the future: Steve Patrickson, Tim Bradley, John Dixon, Robert Taylor, Chris Hardman, Kevin Burton, Tony Croft, Neil Smith, Karl Fox, Lloyd Glue, Dereck Winpenny, Ian Warrender, John Lord, Guy Scott and M Dawson. Picture: Neil Smith in action.

John Lord - 15, a name to look out for

Steve Patrickson 8th 2001 MRO GP125cc National Championship

Steve Patrickson 8th 2001 MRO GP125cc National Championship

Steve in the Red and Green 1994 1st 125cc SUPERCUP BRITISH CHAMPION

Neil Smith 22 (later in life) and Bruce Woodley TZ350 Yamahas

Mallory Park Race of the Year  2013- Kevin Burton Photo- Neil Papworth

Steve Patrickson

Championship Racing History 1981 1st JUNIOR 50cc BRITISH CHAMPION

1st  Steve Patrickson     80 points
2nd  Tim Bradley            51 points
3rd  John Dixon               49 points
4th  Robert Taylor           38 points
5th  Chris Hardman        34 points
1st: 50cc Auto 66 Club Champion

 Youngest Ever British Race Winner at 14 years old.

 Seven Lap Records: Aintree, Cadwell Park, Carnaby, Darley Moor, Elvington, Snetterton, Three Sisters.

Click on Steve's name above to continue reading his racing history.

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