Graham Young – On for young and old

Rider Profile

OBA Issue 38
Battling with Doug Robson at The Sydney Royale.

When Speedway’s youngest sidecar sensation Graham Young teamed up with veteran Ray Murray it was on for young and old.

It wasn’t that he was past it, but for a bloke who scratched a living in Sydney’s notorious smash repair game Ray Murray was rather coy about his age. However, when he teamed up with 20-year-old Graham Young in 1964, Ray was the most experienced swinger in Australia with more years on the track than Graham had had on earth.

Not that Graham hadn’t already packed a lot into his young life, particularly over his past few years. Together with mate Bob Murley, Graham purchased a well used Ariel Red Hunter short circuit outfit, replaced the Ariel 350 with a 650 BSA Golden Flash twin and went racing; first at Vineyard (near Windsor) then Muswellbrook, Kembla Grange and Boxers Creek at Goulburn. Next came a Triumph 650 powered road racing outfit which took the pair to success at Oran Park and the holy grail of Mount Panorama where, at 19 years of age, Graham piloted his home built machine to second place in the 1964 Unlimited Sidecar TT, bracketed by a duo of all powerful Vincent HRDs.

Road racing was faster but it was the close racing of speedway that provided the stimulation that Graham was seeking – the knee to shoulders action that drew large numbers of fans to the regular weekend meets at Windsor, Westmead and, during the summer months, the hallowed RAS Showground – the Speedway Royale.

For all those young bloods not fighting girdles at the local Skyline Drive-In, the Royale was where the action was. Every Saturday night from sundown until the pubs closed it was non stop excitement on the starkly lit bowl of dirt in the otherwise deserted Sydney Showgrounds. Enthusiastic crowds packed the stands whilst kids climbed the fence into the bullpen to be clobbered with clods of wet dirt as the racers slid past only metres away.

The Vincent HRD was the powerplant of choice for any serious sidecar contender but all Graham could manage was a borrowed chassis into which the ‘Bathurst’ Triumph 650 was quickly transplanted to get him started on the track. However by late 1964 Graham found the wherewithal to purchase a Vincent powered outfit complete with a small supply of parts. “The Vincent was a great motor”, recalls Graham “but it required an unbelievable amount of maintenance to be competitive and availability of spares was always a problem.”

The limits of the big beast were quickly determined when Graham and swinger Garry Trelour went arse up at Windsor sending Graham on his first trip to hospital; but not before setting fastest time of day – and meeting Ray Murray. Graham and Ray proved a natural combo and, despite the constant maintenance on the Vincent they were the dominant force in Sidecars during the halcyon years between 1965 and 1970 when capacity crowds of 35,000 packed the Royale. “We rode there one night as support for the Australia versus Great Britain (solo) Test. And the sidecars were the last event on the program. Well bugger me if the crowds didn’t just jump over the fence like they did at the football. They didn’t realise we could only turn one way and didn’t have brakes. I didn’t have much choice but to skittle one bloke”, laughs Graham.

Three NSW Titles came their way culminating in the 1969/70 Australian Championship at the Sydney Royale. Whilst most of their racing and success was on the Sydney scene, they travelled to circuits far and wide including Kembla Grange, bumpy Claremont in Perth, the tricky ‘D’ shaped Jerilderie track at Newcastle and the Exhibition track in Brisbane. “The atmosphere at the Ekka in Brisbane was bloody near as good as the Royale. I can remember one night they shut the gates and wouldn’t let any more in. The track itself was perfect except that sprintcars would be run between sidecar events leaving giant furrows in the surface. A bike would bottom out and slide on the frame and crankcase or the wheels would be caught in the ruts. It was bloody dangerous. You could go out and do 61 seconds in a heat. A couple of events later you’d be barely hanging on to do a 69 second lap.” At the conclusion of their highly successful Australian season the pair headed to New Zealand to uphold Australian honour at Templeton Speedway and Western Springs in Auckland but despite their efforts could only manage a draw according to newspaper reports, viz;

Sidecar champions Graham Young and Ray Murray showed their class with a clean sweep of all the international scratch race events. In the final race Young and Murray set a new lap record and broke the race record they had set only a week before by 3.7 seconds. New Zealand filled the two minor placings allowing the match to be drawn.

There are some that say that Graham should never have sold the Vincent to pursue other great notions such as a stint in the 1970 winter season at Liverpool in Ken Townsend’s midget for the Ray Revell equipe. But after a couple of outings at the Royale Graham succumbed to his first lust. “Our Championship in 1969 was certainly the highlight and was followed by some dud years in the early seventies. But the Vincent wasn’t my best bike.” Though we won the most races on it, so I can’t say it wasn’t the most successful. I really liked the 880 JAP but I near killed myself on it and I liked the Kawasaki H2s, they were a bit of a challenge. Not enough torque for the dirt but get one out in front and no one could get near you. I took 5 seconds off the record held by a Vincent at the Ekka on a H2. The JAP and the Kwakka were my two favourite bikes. The thing is everyone had a Vincent when we did; except Doug Tyerman on his Triumph. He would have got a real buzz when he won a scratch race and blew all the Vincents off. He was cock of the walk. I felt the same when we got the 880 up with the frame I built.”

OBA Issue 38
Graham and Ray in the Liverpool infield, 1968.

Back in the mid sixties, in Graham’s eyes the equation was simple; more cylinders would provide higher revs and higher revs would produce more power. So when the all aluminium 875cc overhead cam Hillman Imp engine was introduced – itself an adaptation of a Coventry Climax engine which had some success on the British road racing scene – it sparked Graham’s interest “I started to build a rig around the Imp motor when there were no multi cylindered outfits about, but by the time I got it sorted Honda had put the CB750 into production with 70bhp on tap.”

Having sold the Vincent to Melbourne’s John Heavyside, Graham persevered with the combination of the Imp engine coupled to a BMW gearbox and diff with a Vauxhall clutch integrated into a handcrafted chassis. The 1970/71 season was already underway and whilst the new outfit showed promise – 120bhp at 10000rpm – progress was slow. “It was a monster, but a good looking monster”, says Graham “Though we could never seem to get the cooling sorted.” Doug Tyerman offered up a Trumpy for Graham as a ‘fill in’ but come the Australian Championships Graham and Ray were back aboard a Vincent; said to be the hoodoo bike on which Ted Preston had been killed back in 1966 and John Dunne only the previous year. In Graham and Ray’s hands the unit was good for second in the Aussie titles behind Garry Innes and Russell Myers.

Work continued on Graham’s pet project whilst he searched for alternate means of finding the racer’s edge. An experiment with a Honda Four ended in engine bits scattered in the four winds before the acquisition of a McGee fuel injected 880 V-Twin JAP powered outfit originally built by Charlie Hopkin for Jim Davies. “It was a good thing and we won the NSW Championship in 1972. Then I went arse over head and missed the best part of the season. Sold the bike. Went broke. All the usual.” Graham bounced back but on yet another tangent. This time a pair of Norton Twins – a 750 supercharged unit and an 850 fuel injected unit – hoping for the revs of the Triumph and the torque of the Vincent, they had mixed success with the Nortons but Ray Murray broke a couple of vertebrae in his neck which curtailed activities for the season.

By the mid seventies the 3 cylinder Kawasaki H2 had become the powerplant of choice, then came the Honda four which Graham muscled into another pair of outfits, selling one and crashing the other at Avalon in the 1981 Australian Championship. By then Ray Murray had made his third and final retirement and Graham had moved to the northern rivers setting up a tyre shop at Miami on the Gold Coast.

OBA Issue 38
On the Kawasaki H2 at Brisbane, with passenger Jeff Henderson.

These days when it’s super everything, with V8 Supercars and extreme Supercross providing an irregular diet of ever more politically correct and contrived competition “because motorsport is now a business you know” it’s impossible for fans to imagine an era when speedway racing brought motorsport to the masses with at least one major meeting in every capital city every week with results published in all the popular newspapers. Solos, sidecars, speedcars and the mayhem of stock car Demolition Derbies, where the only objective was to keep crashing until there was nothing left to crash into. Motor sport? Maybe not but it was a great way to end the night before heading home behind the bars of the Beeza or playing George Tatnell in the FJ Holden.

Events were run by the Speedway Control Board and the racing suffered no discipline other than customer safety – it being bad karma to kill paying spectators. On the track actual bodily contact was discouraged but there was, of absolute necessity, lots of bashing and barging. The riders and drivers had their own methods of enforcing the unwritten rules; and, of course, necessary retribution. The only ‘business’ involved was the local suburban garage, smash repair, auto electrician, tyre retailer or ‘tune-up’ shop.

Along with Jim Airey on the solos, Jeff Freeman in the “midgets” and George Tatnell almost everywhere, Graham Young and Ray Murray were standout sidecar stars of the era; a headline prerequisite to any major meeting. “Handicap or scratch, the racing was always dangerous”, recalls Graham somewhat wistfully “no-one wanted to look silly finishing half a lap behind the leaders. Blokes such as Dougie Robson, Donnie Wilson and Lennie Bowes, they were deadly serious.”

The atmosphere in the pits was just as competitive and the tales of drinking and debauchery somewhat exaggerated according to Graham. “It wasn’t like everyone was half pissed all the time. There was really only one mob doing most of the drinking. Ernie Stewart, a former rider, used to own a couple of bikes one of which was ridden by Bob Smailes. Those two were usually full by the time they got to the speedway and used to have thermos flasks full of sherry. It was like ‘Whaddaya havin’ Ern? Just a cuppa tea Bobby’. They were the main offenders. There were probably other blokes that had a bit of a drink but they didn’t do any good if they let the stress get to ‘em and they had to have a drink. I’ve seen blokes spew and dry retch before a race. But that’s sport. And those car blokes used to get on the piss. Same as the rest of ‘em. But it wasn’t that prolific – you’ve gotta remember back then times were different, even the footy players used to have a shot at half time for a lift.”

“There was a bloke named ‘Queery’ Anderson. Now back in those days a queer wasn’t a queer. Queer meant weird. Now you’d call them weirdies. If you called ‘em queeries now you’d be saying they were pooftas. Anyway Queery and his brother crashed their outfit in pit corner and old Queery is laying against the fence like a rag doll. The paramedic checked Queery’s brother who had suffered a broken leg and was then called over to Queery laying against the fence. The track officials couldn’t move him. To everyone’s relief the paramedic checked the patient, stood up and declared “Don’t worry about him he’s just pissed”.

The consumption of alcohol in the pits was reported on many occasions but any ban was rarely enforced by the Speedway Control Board Officials. “Harry Bartrop came into the bullpen a few times but Harry was usually three sheets to the wind himself so nothing was ever mentioned. But go into any pits in that era and the Resches DA longneck was ubiquitous. Beer and whisky or, north of the Tweed, beer and rum were an integral part of the scene. And we certainly used to drink a bit post race. Good mob the speedway mob. Most of the time.”

By the mid seventies Graham had relocated to the Gold Coast but continued racing; setting race records at the Ekka with Jim Duncan and campaigning a Honda based road racing outfit with Jeff Henderson at Oran Park and Amaroo. The Honda was purchased from Col Denny and was, according to Graham, “a bit of a dog.” But that didn’t stop the pair from establishing the Miami Tyre Service on the Gold Coast Highway – an institution still going strong almost 40 years later.

Long retired from speedway and a stint in drag racing where he assisted in the development of the monster 147 c.i. Renegade powerplants that graced four of the top eight Custom Show Bikes in the recent World Championships, Graham now spends his time in the rolling green hills of the far north coast of NSW restoring Nortons and other classics for rallying and vintage racing “I put up with lawnmowers, power saws, shredders and those bloody leaf blowers all day”, he laments “but as soon as I start up an old Norton all hell breaks loose.”

But certainly not as much hell as on a hot summer’s night at the Royale.

Story: Peter Whitaker • Photos: Graham Young archives

OBA Issue 38
This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue No.38