Unfazed by reputations, officialdom, or rules, Peggy Hyde showed that gender is no limiting factor in motorcycle racing.
Talk to Peggy Hyde today and it is immediately evident that little has changed in her approach to life in the past five decades. The intensity, the analytical personality, the conviction; they’re all as finely honed as they were when Peggy was one of Australia’s leading road racers in the early 1970s. These days, the focus is on environmental issues rather than being the first to the chequered flag, but you’d better have done your homework before tackling her in conversations on the subjects that are now dear to her.
Since 1984, Peggy (real name Margaret) has lived on a yacht in North Queensland, well away from the motorcycling scene, at least until Easter 2014 when she accepted an invitation from long time friend and former racing partner Tim Parry to attend the Penrite Broadford Bonanza. There, she donned the same white leathers she wore more than 40 years before, pulled on the same open-face Bell helmet, and took to the track on a racing motorcycle (the ex-Mike Hailwood Ducati 750SS) for the first time since 1978. It was just a steady tour in the Star Session, and it didn’t go entirely to plan when the bike left the pits with the fuel inadvertently turned off, but it was enough to whet her appetite for more. At the recent Shannon’s Australian Historic Road Racing Championships, Peggy took part in the Celebrity Parade on something much more sedate – Sue Scaysbrook’s Honda CB125S. For the rest of the weekend, Peggy was seen locked in conversation, catching up with friends and former rivals, including great mate Kal Carrick from her Production Racing days.
Originally from Melbourne, Peggy attended university studying music, completing the degree delayed when she broke her arm in a road accident. At the time she was choirmaster and organist at Holy Trinity Church at Kensington. Seeking a means of affordable transport, she began snooping round the shops in Elizabeth Street but found most dealers only wanted to flog her a scooter, because “that’s what girls rode”. Not for Peggy. Eventually she met Julian Hyde, who helped her acquire a plodding 350cc Matchless, and who soon became her husband. The Matchless was pensioned off after a road crash, and Peggy purchased another, but much larger British machine – a 750cc Norton Atlas. However after the Hydes joined Hartwell Club – initially just for the fellowship and social side – she began to take an interest in racing and the Norton was traded in on a Suzuki T20 – the preferred tackle in the no-holds-barred world of 250cc Production Racing. Her first race meeting was a Hartwell MCC club meeting at Winton in 1967 at which she and Julian shared the Suzuki, and even the same set of leathers, without anyone other than some Club officials knowing that ‘M.J Hyde’ was a woman.
Even at this early stage, Peggy was jostling with officials and rebelling against the male-domination of the sport and its rule structure. Although she gained a Victorian Open Competition Licence with no questions asked via the simple expedient of filling out a form, when it came time for the annual renewal she found a major obstacle – the new licence was restricted to motorcycles under 250cc. “That was either a penalty or it was for a Junior, so I wrote to the Auto Cycle Council of Australia and complained as to why I was being restricted – could it be that the Victorian Committee was all men? So I got a letter of apology and an unrestricted Open Licence. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was the first open (unrestricted) licence in the world for women to race and the bizarre thing was that although the news went overseas, that remained the case for the next 15 years. Australia led the world in that respect.
“We went through bikes quite quickly because we commuted a lot from the Dandenong Ranges into Melbourne. Geoff Cook from Kawasaki Motorcycles wanted me to buy the first model H1 triple, although I had a Yamaha TR2B by then for racing. Geoff kept pressing me so eventually I did buy an H1 at cost, except that he offered to pay me $100 off the price for every race that I won. I had actually paid some money off the bike – about $400 – then I started winning races, but Geoff Cook didn’t want to pay. So he eventually sued me for the balance of the price and a whole lot of silly nonsense went on in court, but the upshot was that he didn’t win and he had to pay all my costs as well – so that was the end of that! I really liked the H1, but it had its peculiar habits.”
Her first meeting on the new Kawasaki was the South Australian Grand Prix at Mallala, and to run-in the bike she rode it to and from the event, and finished sixth in the Senior GP – winning $3 prize money! The 1970 New Year’s Day meeting at Phillip Island (which was also the Australian TT – the official national championship) was just one of the days when 26-year-old Peggy really showed her mastery of the tricky triple. As The Australian Motor Cycle News reported, “During two days of racing at Phillip Island, Mrs. Peggy Hyde scored not one first but three. In winning the Senior C Grade Race on Saturday convincingly she became the first woman to win a road race against male opposition. In doing this she qualified to run in the Senior and Unlimited TT title events on the Sunday which is also a unique first as she is the first woman to do so.”
Although this report is basically correct, British lady Beryl Swain became the first female (solo) rider in the Isle of Man TT when she contested the 1962 50cc TT, finishing 22nd from 25 starters – her performance immediately instigating a ban on female road racers in any class, which lasted until 1978. Previously, there had been several female sidecar passengers, notably the German Inge Stoll who rode with Frenchman Jacques Drion in the 1954 and 1957 TTs, as well as many Grands Prix and International events, until they both perished in a crash at the 1958 Czech Grand Prix.
Nevertheless, that Phillip Island weekend was the beginning of a stellar year for Peggy. A few months later, at the prestigious Harvey Wiltshire Memorial meeting at Calder, Peggy really showed her class – not in graded races but in the all-comers Production Race where she faced stars like Australian Unlimited Champion Ken Blake (Kawasaki H1) and multiple Australian TT winner Peter Jones on a T500 Suzuki. A mediocre start meant she had it all to do to reel in the leaders, but Peggy had fire in her belly as she tore through the field. Again, The Australian Motor Cycle News takes up the story. “On lap two she took the lead from Jones, and then, trying to save face for the male sex, he slid off on the third lap to retire. From then on Hyde had two seconds from Blake, who made a desperate attempt on the last lap to regain male honour but went down too, coming off at Shell Corner!” Peggy still laughs when she recalls the race. “Jeff Curley got the greatest fun out of that race because he’d been watching these young blokes (Blake and Jones) coming on with their modern machines and he was out there battling with a Triton. I got a bad start in that race and I must have passed Jeff early in the piece so he saw the whole thing unfold. I actually did an extra lap because once before I’d been cheated out of a place by a steward putting out the wrong flag so I did an extra lap to be sure. So when I came in there was a mob of people there including Jeff and they just looked at me – I wanted to get back to my pit but I couldn’t because of all these people. Jeff was belting me on the back and laughing – I was breathless because he kept belting me and he said ‘They all fell off! They all fell off!’. From his point of view it was the sweetest thing because these were the young blokes he had been fighting with – I passed them and then they fell off trying to pass me back!”
Like just about every other top rider, Peggy acquired a 350 Yamaha – a TR2B with which to contest the main Junior and Senior classes. At the time she was working for Milledge Brothers, the Yamaha distributors for Victoria, so was able to get the 350 for cost. “The arrangement with that bike was that there was a mechanic that came with it, which I didn’t want, but I got out-voted. It was just a simple two stroke so very easy to tune – you just flicked the back wheel and it would start – but my spares kit (which was supplied with every new racing Yamaha) was used to support some other machines. I was probably one of the few riders that had a pair of TR2 barrels that had never been seized, even though they wore through the chrome on the bores just from doing meeting after meeting. It was very reliable and we just changed the pistons after nearly every meeting. We had moved up to NSW but the TR2B stayed in Victoria and I lost a year’s racing trying to get it back – that’s why I chose to go back from B Grade to C Grade, to get more rides.”
Once she had retrieved her TR2B from Melbourne, Peggy, moved to Wiseman’s Ferry north west of Sydney after Julian took up the offer of a job at Macquarie University. There she ran a commercial goat dairy and continued breeding cattle dogs and Toggenburg goats. On the track, she took up where she had left off, except that in place of Phillip Island, Calder and Winton were Oran Park, Amaroo Park and Mount Panorama, Bathurst. And being resident in Sydney, she was perfectly placed to compete in the state’s biggest event – the Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park.
Peggy had actually raced in the inaugural Six Hour (actually called the Castrol 1000) in 1970, on her own Kawasaki H1 with Jeff Curley initially as co-rider. When Jeff was injured prior to the race, Rod Tingate stepped in. “The bike was very old by then (October 1970) and had done about 10,000 miles and actually had a piece about the size of a shilling broken out of the crankcase where the lugs were because it had been dropped. I didn’t notice that. In scrutineering, they didn’t like my mufflers when I arrived because they’d been flattened, but I said ‘In a few laps they’ll be flattened again’ but no, we had to beat them out – pull the mufflers off that night and try to get them looking approximately normal. At scrutineering next morning the result was a small crack in one of the mufflers so I tied that up with wire because I could see it was going to be a problem and sure enough it came off, but I still had it because it was wired on. It cost us around 20 laps and we still came in one lap behind Ken Blake and Kal Carrick (who had the handlebars of their H1 snap in the middle while Carrick was riding, and lost time having them taped and wired up, but logged 295 laps to finish third in the 500cc class). I’d been lapping faster than them, but they only paid to third place which was a big shame.”
The following year, Peggy teamed up with Janet Middleton on Janet’s Kawasaki S2 350 triple, entered by Parramatta dealer Barry Ryan. Peggy rode all but 20 minutes as she was much quicker than Janet, but half way through the race the coil failed. In 1972 she switched to a Honda CB500/4 with the experienced Gordon Doble as co-rider, however confusion over lap scoring saw the team deprived of 100 laps and listed as 11th in the 500 class on 213 laps. Her fourth and final Six Hour came in 1974 when Kawasaki dealer Tim Parry entered a 500cc H1 for himself and Peggy, but a spill put paid to the effort. “My leathers, still with ‘Parry’s’ across the back of them, are still hanging in the shed, along with the helmet I used,” Peggy says fully 40 years after that race.
Tim Parry recalls the 1974 race fondly. “In mid-1974 Peggy Hyde and her husband Julian walked into my shop (Parry Motorcycles at Pennant Hills) one day and asked us to sponsor her in the upcoming Castrol 6 Hour Race. They explained that if we supplied the bike, paid entry fees, tyres, fuel etc they would supply her considerable experience in racing. At this time I, like every other Sydney motorcyclist, was completely fascinated by the 6 Hour at Amaroo (also as a Kawasaki dealer I knew about ‘win on Sunday sell on Monday’) and didn’t need much excuse to get involved. Her choice of bike suited us well – a 500 Kawasaki H1. We pulled a low kilometre 2nd hand disc braked triple off the floor and embarked on a most enjoyable and exciting six weeks of preparation. The lead up went by in a blur of long hours at Amaroo for scrutineering, practice and talking serious road racing stuff, like using the back brake to increase the terrible right hand ground clearance of the H1. It was amazing rubbing shoulders with the great riders of the day; Willing, Hansford, Toombs, Eastmure, Hindle, Atlee, Hinton, Ahearn and others. The actual race was an anti-climax for us. Peggy rode first, and the bike developed a miss. We pitted several times and eventually changed plugs, which cured it. After the first hour I had a ride – pretty uneventful and slow as I remember. During Peggy’s second stint she was carted wide by a rider on a 750 Honda at the top of Bitupave Hill and ran off into the infield of the loop. The footage of her bucking bronco ride through the bush and rocks was on every 6 o’clock news.”
The TR2B Yamaha was reluctantly sold and replaced with a Z1 900 Kawasaki, which Peggy used as road transport as well as for Production Racing, but by the mid ‘seventies Peggy’s enthusiasm for racing was yielding to other things. Julian and Peggy were divorced in 1979 and she also had health problems. “I had been very ill and had big surgery, and I got interested in sailing. I wasn’t (physically) fit for the profession I’d been trained for, so I took a year off and did some sailing and wound up in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Then I went to Cairns and finished up buying a yacht. After many adventures and another degree, I’m still in the yacht and still in the tropics.”
Throughout her racing career, Peggy maintained that, male or female, the three ingredients necessary for success were talent, judgement, and motivation, and that while many riders have two out of the three, only the very best have all three.
Footnote: After 38 years away from the sport, Peggy Hyde has recently joined the Road Racing Association of Townsville and renewed her competition licence.
Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Bill Forsyth, Merv Whitelaw, Rob Lewis.