Born in the 30's in Worsley, near Manchester, my parents were Eileen and Joe Kilner. My dad's sport in the early 30's was dirt track racing and he held many track records in the North. Sadly, I never saw him ride. My uncle Eddie was the artist of the family who unfortunately died very young, before I had time to appreciate his work. As a kid I spent many hours with my friends by the Bridgewater Canal at Worsley, fascinated by the bright orange colour of the water and all the barges moored in the basin. It was here I often saw a man drawing and we would stop to watch. I spoke to him only once to say that I liked drawing and painting. Years later, I found out that the man was Laurence Steven Lowry.
At the age of 11, I loved motorbikes and art and my Dad's allotment where in a large greenhouse, he grew tomatoes. He showed rabbits and trained greyhounds. My mates and I spent many hours in the fields and woods around Worsley, walking the dogs. My all time favourite dog was called Uncle Tom's Cabin. A very energetic and intelligent animal. My best mates at the time were Peter Mullineux, Stan Pennington, Billy and Johnny Downs, Alan (Moggy) Morris, Stu Rushton, Arthur Lomax, and Dennis Pearson.
My brother Pete, being three years older, got his first motorbike, an AJS, which I quickly learnt to ride when he was not around. I used to sneak it out of the garage and ride it up and down the unmade roads, dodging PC Rosan, who was always on the prowl on his pushbike. I did it once too often and finally got caught. As was normal in those days, I received a smack on the back of my head from my Dad when he was told by PC Rosen. I concentrated on push bikes for a while after that, riding to Devon and back, just to see what Devon was like.
When I was 15, I bought my first motorbike for £5, bought with the money I earned by doing a daily paper round. I rode it on the field at the back of my grandmas, but I often sneaked out on the East Lancashire Road when my mates said it was all clear. It was here I first saw Billy Wallwork on his racing motorbike and went to watch him at Oulton Park, this was the start of my urge to race motorbikes.
My very first race was at Oulton Park in 1959,I took my Norton 500cc domi roadbike with number plates stuck on it and rode it to the circuit. I was ready to go for it, little did i know what I was up against. I finished last by a mile and was much deflated. I could not believe how fast they were going, it was so different from watching. I sold the Norton Domi and bought a brand new Velo Venom clubman with help from my parents and again rode it to Oulton Park, took off the fishtail stuck on a set of number plates, raring to go again. This time i did not finish last(3rd from last),i was happy at that.
Full of enthusiasm and now helped out by my oldest friend Poss (Pete Mullineux) we transported the bike on Pete's sidecar outfit, powered by a Tiger 110.We took off the sidecar and constructed a long coffin type box fixed it to the chassis and put the bike in it.It was hilarious to steer,the whole outfit was out of control for most of the journeys we undertook. When we got to the circuit we were ready for any sidecar race i will tell you. We had a few frightening moments on the Coffin transporter as it had become known to our friends. One i shall not forget was on the way to Prees Heath ,belting along at 50mph with no brakes and going straight over a roundabout and losing the bike out of the coffin, George Formby or what!!! Those were the days racing on a shoestring.
This was a turning point, I bought an old post office van, a Morris frog eyed model. My friend from college Colin Smith found me a racing Gold Star which i bought from a bloke in Keighley Yorkshire. The bike felt good and i began to feel confident that i could do well. Consequently i won my first trophy in 1961 and i still treasure it because it had taken so long to win one. In the same year i had my first crash at Oulton Park, hurting both me and my pocket
By this time i had been painting portraits of various riders both club and international and most competitors knew me for the paintings hanging up on the side of my van. I loved the sidecar racing and painted many portraits of the various sidecar teams, Florian Camathias was my hero at the time. I continued racing the Goldie for the next 2 years and winning some more trophies, but it was hard work trying to keep up with the Manx Nortons Matchless G50's,AJS 7R's as my bike slowly became an antique. In 1964 i bought an immaculately prepared Manx/Gold Star from Harold Riley surely the first ever built, this guy was not only a good rider but a brilliant engineer.BSA had supplied him with special parts for the engine and so unofficially it was a works bike. I won my first race on it at Oulton Park riding with number 13,a number nobody seemed to want. Racing at the same meetings as Bob Mac, Derek Minter, Phil Read, Mike Hailwood and Bill Smith (to name a few) was hard work and consequently i started to crash more often trying to keep up with them.It was also the year i moved to Bromley Cross nr Bolton and met Stevie Mac who decided he would like to go racing, we quickly became close friends. And talking of friends, we started to associate with the craziest set of bike racers you'll ever meet. It was at this time that Bolton and district had the largest number of crazy bike racers in the country i am convinced, both solo and sidecar. To name a few Mel and Arny, Crook bros, Jimmy (i'll get you anything for a Triumph) Hesford, the crazy carpenter Billy Tom, Jimmy Nelson ,Arthur Wiggy, Barry(i have the fastest triton in the world) Hall, and he had we were all convinced of that. The number of racers just kept on growing in the district and we could literally fill a pub on a Monday night to talk about our weekends exploits, or should i say adventures. A convoy of Bedford and Thames vans up the M6 on the way up to Silloth would be the excuse for constant overtaking followed by egg and tomato throwing, one of the worst culprits being Arny (I'll light a pocket or two) Ratcliffe.
In fact the crazy gang became a large co-operative as we consisted of plumbers, electricians, joiners mechanics, engineers, welders, so there was nothing between us we couldn't make or get supplied to us. At this point I must mention Golly (Gollins) although not a racer himself he was and still is an avid follower of motorcycle racing, and would always be there to lend a helping hand. Oh those mad Saturday nights in Silloth when we packed the pub never giving Sunday racing a second thought till we woke up dazed and confused in the paddock the following morning. We were often confronted by Jack Horseman (club secretary) with the words "don't get on your bike till you have sobered up lads". What a character he was, he never refused anybody a ride even if they turned up on race day. Dare I mention weekends at Cadwell Park and sat nights in Louth where many rum goings on took place or should I leave that for another day. When I met Phil Sharrock in 1971 little did I know how he would change my racing outlook entirely. A brilliant mechanic with all the patience in the world and that was something I had not got.He did all the preparation and left me to do the racing and I had much more confidence in my bikes. He still remains one of my best friends to this day.Many thanks Phil.
Croft one of my favourite circuits was where I first met Mick Grant Ron Haslam, Tony Jefferies, Roger Marshall, all young riders raring to go racing. It was at Croft I gave Mick Grant an oil pump for his Jim Lee BSA and bugger he went out in the final and blew us all off, but that was what it was like in the 60's and 70's competitors helped each other out no matter who you were. Oh I must mention at this point Colin Smith my old mate who I met at college in Leeds while we were studying for a Degree in education. We immediately became good friends and the reason was our love of motorbikes, I can just see him now gunking his engine down in the kitchen sink with the rest of the bike spread over the kitchen floor. It was the start of a friendship that has lasted 45 years. Dare I mention it Colin you were the worst starter on the grid I ever came across. No electric starters in those days you had to push your bollocks off, especially if you had a dodgy clutch and binding brakeshoes, Colin Smith would get both on a bad day. It was at Croft I first saw Ken Redfern and boy did he impress me from the start, so smooth and effortless was his style. The combination of Ken and his Norton commando was virtually unbeatable, what a shock it was to me and his many fellow racers when he was killed in a road accident. I blew my Rickman 8 valve triton up for the last time at Croft, the bottom half of the engine smashing it's way out through the fairing, it had to go. I had found a recently built Seeley Norton which the lad had found difficult to ride so I bought it off him and took to it immediately. Having already met Roger Corbett and Bernie Tolman (Viking race team) at a British Championship meeting at Croft and again been so impressed with the speed of their machines and their riding skills I asked Roger would he completely rebuild my machine, what a difference he made to it, with down tubes on the frame and much modified exhaust system, I won first time out on it. Again sadly Roger is no longer with us, he was killed in the IoM in 1978 on a production bike god bless him, I owed him a lot. It was around this time that Billy Tomlinson and Derek Mortimer, two of the Bolton lads, had changed to Yamaha machinery. The 2 stroke missiles had arrived big time and there was no competing with them.
My all time favourite circuit has to be Carnaby an old RAF wartime runway converted into a bike racing circuit by Pete Hillaby's Auto 66 club and situated near Bridlington Yorkshire. I won more races here than anywhere else and in 1976 won the Auto 66 club championship, in 1975 and 1977 finishing second, breakdowns were becoming a scourge again. Oh well that's racing. I sold many paintings to competitors and spectators at Carnaby and would dearly love to know where they are now. I also met another fellow racer at this circuit and we became good friends, we raced together in the unlimited class and once beat Ron Haslam and Roger Marshall in the rain, we were dead chuffed. Whatever became of Derek George I would love to meet him again. My second favourite circuit was Elvington (the big circuit) owned by the RAF and the two clubs that organised the meetings were Pete Hillaby's Auto 66 and the Eboracum MC. They were well run meetings with plenty of races per day, and very friendly was the atmosphere although at times Pete Hillaby could be a nowty bugger he was obviously going places as a promotor of bike racing.He has done a lot for the sport in my opinion. One of my long lasting memories of Elvington was flat out down the never ending runway making V signs at each other as we sped along side by side, as I said we were a very friendly bunch. The one year I won the Eboracum club championship at Elvington was also the very first time I raced a non British bike ,a 750 Ducati Supersport owned by my mechanic Phil Shorrock and I won on it, I could not believe how fast it was and how well it steered, no wonder Paul Smart did so well on a factory prepared one. I would have won a lot more races on the Ducati but for one big snag ,I could not start the bloody thing on the grid. Have you ever tried to kick-start a 750 Ducati on a starting grid surrounded by a horde of production bikes, many with electric starters and at the time using them illegally. So often I was last off the grid cursing, sweating and completely bollocked trying to catch specks in the distance and consequently I ran out of laps before I could catch the leaders. That was my first taste of Production racing and I enjoyed it. Little did I know that ten years later I would be racing screaming two stroke Japanese production bikes ,a potential granddad let loose among a grid full of teenagers. As one commentator at Aintree aptly put it "oh yes he started racing in the stone age and seems to be coping well with the modern machinery" ,thanks pal.
I have been asked many times over the years who was my all time HERO of the racing scene and without a doubt it is BOB MAC and I'll tell you why Not only was he a world class rider winning many races, he had all the time in the world when it came to helping young beginners like me. At Oulton Park in the early sixties he once spent at least an hour sorting out my BSA Goldstar which I could not start because my carburetion was all to cock. And he didn't know me from Adam. You've got to remember in the fifties and sixties top riders were also top mechanics because they had come up through the ranks the hard way. They don't know they are born today. Why were leathers dark brown or black? so all the oil and grease would not be seen. when you wiped your oily hands on them after you had wiped them on the grass. The last time I spoke to Bob Mac was in the paddock at Oulton in 1964 as he was about to go out on the Honda 4 and I remember saying to him you'll win it easy. He never came back to the paddock as he had crashed and been killed , Word quickly spread to all the riders like myself and I just remember sitting in the back of the van in utter disbelief. It was the very first time it came home to me that racing was a dangerous game to play.
I've been asked many times what was it like racing in the 60's;well it was damned site cheaper than the 80's and 90's.For instance at certain meetings you would get free petrol, shell or BP; tyres from Dunlop; oil from Castrol; chain (both primary and rear) from Renolds. You just took your bike and license to them and if you needed any of the above they fitted them there and then. Remember you need not be a top rider, they just put the appropriate sticker on the bike. Ah!!! the wonderful TT100 tyre, come rain or shine, sleet or snow you raced on the same tyre. It was hard wearing so it lasted a long time or swap it round when one side was getting too much hammer. No need for the chug chugging of the tyre warmers or the warm up laps you just went out there and raced. Those infernal machines that now make the paddock sound like a building site had not been invented; and who the hell cared, we didn't. Racing was far less complicated and the paddock had a far more easy going and friendly atmosphere. No little men sneaking around with noise meters or measuring the depth of your tread on your one and only set of tyres. Over zealous scrutineers telling you to wire everything apart from your helmet to your head and that might be next. Have you got your collection box and breather pipes connected?? what !!!.It sounded like a major plumbing operation on the bike was needed before you could venture out onto the hard stuff called tarmac. Nobody screaming at you if you missed your official practice session like they do today, you went out with another class and nobody minded What happens today when you have missed practice they say you cannot race, hang on Mr official I've been round this circuit hundreds of times does that not mean anything to you. Hey up racings getting complicated your numbers are the wrong size your ACU sticker is not on your helmet, your boots have got a little hole in them and might let water in, god bless em they don't want you to get wet socks.
To be continued.......