Our Heritage: The mechanic with a need for speed

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David Kenyon, an historian based in Wray, this week takes a nostalgic look at the career of local man Geoff Gardner, a former motorcycle road racer.

Geoff was born and brought up in Caton. He went to Brookhouse Primary and Junior schools and then at 11 went on to Dallas Road Secondary Modern School.

On leaving school at 15 he went to work at Station Garage, Caton, as an apprentice motor mechanic.

After finishing his apprenticeship Geoff worked for most of the local garages, including Barton Townley and Atkinsons. He seems to have been something of a rolling stone, not working at any place for very long.

This was the age of full employment when good craftsmen could move from firm to firm just for a change of scene.

Geoff was a keen motorcyclists from an early age, as he needed transport to get to work. He soon found that he had a talent for high speed riding around the twisty roads of the Lune Valley.

In 1968 Geoff decided to compete on the local racing circuits on a bike provided by his friend Ken Hodgson of Lancaster. The bike was a 500cc Triton, that is a Triumph engine in a Norton feather-bed frame.

Geoff enjoyed his first season of racing, finishing mostly mid-field at Croft and Silloth racing circuits. The following year he rode his own 650cc Norton-twin to many podium finishes.

For the 1970s season Geoff rode a new racing machine built by Ken Hodgson which had a new Manx frame fitted with a Norton Commando 750cc engine. This machine was very fast, enabling Geoff to have a very successful season, taking wins and places at Aintree, Oulton Park, Croft and Silloth.

For the 1971 season the Norton Commando engine was fitted into a new frame made by Colin Seeley, a former side car racer. This frame was made from Reynolds 531 tubing and was much lighter and lower than the Manx frame. (This frame could also be fitted with many different engines including the Norton twin, singles, AJS 7R and the Matchless G50 and when fitted with the Yamaha two stroke engine was called the Yamsel.)

With this wonderful handling machine, Geoff again had a good year, with many wins and places, culminating in five wins at Croft.

In 1972 Geoff bought a new Seeley racing bike. This machine has a Matchless G50 500cc single cylinder engine, which was an enlarged version of the AJS 7R 350cc model, originally introduced in 1948.

At this time races were started by the riders push starting their machines when the flag dropped. A good start was vital to achieve a place on the podium and starting this big single was not easy, but Geoff continued his successful racing career with wins and places at most local circuits.

Unfortunately, late in the season Geoff had a crash and whilst he was not seriously injured, his Seeley frame was damaged, but he managed to buy a new frame and continued his racing for that season.

However, he was now a partner in G & L Car Services at Lancaster and so decided to give up racing for a while to concentrate on the new business.

In the late 1980s Geoff made a comeback in classic racing, using a replica Seeley Norton. With this machine he ended his racing career with a fine third place at Aintree.