I have remarked on numerous occasions over the years that it staggers me that photos from over 40 years ago keep coming out of peoples’ archives that nobody has ever seen except the person who took them.
I photographed road racing for around 5 years in the late 1970’s. The cumulative result of that is about 3000 photos which I scanned and catalogued while I was recovering from my 2010 accident. 99.9% of those photos had never been seen by anyone until I published them so I do understand how these personal archives can remain hidden, sometimes for decades, but it still amazes me.
The well-known photographers of my era, people like Greg McBean, Lou Martin, Rob Lewis and others were mostly published in the day so their works are already well known. Bernie Summers, advertising man for REVS magazine was also an excellent photographer and covered lots of meetings for the mag and his work is now readily available, but, every now and then, a new collection or a few random photos from someone’s collection pops up and this happened again yesterday.
Ralph Leavsey-Moase is a motorcycle journalist who served for some years on the staff of AMCN. These days he’s working free-lance while travelling the country taking glorious landscape photos, but, yesterday, he published a series of 8 photos taken during his early motorcycling days. Laverdas and Ducatis feature heavily as Ralphie, like most young blokes of the day, tended to gravitate towards the exotic end of the motorcycle spectrum only to have their fingers burned by poor quality assembly and uncertain electrics.
However, amongst the various road bike pictures was this one black and white shot which I almost passed over and which I am so glad that I didn’t. The bike is the famous Captain Snack TZ350 D Yamaha which was ridden with great aplomb by the late Warren Willing. As a previously unseen (by me) photo of the late “Rocket” it was noteworthy but, as I looked more closely I realised that it is not Warren Willing on the bike, and the number is also not correct.
Suddenly this photo became infinitely more important and, if you will bear with me a little longer, I will explain why. The date is not on the photo but I am pretty certain that it is either 1977 or 1978 (probably the latter). As this is now over 40 years ago, I will rely on my many “expert” readers to fill in the details that have long since gone from my memory.
The venue is Sydney’s Oran Park raceway and the event was the running of the NSW Road Racing Championships. To quote A B Paterson, “and all the cracks had gathered for the fray.” State championship meetings were very important and attracted big fields.
On the Saturday a notable addition to the ranks of riders was the Kiwi larrikin, Graeme Crosby. I am sure that Croz would have had his 1000cc Kawasaki there to race but he turned up with the Captain Snack TZ350 on his trailer as well. Re-numbered from Warren’s usual #85 to Croz’s familiar #4, its arrival caused quite a stir not the least of the reason being the fact that Croz was not known as a two stroke racer, having made his rapidly growing reputation man-handling big 4 stroke superbikes. Those of us with longer memories did recall that Croz HAD ridden various hot-rod 750cc Kawasaki triples in his native New Zealand before crossing the Tasman, but this was still right out left field for most.
Croz’s famous, “Which way does the track go and what’s the lap record?” quotation WAS, apparently used though he, in fact, already knew both of the answers. That did not prepare other competitors for what happened as soon as practice started. Croz was off the planet on the TZ350. He seemed to have no fear (we shouldn’t have been surprised about that) and was seemingly out of control most of the time he was out on track.
Indeed, it was said at the time that some of the 350cc competitors actually aborted their practice sessions rather than run the risk of being on track with such a madman. Somehow he and they both survived a torrid practice day and all was set for some classic racing on the Sunday. Remember that Graeme had never ridden a TZ before and that they were a particularly nasty little piece of gear with a tendency to punish the unwary and the incautious.
I’m not sure of the running order that day but my vague memory is that Croz actually won the Junior (the 350cc) race against some of Australia’s best. I don’t know at what part of the day that this photo was taken and Ralphie isn’t sure either (it WAS over 40 years ago) but it was in the Senior race (for up to 500cc bikes) that Croz added another chapter to his growing story. The long shadows in the photo seem to indicate that it was taken late in the day and it was in the closing stages of the race, Croz had scythed his way through the field and was closing on the race leader, (from memory it was fellow Kiwi, Stu Avant on the Total Hunter Suzuki RG500.) Dropping down the dipper before BP corner, Croz ranged right up to the back wheel of Stu’s bike and attempted a pass. The crowd and the commentators (probably David Curtis and Ross Pentecost) were beside themselves as Croz attempted to defy logic, the script and physics with a daring pass.
Of course it wasn’t to be. The rear end of the bike let go and high-sided Croz into the unyielding concrete wall, while Stu disappeared into the distance to take an excellent win. Croz was evidently unharmed and, as the marshals moved in to remove the bike, he climbed up onto the top of the wall and walked across the grass to the spectator fence. The crowd was going ballistic and several spectators pushed their way to the front and offered Croz a beer can which he willingly took and drank. Now there was even more mayhem as more beer began raining down on the scene much to everyone’s delight.
At the conclusion of the race the presentation ceremony took place on the infield across from the main spectator stand and, following on from it, the placegetters were driven around the track in the back of a ute so that they could receive the plaudits of the crowd. Croz was not on the podium (obviously) but the legend goes that he WAS in the ute which arrived back at race control after the victory lap with 4 riders, a couple of pit poppies and enough cans of beer to start a medium-sized party 🙂
Of course there is always a back story and, in this case, there are two. The first actually concerns me. I was photographing on the infield at BP corner and, at the time, was actually filming the event with a Super 8 movie camera. I caught the whole lurid episode on film. Once Croz had climbed the wall on the outside of the corner, he looked back at me standing down in the dip and said, “Did you get all that?” What a character.
The other story didn’t emerge until later. After the event, it became known that Croz was not actually supposed to be riding the bike at all and that the owner of the bike was pretty peeved that he had taken it to the track, raced it and crashed it. Like so many apocryphal stories of the day, this may or may not be true but it certainly did the rounds at the time and has gone down in racing folk lore here.
The other part of this story concerns this photo itself. I mentioned at the start of this article that I took over 3000 photos during that period. Now, in these days of digital cameras, most photographers would take 3000 photos before getting out of their cars on practice day but you need to remember that I took all my photos on film. Film was expensive, processing the film was also expensive and getting the negatives PRINTED was also expensive. For the big meetings, like Bathurst and the Six Hour, I would probably save up and take 6 or 7 36 exposure films and that would be all that I would have for the weekend. So you got used to being careful how many photos you took and you made sure that you didn’t waste shots. For the smaller meetings like C Grade days or Club Days, I might only use 2 films in total, so photography was a very different experience then than it is now.
Anyway, I’m very grateful to Ralphie for sharing the picture and for giving me permission to use it. It is a great reminder of a very notable day and has provided me with the opportunity of telling a pretty cool story which I hope you enjoyed reading.
PS: I’ve had some feedback from Ralphie. “BTW Phil, I still work away in the industry and full-time with AMM in sales and writing up reviews.”