Read, watch, wonder: Norton has a surprise in store for Japanese rivals
With one defining moment, the now legendary JPS Norton era began and for five straight years British race fans had something very special to cheer about: home-built bikes that could blow the Japanese opposition into the weeds.
he 25th running of the Race of Aces at Snetterton was the day the JPS Nortons made the British public sit up take notice. In the televised race, Steve Spray and Ray Stringer blasted past factory Hondas and Yamahas on the opening lap like they were standing still.
Brian Crighton: “We had been to Snetterton before but this was the first time there was TV coverage so everyone got to see it. It was really satisfying to see the speed of our bikes because we realised then that we were going to be competitive, even though it was still early days with the project.”
Keith Huewen: “The commentary box went wild when the Nortons got onto that back straight and just cleared off. There had been lots of talk about their engine size, but the capacity of a rotary engine was very difficult to measure accurately. When you saw those bikes in a straight line you could understand why everyone else was saying ‘we don’t stand a chance.’”
Steve Spray: “It was my first time at Snetterton on the Norton so I got quite a surprise with the speed. I knew they were fast but when you compared them to the Japanese bikes it was almost like taking the p**s! I had ridden a Suzuki RG500 Grand Prix bike and the Norton was definitely faster – I was clocked at 198mph at the North West 200 on one! When you came up out of the bubble at almost 200mph it really took your breath away.”
Brian Crighton: “It’s not a simple thing to develop a race bike and we were doing the chassis, the engine, the whole lot, ourselves. We had problems to start with, like any new bike has, but we were doing our testing at races, in full view of the public. We had won races before the Race of Aces – Andy McGladdery took our first win at Carnaby the previous year – but it was obviously satisfying to win on TV, and the crowds at the circuits always went mad when a Norton won.”
Keith Huewen: “There was a bit of a conflict going on because people were pleased to see the Norton name and the JPS sponsorship coming back – it was all a bit special – but there’s always a huge amount of resentment in any paddock when a bike comes along that’s so fast that its riders don’t have to try too hard to make a pass.”
Steve Spray: “I have to admit I was giggling under my helmet a little bit when I was passing people at Snetterton. It was like I had an extra gear just for overtaking. I would say they were about 10 to 15mph faster than the OW01s and RC30s.”
Brian Crighton: “We had those stupid accusations that the engine size was bigger than it actually was. The ACU took one of our engines away, measured the capacity with oil, and concluded it was 588cc. They put us in the 1000cc four-stroke twin class so it still drives me potty that people think we were breaking the rules.”
Keith Huewen: “By the time the Nortons had built up a full head of steam about two-thirds of the way down the straight, those bikes were just on a different planet. I can’t remember another time in racing when I saw a bike with that much of a speed advantage.”
Steve Spray: “I broke the lap record at virtually every circuit we raced at that year, even though the Norton wasn’t the best-handling bike out there.”