A double British 250cc champion, team-mate to Niall Mackenzie in the Silverstone Armstrong squad, and 250cc Grand Prix podium finisher, Scotsman Donnie McLeod was one of the brightest young racing talents Britain produced in the early 1980s. And then he just disappeared.
When did he start racing?
In 1976 on a 200cc Tiger Cub. By 1978 he was 250cc Scottish champion (on a bike he built himself from parts) but it wasn’t until he got made redundant from his job as a design draughtsman in the early 1980s that McLeod got serious about racing. He used his redundancy cheque to fund his move into 250cc Grands Prix as a privateer. He was smart, and it showed.
What titles did he win in the UK?
As well as his 1978 Scottish championship title, McLeod went on to win the Startrack 250cc British Championship in 1983 and the 250cc Gold Star British Championship in 1984 before signing for Silverstone Armstrong – a move that didn’t quite work out as well as he’d hoped.
What was the Silverstone Armstrong Project?
As regular readers of Whatever Happened To? will know, Armstrong were a British bike manufacturer who built a lot of bikes for the army. They supplied the bikes and spares for the race team project, while the owners of Silverstone came up with the money and premises and ran the team, under the management of former racer Chas Mortimer who signed Donnie McLeod and a fresh-faced Niall Mackenzie as their riders in 1985. The pair were the Scottish dream team.
Great riders, what about the bikes?
Sadly, at GP level, the bikes were about 15-20mph down on the competition. So while the team looked hugely professional, the bikes beautiful and well turned-out, the machinery was somewhat lacking in shove. Pushing hard, McLeod suffered 15 crashes on the Armstrong in 1985 – more than the combined total from the rest of his career! Results in the UK were good but the team lacked the budget, experience and machinery to make a serious impact at Grand Prix level.
How good was McLeod as a GP racer?
Very good, considering the level of equipment and funding he had at his disposal. He scored his first point with tenth place at Assen in 1983 on a private machine then took a fifth place behind future world champ Wayne Rainey at Misano the following year, again on a private Yamaha. He took his best result of second on the Silverstone Armstrong at the rain-lashed Belgian GP at Spa in 1986 and finished tenth overall that season, having taken several other top ten finishes along the way. When the Armstrong team folded, McLeod spent a further two years riding Joe Ehlrich’s EMC machine but it was hugely unreliable and he never quite managed to achieve the same level of success.
When and why did he retire?
He retired from racing in 1988 and, intelligent as he is, McLeod arrived at the decision in the most calculating manner. “I was very lucky that I never injured myself while racing and I thought the odds must have been stacking up by that point,” he says. “I also wanted to retire from racing when I was still young enough to start another career.”
So what did he do after racing?
McLeod was already a qualified design engineer before he started racing and went on to take a masters degree in computer-aided engineering after he hung up his leathers. He then lectured at Napier University in Edinburgh before starting up his own management consultancy business called M-Tek UK, based in Biggar, Lanarkshire.
Does he still ride?
He didn’t throw a leg over a racing motorcycle for a full 22 years after retiring but finally got back on an Armstrong for a classic parade at Mallory Park in 2010 and now enjoys one or two similar outings each year. He enjoys a bit of trials riding but the only road bike he owns is a three-wheeler 50cc Ariel! McLeod did attempt to return to racing recently for the Yamaha Pro-Am event at the British Grand Prix but a last minute technical problem with his RD250LC ruled him out.
First race: 1976
250cc British Champion: