George Ashton - Motorcycle Racer
Name: Name: George Frederick Ashton.
Birth date: 16th May 1944
Birth Place: DAGENHAM, Essex.
Date of Death : Not Yet!
Place of Death : Not Yet!
This page is based on the Question and Answer column that I used to run in the "Small Torque" magazine for the Racing 50 Enthusiast Club it also includes pictures and cuttings from Georges scrap books and my archives, also email conversations where I was able to collect Georges own words.
When and why did you first become interested in racing 50cc motorcycles?
"It is difficult to say exactly when I had first become interested in motorcycles and met with people who rode them on the road or on the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent but it would have been around 1958/1959. Through this group I got to know a 50cc racer called Vic Dedden, who raced a bike called a Demm Dik Dik and I became his spanner man and goffer. Vic had been racing for a few years and was well known in the 50cc circles, also he was prepared to spend time and show an interest in me. Picture: Vic Dedden 1959
When and from whom did you acquire your first racing 50cc?
My first 50cc bike was an ITOM Astor, acquired in 1959. I was helping Vic during the year, which was 1960, and one of the races was in Norfolk. After going to this race, which was at the Snetterton race circuit, and helping Vic in the pits along with watching the race, which was the "Chiltern Enduro", organised by the Chiltern 50 Racing Club. I came home and stripped my ITOM down to a racer spec and that was the start of my racing career.
How many racing 50`s have you owned over the years
I have only owned 2 bikes myself, the ITOM, as above and my Honda CR110. The Honda CR110 which was supplied by none other than Richard Wyler, ('The Man From Interpol' and a Honda dealer here in the UK) himself. This was because when Honda imported the first batch of CR110 racers, I was not considered a good enough rider, at the time, to get one from that batch, so he got one for me. At that time it cost me £214.00 pounds (GB). A lot of money at the time.
"I have ridden a number of bikes belonging to sponsors and friends. For example the Agrati 'Murs' Garelli and the Woolley-Bone ITOM. In 1969 I asked Des Bone if I could ride his Itom, which was water cooled, this was before the W-B ITOM was created and you can see what happened later in the story".
The Murs Garelli when owned by Ron Ponti
What unique preparation if any did you perform on your bike?
"The only unique alteration made, to the HONDA, was after the main bearing gave out at the I.O.M TT. I made a carrier to take a cage roller bearing, it was a Ransom & Marbles number XXLRJ 20. I will never forget the number because after that the bike would rev to well over 18,000 when needed and that was quite often because I weighed 9 stone 4 pounds and was 5ft 8 inches tall, quite big for a 50cc racer in those days."
Detail any tuning approaches you might have used and how successful.
"I never carried out any tuning because I considered that the Honda designers were far far better at that than me so I just concentrated on learning how to get the best out of riding the bike in the smoothest possible way (to get the best out of the 50cc engine). Considering my size and studying the streamlining approaches on other bikes, I put a lot of time into developing the fairing and received a lot of help from Bill Roberts, who had a fibreglass moulding business down in Kent. Bill had made fairings, seats and tanks for the ITOMS and was only too pleased to help me".
What memories do you have of the early racing 50's scene plus any achievements and successes.
All my many memories of 50 racing are great, the hardest race I ever had was when I beat Charlie Mates to win my first British championship in 1965. Charlie was on his HONDA and I was on my HONDA CR110 and HELL! me and Charlie went at it for 10 laps at Brands Hatch and I can tell you that my Honda CR110 was prepared by myself and I was very PROUD of this as by winning that race I won no only the ACU GOLD STAR in the first year it was presented but also the Brands Hatch Championship. Picture: George Ashton leading Charlie Mates during the Brands Hatch race in 1965
Out of interest, Charlie Mates bike was being tuned by none other than STEVE LANCEFIELD one of the best tuners of the day and so I felt double proud. In that race and we raced for 10 laps of Brands Hatch, Grand Prix circuit and were never any further apart than shown in the photo. It was a fantastic race I will never forget and I have re-lived that race hundreds of times in my mind . . . . Even now at the age of 73, it still gets me nervous. Charlie was a great rider, a great friend and also my Best Man when I got married.
More memories from George's scrap books and Jeeps files.
On Saturday 14 April 1962, all the leading lights of British 50cc motorcycle racing, including George Ashton, were at the first race meeting held on a banked track since The Brooklands racing circuit closed after the outbreak of World War Two; this was staged at the Gosling Stadium (normally a cycling venue), Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Organised by the Racing 50 Motor Cycle Club, the cold weather and lack of prior publicity might have kept the number of spectators down, but there was certainly nothing below par about the standard of racing, which was deemed as first class.
In almost echelon formation, four 50cc riders dice round the embankment in race positions 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. On the inside is V Wijeraine (No. 19) with John King (No. 15) George Ashton (No 23) and P Sharland (No. 16) leaning on him at the Gosling Stadium .
Picture: Brands Hatch 1963 and George has his first 'off' riding the 50cc ITOM. The tyres and road had a disagreement at the Druids Hairpin and he gave a typical leg signal.
Picture: Same year, same track, same bike but much better outcome. Another meeting in 1
In 1937 the average speed for the track was about 56.5mph. Average speeds continued to rise over the years, with the first 100mph (161km/h) lap average set in 1970 by that year's Formula One world champion, Jochen Rindt. Also in 1970, the injunction limiting race days expired and racing was increased to 14 days a year. However, driver safety was coming into focus in the early seventies and it became clear that racing around a park at 100mph (161km/h) was not safe. Expensive improvements were undertaken, but it was not enough to save the circuit. The last International meeting was in May 1972, the final lap record going to Mike Hailwood at an average speed of 103.39mph (166.39km/h). The final international meeting was held on 23 September 1972, but club events still continued until the circuit's final closure in 1974. Picture: George Ashton on his 50cc ITOM at Crystal Palace in 1964. The Palace was a good track but classed by some as dangerous, I (the Editor) still remember the wall, but it was fun to ride.
So, apart from its location why was this track so popular? As soon as you start walking around the track, the answer becomes clear: it must have been furiously fast, despite the narrow and sinuous nature of the layout.
All the walls and buildings are long gone, but despite the council’s efforts, the great thing is that the trace of both of the track’s layouts are still both there. A combination of new access roads, repaved paths and original tarmac still keep the spirit of Crystal Palace alive.
Racing at the Palace: The riders raced on the final incarnation of the Crystal Palace circuit in 1953 and remember this is in the heart of South London, this proved hugely popular with riders and drivers and spectators alike. In fact, estimates put the number of spectators who flocked to the track for its 1953 re-opening at close to 100,000 people!
The straight seen here, along the south edge of what is now the National Sports Centre, was the start/finish straight between 1953 and 1959. From 1960 to 1972 the start was at the top of the park) however the straight and 'The Wall' remains as one of the features of the circuit. The right-hander at the end of the straight was Ramp Bend. I (Jeep) can remember coming a cropper at this bend in 1961. Miss judging my speed I came into contact with the concrete wall to the left as it continued through the bend. There are still very faint patches of paint behind the moss which now show where indecipherable advertisements and contact grazes with racing objects had been. Picture: By Christopher Hilton
"It is an unfortunate reality that in a sport of speed, where the dangers are on the edge, you might lose a friend. Brian Cockell was such a friend who when trying a different aspect of the sport, passed his own chequered flag at the 1964 Isle of Man Sidecar TT. Brian was an active member of the Racing 50 Club and a very good competitor. He was a great friend of Ian Ager, a person with whom, in friendship, I still have contact".
Editors note: 1965 saw the institution of the ACU Road Racing Gold Star 50cc Championship, and George Ashton achieved immortality by becoming the first winner of it. The class has come a long way in 10 years, remember the Britax 50cc racer, with its top speed of about, let me not be unkind, 50 mph? George is one of the youngest Star winners, SMB Hailwood excepted, being only 21 at the time. It will be interesting to see if he can hold on to his crown this year.
LYDDEN - 1968
Last years winner of the title in 1967, George Ashton did not have it all his own way in this years competition. Winner in the first round of the series, George (Garelli) was beaten into second place by Frank Whiteway (Suzuki) in the second round of the British 50 cc road-racing championships at Lydden Hill, Kent on Sunday and these two now share top spot in the table with 27 points apiece. Showers made conditions tricky during this East Grinstead Club meeting, but this didn't stop Ashton shooting into a 20-yard lead as the pack screamed away. Hard on his heels came Whiteway (Suzuki) and Dutchman Adrie Fostenberg (Garelli), and when Ashton’s exhaust system came adrift on lap two, Whiteway took over.
These two built up a 100-yard lead over Rostenberg and fellow Dutchman Victor Sprout. On other Garelli. Whiteway increased his lead over Ashton after half distance and Sprout passed Rostenberg on lap ﬁve to pull away to a safe third place.
RESULTS: 50 cc British Championship Round (6 laps = 6 miles); 1. F. Whiteway (Suzuki): 2. George Ashton (Garelli): 3. V. Sprout (Garelli): 4 A. Rostenberg (Garelli): 5. N. Lee (Honda): 6. R. Sullivan (Suzuki): 7. D. Chapman (Honda): 8. I. Cogger (Itom): 9. D. Smith (SIS): 10. B. Dickinson (Garelli). Time. 6m. 37.68s = 54.33 mph.
Championship Positions: 1. G. Ashton and F. Whiteway 27 points 3. A. Lawn (Honda) and V. Sprout. 10 points: 5. A. Rostenberg and D. Savoury (Honda). 8 points: 7 D. Chapman. 7 points: 8. N. Lee and F. Redfern (Honda) 6 points: 10. N. Stone (Honda) and R. Sullivan (Suzuki). 5 points.
"Here is a short story that JEEP reminded me of: A few weeks before the Darley Moor September 1st 1969 meeting I made a phone call to Des Bone asking if I could ride his latest ITOM at the meeting as I had fallen out with Agrati (the Garelli importers). He said that as he already had a rider, John Foot and said that I would have to ask John. I was very glad to hear Des say that because that was the reason I had fallen out with Agrati". "I was very glad to hear Des say that because that was the reason I had fallen out with Agrati. They had let Stuart Aspin ride my bike in the Irish Grand Prix without asking if I minded.
The Des Bone Water-cooled Itom
Engine showing the water-cooled head Des constructed
After the conversation with Agrati I ended up saying "let Stuart ride the bike and I will go and ride another bike which I will source from elsewhere". I then went on to say to Des that his water-cooled ITOM was the only bike I had had trouble in keeping in front of and I said I had already asked John Foot, and John had said yes I could as long as Des agreed, so that is how I came to be riding Des's bike at that meeting".
"Anyway we turned up at Darley, I had never ridden the bike before. Practice went fine and I was very pleased with the bike, but when I came to the drop of the flag, for some reason it would not start (I think I had flipped the battery switch off)".
"Anyhow, I was last off the grid and into the first corner, but by the time I got to the hairpin I was in the lead, I had gone from last to first in half a lap unfortunately I was carrying too much speed going into the hairpin and ran onto the bank on the way out".
"All would have been OK but there was a concrete post lying, part buried, in the earth bank and that put a great dent in the wheel rim. I ended up on the ground with the wheel so badly damaged I had to retire from the race and so ended our racing debut, a disaster"!!.
Have you been involved with any other class of racing motorcycles or competitive motorcycling?
Yes, I also owned and raced a 125cc Bultaco and was fortunate to ride the ex Bill Ivy, Chisholm Honda. This was based on the CB92 road bike with the race kit and some special other work done by the Chisholm brothers.
Who, if any one has been the biggest influence in your racing career, or the racing 50 scene in general?
The biggest influence in my racing career was Dave Simmonds, he was a terrific person, a great rider who always got the best out of any bike he road and he was a great friend. We had some great times when racing at the Grand Prix's together. He was and is greatly missed.
In your opinion what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given and by whom?
Best advice ever given was by Mike Hailwood, he told me "IF" I didn't fall off I could be fast enough to win, (and he was right) . Thanks Mike.
What piece of advice or tuning tip if any would you like to pass on to fellow members?
Tuning tips, as I said before I think the designers and makers of RACING bikes are far cleverer than me, my tip is rebuild your engine as the man who invented it would build it himself, BUT always be 100% on torque settings on small engines as I found this makes a lot of difference.
A short story about George from Des Bone.
During a conversation with Des Bone he related a story about George and an escapade on the W-B ITOM:
"Hi Jeep I've just got time for a little story. George Ashton had been racing the W.B. Special for about a year (1970) winning every race except for two DNF's when he entered a race at Lydden in Kent.
On the way down he had a stone break the windscreen on his Mini Cooper 'S' in Dagenham. He had trouble getting it replaced, as being a Sunday most repairers were closed in those day's and by the time he had got it repaired and got to Lydden he was too late for the 50cc practice.
The clerk of the course said not to worry as there were two others that had missed their practice sessions, a 350cc Aermacchi and a 125cc Montesa and that the marshals and ambulance would stay on station at the end of practice while they completed their three qualifying laps so they could race in the afternoon. He also said that George could go out with them. So off they went, the Aermacchi, the Montesa, and then George bringing up the rear, but after three laps George came in followed by the 350cc Aermacchi with the 125 cc Montesa last.
The rider of the Aermacchi came over to George in the paddock and looking at the W.B.50 said that he could not believe its speed when it had past him on the track and just stood there staring at the bike shaking his head.
Needless to say George won the first 50cc race but in the second race he was leading the first lap when the con-rod let go & wrecked the engine, George said he had never known an engine stop so quickly, one moment it was doing 16,000 rpm in fifth gear, just about to change up and a split second later he was getting up off the ground, never having time to touch the clutch lever.
Editor: Well this ends the first page using some Georges' own words, some of mine and some from the media. The pictures are from the same source and if I have used some pictures that the copyright holder objects to, please let me know. I hope you all enjoyed the read and will look forward to the next instalment from Georges' scarp-books when time allows.
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