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Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007
Wayne Mitchell -Ex-Motorcycle World Champion:
`hooked on the thrill of speed and passionate about racing...'
It may seem rather surprising that someone hooked on the thrill of speed and passionate about racing high-powered motorcycles in excess of 200 mph around the fastest racing circuits in the world - should be making a living selling three-wheelers with a mind-numbing maximum flat out velocity of 75 mph!
Nevertheless, the Managing Director of the innovative Derbyshire company that sells the electrically powered Sparrow, a new class of vehicle heralded as `The world’s first “Personal Transit Module” is none other than former British Motorcycle Racing Champion, Wayne Mitchell!
Wayne, who won the British Championship at Donington Park in 1988, was born just across the border in Gleadless and attended Gleadless County Junior School where his sporting prowess and natural athletic ability earned him a place in the soccer, athletics and gymnastics teams.
The motorcycling race–ace had a taste of the globe-trotting glory days to come when he was a 13 year-old pupil at Ashleigh School, Sheffield and spent two weeks touring Germany with the Yorkshire Schools Gymnastics Squad, giving exhibitions in Bremen, Geesen and Munich.
Though these days he is a successful businessman who imports vehicles from Italy and America, Wayne admits to showing no sign of possessing the qualities that would allow such business acumen during his schooldays:
“I was in the middle set at school, says Wayne, - but not very good academically. I sat eight O-levels before I left – and failed them all”.
On leaving school at fifteen, Wayne joined his father, an Insurance Broker, in the family run business, but by this time he was already hooked on motorcycles: “ My father had an old ex-army bike in the garage that I used to play on from being a toddler’ Wayne explained, `but of course, it didn’t go, so I had use my imagination”.
The dreams that began in his dad’s garage took a small step towards being realised when Wayne got his first motorcycle, an ex-paratroop trials bike, when he was just fourteen and entered himself in the Trials Competition Championships in Sheffield – much to his mother’s dismay.
So much was she against her son’s consuming passion for racing that when he passed his driving test first time aged seventeen, she offered to buy him a car – providing he gave up his `dangerous obsession’ with motorbikes. Wayne politely declined and bought himself a 250cc Yamaha!
His mother’s fears however, were well founded for Wayne had gained a reputation amongst boy-racers in Sheffield as `King of the Chippie Run’, a race which started and finished outside the City Road Fish & Chip shop at Gleadless Town End, and challengers came from miles around to try and dethrone him. His final `chippie run’ almost ended in disaster and Wayne saw the error of his ways, but the desire to race was overwhelming.
His father gave conditional support, - the condition being that Wayne should enrol at college and re-sit his exams. It is indicative of his determination to successfully pursue his passion for racing motorcycles that Wayne re-sat and passed five GCE `O’ level’s!
Thus with his father’s full support the youngster was enrolled at the Brands Hatch Racing School in 1977, and immediately displayed a natural talent for the racing track by setting the fastest lap time of the forty or so other hopefuls.
“That was the defining moment, recalls Wayne, `It was such a fantastically exhilerating experience that I knew there and then that all I ever wanted to do thereafter was race motorcycles”.
He bought a 400cc Yamaha and entered his first competitive race at Cadwell Park in 1979, but despite a place at the front of the grid Wayne was literally left standing at the start – having embarrassingly forgotten to switch on the ignition!
“Motorcycle racing was relatively inexpensive in those days, and I raced once a month in that first year’, says Wayne, `but I spent everything on racing and couldn’t afford hotels so I slept in an old van that I bought for transporting the bikes”. Such dedication proved successful when Wayne won at Cadwell Park on a Suzuki RG500 in both 1979 and 1980.
He was soon racing against former heroes like Barry Sheene and Randy Mamola, and the stylish riding and daring racing of the handsome young Gleadless Flyer earned him a growing reputation.
In 1983 he accepted an offer from Manchester based Outline Health Clubs to ride professionally, and promptly re-paid their faith in his ability by notching up his first pro win on his Suzuki at Donington Park.
Other European successes followed but a series of crashes and engine failures blighted Wayne’s burgeoning career until 1986 at the World Endurance Championships when, coming from the back of the field he destroyed the Paul Ricard Stadium with a series of searing laps and finished a very creditable 9th out of 82 competitors.
The following year Wayne’s eight year love affair with his Suzuki ended and he switched to Ducati when he was signed up by Sports Motor Cycles, T.T. sponsors of Mike Hailwood and `Rocket’ Ron Haslam, - and promptly won first time out at Donington Park.
Wayne Mitchell had arrived and had become a force to be reckoned with - and he soon received an invitation to race in the 1988 British Motorcycle Championships.
He warmed up at Daytona in March and was lying 7th when his engine failed, but the reliability of his Ducati proved unquestionable as he won race after race on the European circuit and then crowned his best year by riding his Ducati to victory to clinch the British Championship at Donington Park, beating friend and fellow race-ace Roger Marshall into second place.
“Winning the British Championship was a great achievement, admits Wayne - `and racing motor-cycles at 200 mph is fantastically exhilerating, but it has it’s attendant dangers, and I became acutely aware of them each time there was a fatal accident”.
Wayne has survived twenty years of racing which has claimed the lives of several friends, amongst them such famous racing names as Rob Holden, Simon Beck and Tony Moran. When his first child was born in 1989 he decided to give up racing. But later his marriage failed and in 1993 he was tempted back to the racing circuits of the world, winning his come-back race at Mallory Park by beating defending champion Michael Rutter to win the Spring Cup.
Wayne Mitchell has come full circle since those heady days of the Gleadless `Chippie Run and has raced as a privateer all over the world, winning on his favourite Ducati at circuits in Japan, Macau and all over Europe, and despite breaking a leg at Macau in 1999 he has no intention of giving up the sport.
He still manages to race three or four times a year, “It’s in the blood – and it’s very hard to give up, says Wayne, adding `I still love the thrill of racing and have raced purely for fun since 1993”.
You can be sure with a winner like Wayne at the helm that the innovative electrically powered three-wheeled Sparrow is destined to be first past the chequered flag in the race against the infernal combustion engine on the highways of the future!