Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Gary Hocking

It was dubbed 'the race of the century'. A field of more than seventy of the greatest motor cycle riders in the world — including such famous champions as Mike Hailwood and Phil Read — made that glorious billing a reality for the 1962 Isle of Man Senior (500 cc) Tourist Trophy race.

Acknowledged as the world's most gruelling and most coveted race, thousands of enthusiasts had transformed the quiet island by picking vantage points on the famous 37¾-mile mountain circuit, to watch the world's best riders try to master the uneven surfaces, tight corners, brick walls and bridges on the most gruelling road circuit of them all.

It was 7 June and among those at the start-line was the slight, lithe figure of Rhodesia's Gary Hocking, astride his potent snarling Italian MV Augusta machine.

Already the reigning double world champion for 1961 in the 350 cc and 500 cc classes, he desperately wanted to win this race to crown his short but spectacular career.

He had never won this Senior TT — a race with the special aura which had made it the greatest spectacular of its kind — and now needed it to gain every worthwhile laurel in the sport

Two days earlier, in the 350 cc TT race, his close friend Tom Phillis of Australia had been killed, while a few days before that, Hocking himself had been fortunate to survive a 120 mph crash during Isle of Man practice. Distraught at the death of Phillis, the courageous young Rhodesian sought the advice of his father, who was there.

"I have no doubt about the right course . . . give up racing," said Arthur Hocking. And as he wheeled his MV to the start of the Senior TT, Gary left behind a promise to his parents that, win or lose, this would be his last race.

Hocking quickly surged to the front on the tortuous circuit, with constant gear-changes taking the hurtling metal of the bikes from sea level up to 1300 ft., through villages, past front gardens and out into the countryside.

On the second of the six laps, Hocking gave an incredible display of cornering and opened a fifteen-second gap on Hailwood, shattering the lap record of 105,75 mph in the process. Going into the final lap he knew he held a huge advantage on the struggling pack, so was able to ease up a little.

Yet incredibly, when he flashed past the chequered flag, he had covered the 226,4 miles in 2 hr. 11 min. 14 sec. at a record average speed of 103,51 mph. It
was, the critics agreed, the greatest ride yet seen in the Senior TT.

Hailwood lost his chance with a pit stop on the fourth lap while Read retired on the last lap, both had been unable to stay with the blazing pace set by the Rhodesian.

It was a victory which underlined his indomitable courage, for Hocking's practice crash would have deterred a lesser man from competing. It had been in the dawn of 28 May that Hocking slammed into the back of another Rhodesian, Graham Smith, at about 120 mph on a bend.

Hocking's MV burst into flames, but he was thrown clear, escaping with cuts and bruises, while Smith suffered a fractured hip. Said a TT official who witnessed the crash: "It is incredible both riders are alive."

Hocking kept his word, and after his Senior TT success, announced his retirement. "I had decided to retire at the end of the year, but it upset me so badly when Tom was killed," said Hocking. "After seeing so many good blokes kill themselves on motor cycles I asked myself what more there was in the game for me? I am sick of the sight of men killing themselves on motor cycles," adding: "But it's quite a thing to forget forever the smell of engines and grease and I only hope I will have enough will-power to stick to my decision. I'm not going to turn to racing cars . . . I'm going to do my best to keep out of the game altogether."

Six months later Gary Hocking was dead. He died at the age of twenty-five in an ambulance on the way to Addington Hospital, after crashing his Lotus Climax V8 car at Westmead, Durban, while practising for the Natal Grand Prix.

It was 21 December 1962 when he left the track at close to 100 mph on a corner known as Devil's Leap.

The lust for racing was in his blood and he had been unable to resist the temptation to return to it Only a few short weeks after his retirement he borrowed Les Tempest's Cooper-Bristol car and had his first four-wheeled race at Salisbury's Marlborough track, in which he did not finish. He then bought his own car — a Cooper Climax — and drove with mediocre success in Europe, though back in South Africa he had a fine win at Kyalami and also won the Rhodesian Grand Prix.

But he returned from overseas in late 1962 with a contract to drive for millionaire sponsor, Rob Walker, in the 1963 world championship Formula One. The Walker stable Lotus Climax, originally earmarked for Stirling Moss, was specially imported for him to drive in the South African Grand Prix series . . . but fate stepped in and a great Rhodesian lost his life.
 A verdict of misadventure was recorded when an eyewitness told the inquest that he thought Hocking had driven too fast and too wide into the corner. But John Love, Rhodesia's South African champion driver, disagreed. "Gary would have been another Jim Clark," he said. "Great drivers are born, not made, and Gary had fantastic natural ability. I don't believe that crash was his fault... he was too good to just lose it."

It was Hocking — universally known as 'Sox' because of his reluctance to wear them — who fulfilled the dream of the great Ray Amm to win a world motor cycling championship for Rhodesia.

Born at Newport, Wales, in 1937, Gary Hocking came to Rhodesia at the age of ten with his parents. He went to school at Bulawayo Technical School, and as a schoolboy disliked motor cycles. But his interest was stimulated when he left school and bought an old Jawa to ride to work.

He so enjoyed the exhilaration of throwing it round bends that he bought a Triumph T100 which he entered for a meeting at Bulawayo's Umgusa Speedway where he won his first race in the rain at the age of seventeen. He bought his first new machine, a T110, while his mentor, the former Rhodesian champion Ken Robas, lent him a 350 Manx Norton.

Later he took over the Ridgeback built by John Love and he began to overcome all local opposition, first in Rhodesia and then in South Africa.

In the Heany 100 in June 1957, the nineteen-year-old startled the experts and showed his real flair when he beat the veteran Beppo Castellani.

An incredibly shy young man, Hocking nevertheless was riding high in confidence as he headed for England in 1958 with no set plans, no machine and little money. All he possessed was a full measure of courage and determination.

Norton chief, Reg Dearden, lent Gary a machine for the Dutch Grand Prix and he showed his potential by finishing sixth in the 500 cc event, ahead of all other
Commonwealth riders. He also came third in the West German Grand Prix.

After a little more than a year in Europe, Hocking came home with a two-year contract with MV Augusta, the famous scarlet Italian machine. It was a meteoric rise and the Rhodesian was not to disappoint his backers.

He joined the feared MV team in 1960 as number two rider to Italy's Carlo Ubialli. In this role he won the Isle of Man Junior (250 cc) TT, the 250 cc German and Italian Grands Prix and the 350 cc French and Ulster Grands Prix and finished second in the 125 cc TT. This sort of form brought him second place in three world championship tables for the year — the 125 cc, 250 cc and 350 cc.

The Italian 250 cc Monza race was won at an average speed of 109,72 mph and Hocking came desperately close to clinching the world title in this class. With one race to go he was two points behind Ubialli but had to retire with mechanical problems.

For 1960 he had to be content with second place in the 125 cc, 250 cc and 350 cc championships behind Ubialli and Britain's brilliant John Surtees. But in 1961 he was MV's only rider and he concentrated on the 350 cc and 500 cc classes to take both world titles with ease, beating Hailwood into second place in
the 500 cc class.

In just three full seasons overseas, Hocking had-risen to double world champion — an unprecedented success story. He was Rhodesia's first world champion in a major sport.

The four-cylinder MV Augustas were well nigh invincible by the early 1960s, but Hocking was not without serious opposition. Both he and Hailwood were mounted on MVs for 1962, the British rider switching from Honda and Norton.

Hailwood pipped Hocking in the 350 cc TT race after the Rhodesian had led from the start, only to be caught finally and beaten by 5,6 seconds. But Hocking took the prized Senior 500 cc TT race, to crown an astonishing career and also to coincide with his award of the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Retirement was brief and Hocking soon turned to serious car racing, finishing fourth in the Copenhagen Grand Prix, and driving in the 201-mile International Gold Cup which Jim Clark won in his Lotus 125. Hocking, in an obsolete Lotus, drove brilliantly, according to London reports, pushing his car to sixth position before blowing up in the final few laps.

His talent obvious, Hocking signed the fateful contract to drive Formula One as the sole driver for 1963, for Walker, friend and sponsor of Sterling Moss. The way was open for the Rhodesian to emulate Moss . . . until tragedy struck at Durban.

Hocking's parents asked for his body to be flown to them in Newport, Monmouthshire, for burial, and the family wishes were met.

Bulawayo businessman, John Wells, who originally sent Hocking overseas with an introduction to Reg Dearden, on hearing of his death said: "I'm choked. I thought 'Sox' would never kill himself. He never took chances and was always the supreme master of his machines, whether two-wheeled or four. We have lost one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever produced."


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Alan David Butler

What was the greatest individual feat ever achieved by a Rhodesian sportsman? Was it any of Ray Amm's, Gary Hocking's or Jim Redman's thrilling motor cycle victories against the world's best? Terry Sullivan's four-minute mile? Mike Procter's world record six first-class centuries in succession? Many other outstanding achievements readily come to mind, but one that must rank in equal stature with any of those mentioned is all too readily forgotten.

It came in 1960 at Naples, Italy, when Salisbury yachtsman David Butler crewed by Chris Bevan gave Rhodesia her finest hour in any Olympic Games, the world's greatest sports spectacular. Against an awe-inspiring fleet of the world's elite yachtsmen, Butler was first across the finishing line in one of the series of seven races making up the overall Olympic Flying Dutchman class. That was a great moment to savour not only for Butler but for Rhodesian sport made more startling by the fact that he came from a land-locked country and was competing against the champions from the world's maritime nations.

In another of the races Butler finished second, and his next best place was a fourth to finish overall fourth and just miss the honour of winning Rhodesia's first Olympic medal. The hockey women achieved this for Zimbabwe with the Gold Medal at Moscow in 1980.

Opening the Rhodesian boat show at Salisbury in 1963 the Prime Minister of the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Sir Roy Welensky, appealed for funds to send more yachtsmen to the 1964 Olympics at Tokyo.

"For Butler and Bevan to finish fourth at Naples was an achievement more meritorious than most of us realised," he said. "So much prestige is attached nowadays to winning international sporting contests that some of the more powerful countries seem to treat them almost as an adjunct of their foreign policies.

"Equipment is provided from government funds and amateurism is a dead letter in everything but name. Our Rhodesian Olympic Committee relies entirely on voluntary donations and our competitors are neither carried on the strength of the Army nor are they holders of athletic scholarships.

"I might be prepared to speak to Mr. Field (the Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister) about making our yachtsmen 'Heroes of Rhodesia' if they bring back a medal next year."

After Butler's near miss at Naples, hopes were high for Tokyo. This time the suave, highly determined Butler prepared avidly with Mike Green as crew, but two weeks before leaving, Green injured his knee and withdrew, Tony Crossley coming in as a last-minute replacement. Although Tony was an experienced crewman, this last minute change was a major setback because it left little time for the men to get to know each other as they would have done in an extensive preparation.

Another disadvantage was that Butler had not undertaken a European 'tuneup' tour prior to the Games, as he had done prior to competing at Naples.

In the first race of the yachting events at Enoshima, Butler and Crossley finished third of the twenty-one nations in the Flying Dutchman class after being fourth last over the start line and having to work through the fleet with all the skill at their command. It was an encouraging beginning and expectations soared.

With two races left, the Rhodesians were sixth overall and still had an outside chance of squeezing in for a medal. But a snapped rudder in one race and a lowly fifteenth place in the final race saw them relegated to eleventh place overall.

Butler was again chosen for the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City, but the team did not participate because of political problems and he had to wait until 1972 for the hope of competing in the 1972 Games at Munich, with the yachting events being held at Kiel.

Those blood-stained Games, marred by the massacre of the Israeli sportsmen, were also to end in sorrow for Rhodesia, whose representatives travelled to
West Germany in high spirits but were excluded as a result of political action at the last minure

David Butler, however, was never to know of the sorrow of those hypocritical Games — while in Europe in July, preparing for the Games, he was killed in a
motor accident on his way to a regatta. It was a tragedy that robbed Rhodesia of a magnificent sportsman and the nation's brightest medal hope for the Games.

Butler had learnt from his lack of preparation for Tokyo, and had launched a comprehensive build-up. He looked to Kiel with obvious relish and took delivery of his new Soling boat at Easter 1972 from Paul Elvstrom, the Swede acclaimed to be the best boat builder in the world and also the leading yachtsman with four Olympic Gold Medals in the single-handed Finn class to his credit.

The wealthy Rhodesian — many times Rhodesian and South African champion in different classes — first sailed his new boat at Copenhagen a few days after he bought it. In water of 4 °C he finished two-thirds down a fleet of sixty and knew that if he was to be competitive in this brand-new Olympic class he would have to put in a great deal of preparation.

So he gathered his full sailing crew (James Brereton and Guy Grossmith) in Europe and they competed together in May in international regattas at Copen-
hagen, Oslo, Kiel and Marstrand in Sweden.

Butler then returned home for a few weeks and set out again in early July for the final tune-up, which was to include the Danish and European championships leading up to Kiel. But tragedy stepped in when Butler lost his life on a motorway with his fervent dream of an Olympic medal for Rhodesia unfulfilled.

Rhodesia's experienced yachting manager, Frank Lincoln, had spoken about Butler's chances only days before his death. "To me he has reached the highest degree in sport," said Lincoln. "He has a fantastic will once he decides to do something. He'll definitely be in the first ten at Kiel and I think he will be higher. With luck he'll finish in the first five."

Butler himself told me as he left on his fateful journey: "In yachting it is not impossible for Rhodesia to win a medal at the Olympics, but we must concede that for us to do so is a long shot."

Alan David Butler was born at London on 23 October 1927, and was short listed to ski in the British Winter Olympics team when he was in his early twenties. His late mother had been a Canadian Olympic ski champion, but young David was not to follow suit for he broke both his ankles and didn't make the team.

Arriving in this country in 1949 he entered politics and was elected Member of Parliament in 1962. A highly articulate and intelligent man he was also a director of companies with many varied interests, including aviation and ranching.

Another sailing feat of outstanding merit was when he finished fifth in the gruelling Cape-to-Rio ocean race, skippering Golden City in January 1971. For his brilliant Olympic feat of 1960 he was named among the finalists that year for the John Hopley Trophy, supreme accolade as the country's Sportsman of the Year. But Terry Sullivan had just become the first man from Africa to crack the four-minute mile on the track and he gained the vote ahead of the luckless Butler, who in many another year would have been a unanimous choice.

But there was no doubting his achievement and emergence as a world-class yachtsman who brought great credit to his adopted country.

Some statistics on Butler's career:

Selected as Rhodesian Olympic representative in the Flying Dutchman class 1960, 1964 and 1968 and Soling class in 1972.

Rhodesian national Flying Dutchman champion 1959, 1962, 1963, 1966 and 1970.

South African national Flying Dutchman champion 1964 (winter), 1966, 1967 and 1969.

Rhodesian national 505 champion 1961.

All Africa 505 champion 1960, 1962.

Fifth in Golden City in the Cape-to-Rio race in 1971.

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