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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At 22 February 2015 at 01:59 , Blogger bryan said...

Fantastic rider

At 23 January 2016 at 06:30 , Blogger Unknown said...

Not enough has been said or written to acknowledge such raw racing talent and his meteoric success.

At 23 January 2016 at 06:31 , Blogger Gavin Kelsey said...

Not enough has been said or written to acknowledge such raw racing talent and his meteoric success.


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