Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter recalls two of the leading bike racers from the region, Geoff Johnson, and Andy McGladdery

REMEMBER the boom and bust Eighties? Big hair, big wages, big everything. Those bygone, halcyon days when you could do things like go to the pub, visit your family and even jet off on holiday seem a distant memory but as far as North East motorcycle racing is concerned, it spawned two enduring legends.

Whilst they may have lived less than 20 miles apart, Geoff Johnson and Andy McGladdery were polar opposites in many ways but enjoyed almost parallel careers. Both born in the 1950s, they made their way in the sport at their local tracks before each won a Manx Grand Prix race. Then, as well as excelling on the short circuits, both riders became leading TT riders before their respective and untimely deaths away from the racetrack.

Born in 1952, Geoff, from Richmond, made his living as a bus driver in the early days before coming to prominence at his local tracks include Croft, including winning the last ever solo motorcycle race before the circuit closed down in 1981. Three years the younger, Andy too served his apprenticeship on the club racing scene before winning the Manx Lightweight Newcomers Grand Prix in 1979, a year before Geoff took honours in the Senior Manx Grand Prix.

Andy was a travelling salesman and was famous for his crash helmet which proudly displayed Saint George on horseback in deference to his Middleton St. George heritage. Geoff, meanwhile, took advantage of the increasing lucrative deals on offer to become a professional racer with a plan to move into team management.

Never close friends but mutually respected rivals, both riders were popular with race fans in their own right. Geoff was the straight-talking, clean-shaven and suave Yorkshireman with an eye for a good deal and pay packet to suit whereas Andy, complete with beard and battered transit van or converted ambulance, and always with his band of merry helpers, liked a laugh and a pint. He built his own bikes, including the famous ‘Growler’, pictured below, and once told me the reason he didn’t shave was the annual cost of razor blades equated to a new front tyre…

Darlington and Stockton Times:

As a result, Geoff was affectionately known as ‘Moneybags’ in the paddock community, whereas Andy was dubbed ‘B***** (rhymes with sugar…) All Money’ in deference to Harry Enfield’s seemingly more affluent character of a similar name. Both men took the jibe in the spirit it was intended, but there was a ring of truth to it.

On the short circuits, Johnson rapidly made his presence felt in the production-based classes, winning the one-make Honda VF500 Challenge in 1986 before doing likewise in the Honda CBR Challenge the following year. Geoff finished third in the 1985 British Production Championship and was a front runner in the Battle of the Twins series too. He also won UK short circuit races in 1987 and 1988 for good measure.

McGladdery, on the other hand, didn’t really contest full domestic championships but had two standout rides that spring to mind. In 1987, the one year he did most rounds of the then-premier MCN/EBC British Superstock Championship series, he took a sensational victory at Knockhill for Honda on their VFR750. Prior to the race, he suggested to the Japanese firm’s top brass that if he won that race, could he have a bike for the upcoming British Grand Prix? He won and they obliged, and on an ex-Freddie Spencer NS500, he was up to ninth when it broke down.

A year later at Carnaby for the ACU Star series, he was drafted into the fledgling works Norton team and ended up taking the first ever victory for the rotary-engined air-cooled RCW588 which went on to so much success over the next few years.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

But it was at the Isle of Man TT races that both riders gained their reputations. Geoff raced in 34 TT races between 1981 and 1990 and finished 20 of them. His three wins all came in the Production class, his first aboard a Kawasaki GPz900R in 1984 with a new lap and race record before taking a Honda VF1000F2 to another win the following year. His final TT win came on an FZR 750cc Yamaha in 1987 and during his TT tenure, he racked up a total of 17 top ten placings around the 37.73-mile course, including eight podiums in addition to his victories.

Disappointingly, a TT race win eluded Andy during his 22 races between 1981 and 1989 but he did manage to finish in the top ten on eight occasions. Indeed, his only podium came when he finished third in the 1986 TTF1 race behind winner, TT legend Joey Dunlop, and Johnson who claimed second place in that same race.

Ultimately, it was the Isle of Man which forced both riders into retirement when Geoff injured his shoulder early in proceedings at the 1989 TT races and he called it a day the year after. Andy retired that same year but made a comeback at the 1991 Manx Classic GP only to find the leg he’d broken earlier that year wasn’t up to the job, so he too hung up his leathers.

Geoff had planned to move into a management role with the Loctite Yamaha team for whom he had ridden for the latter part of his career but in February 1991, he suffered an embolism whilst at home and sadly passed away. I remember it well as I lost my dog the same weekend. After Andy retired, he became a leading light in the North Yorkshire Road Racing Supporters Club helping raise funds for up-and-coming young riders as well as becoming a sports reporter and commentator.

Sadly, in July 2013, Andy was out riding his road bike with friends when he was involved in a road accident on the outskirts of Darlington and died of his injuries as a result. It was an unforgettable day as it was the Sunday when Andy Murray became the first British player to win at Wimbledon to end the 77-year drought. There are some anniversaries which end up being more poignant than others…

Pictures courtesy of Alan Horner and Phil Wain.