IF there is one sport us Brits excel at, it’s sidecar racing. Whether it be regional, national, or international, the three-wheeled brigade have a roll of honour which is the envy of the world from its grass track origins to the glamorous world of Grands Prix.

And many of those champions have come from our region with such names as Ken Smith, Dennis Teasdale, George and Mick Dawkins, Alan Artus, Ted Scott, Alan Blewitt, Dave Prattley and Mick Webster, along with many others excelling on the grass ovals. Passengers from our locality included such names as John Arkle, Mick Burr, John Hall, Keith Chapman, Rob Ward and John Atkinson to list a few.

On the hard stuff, Mick’s son Steve Webster became the most successful sidecar racer of all time with an amazing ten world titles over the past 35 years, mainly with home-built outfits in their Easingwold workshops. Then there was the "Fastest Geordie on Three Wheels" Mac Hobson, sadly to lose his life at the TT and others too numerous to mention. But apart from "Webbo", not many from the North-East can claim a world championship title let alone two. Apart, that is, from Andy Hetherington.

The diminutive lad from Middleham was all set to follow his late dad Peter into the jockey’s saddle until a friend introduced him to his field bike at an early age and he was hooked. Andy took to the roads but after tragically losing a few friends from around the Bedale area in road accidents, he decided it would be safer on the track.

So along with some mates of a similar mindset, he started his racing career in the mid-1980s with some initial success on 250cc two-strokes at places like Carnaby, Elvington and Cadwell Park, including winning the odd club racing title. Indeed, he developed a reputation of either winning or crashing but it was at the 1989 Isle of Man TT races that Andy’s career took an unexpected turn. He’d planned on racing his Yamaha FZR600 at the event but decided against it so loaned his bike to a friend to race instead, and decided he’d spend some time on the island having a holiday.

That lasted until the evening when he was approached in a bar by a sidecar driver who’d heard he’d done a bit of passengering for Leyburn racer Vic Jefford. The driver’s passenger had suffered an injury and he needed a replacement. Andy thought about it over a pint (or perhaps two) and agreed. The next day he was hurtling down Bray Hill at 100mph in the chair with Lancastrian Dave Holden at the controls…

The partnership worked well, and the pair finished both Sidecar TT races in the top 30 and what’s more, Hetherington had enjoyed the experience. And it wasn’t lost on others as Andy’s phone started to ring with offers, one of which came from Leeds bike dealer Eddy Wright whom Andy partnered to runner-up spot in the European Championship in 1991. Combining racing solos and sidecars at the time was Kent racer Darren Dixon who was looking for a replacement for his recently-married brother Sean, so he invited Andy to fill the breach. It proved to be an instant success despite an incident in one of their first races together when they had a coming together with another outfit and led to a fracas between all four competitors in the middle of the track.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Darren Dixon and Andy Hetherington, rightDarren Dixon and Andy Hetherington, right

The World Championship beckoned and at their very first Grand Prix in Spain in 1992, they qualified on pole position only to break down in the race. Sadly, it was a pattern that was to continue for the rest of the season although things looked brighter for the following year having shown they could be competitive. But it was a case of history repeating itself in 1993 whereby they led just about every Grand Prix only for mechanical gremlins to strike and ruin their chances. Something had to change and for 1994, they swapped teams which turned out to be just the tonic they needed.

The 500cc two-strokes were temperamental beasts at the best of times and reliability was a major issue for most teams but Swiss engineer Charlie Auf der Maur had identified some of the problems and designed his own ADM power unit. Combined with an unorthodox Windle chassis, Dixon and Hetherington started to rack up the results meaning a concerted tilt at the world title was possible for 1995.

And so, it proved by them winning two of the opening four GPs in Germany and Holland which they followed up with second places in Italy and France. A brake problem robbed them of a good result at their home race at Donington Park before clinching their first title in the final race in Spain with second place. But the outfit broke the gearbox coming out of the final corner on the last lap and coasted to a halt meaning it wouldn’t have lasted another lap which would have cost them the crown.

The title defence in 1996 saw them win three of the first five GPs and place second in the other two, including a memorable victory at the British Grand Prix by 22 seconds. But they had to wait until the final round in the Czech Republic to clinch title number two but alas it was the beginning of the end.

Darren yearned to go back to solo racing as, despite his success, he had lost interest in the sidecars who were getting an increasingly raw deal from the promoters. Andy subsequently teamed up with a couple of other drivers including scoring a podium at the 2000 Australian GP with local ace Shane Souter and a brief foray with German Jorg Steinhausen, with whom he had a 120mph crash at Monza in 2002.

Although relatively uninjured in the spill, Hetherington decided he’d had enough and retired but continued his extreme sport addiction by contesting various hang-gliding championships which he still does to this day. And whilst world champions are often revered in financial circles, sadly for Andy the riches eluded him despite his success. He operated diggers and more recently, has a new venture as a window cleaner in Bedale.

“I think I’m the poorest ever world champion, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I loved every minute of it,” says Andy in his effervescent style. It just goes to show that there is more than one type of successful horsepower to come out of Wensleydale.