In Memoriam: Gavin Trippe Snr, racing pioneer

The name Gavin Trippe probably doesn’t mean much to racing fans this side of the pond. But in the USA it certainly does. For it was he who helped transform American motorcycle sport from flat tracks and ovals to European style motocross and road racing.

It was Trippe, born in Norfolk, who lived through and promoted the greatest period ever in US road racing history with riders like Cal Rayborn, Kenny Roberts and Gary Nixon.

That promotion of American riders, never since replicated, took in the legendary Transatlantic Trophy match race series - the US versus the UK - in the early seventies. Two teams of the greatest riders on the planet (Giacomo Agostini excepted) battled it out over the Easter weekend at Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and Oulton Park in front of record crowds.

They’d never seen, or maybe even heard of, the likes of Gene Romero, Dave Aldana or Dick Mann taking it to local heroes Paul Smart, Ray Pickrell, John Cooper and, of course, Barry Sheene. Or seeing Harley-mounted Rayborn beating up the Brits, even in the rain. This was the brainchild of Trippe, his partner Bruce Cox and circuits boss Chris Lowe.

Trippe, born in Swaffham, near Kings Lynn, was a so-so motocross rider who discovered there was more money to be made writing than riding. And taking pictures. So he volunteered his services to MCN, the and coming motorcycle weekly, as a free lance and in 1965 was taken on full time. These were the days when Britain had moto cross world champions like Jeff Smith and Dave Bickers and the sport had bigger crowds than road racing.

But bigger things beckoned and in 1968 Trippe and Cox boarded a flight to America. They launched Motor Cycle Weekly, the equivalent of MCN, and then got into the business of promoting events including the biggest motocross event, the United States Grand Prix, sponsored by Hang Ten jeans, at Carlsbad Raceway.

Through this and flat track halfmiles they got to know Roberts, Nixon, Rayborn and others culminating in the Transtlanic series supported, at first, by BSA Triumph and latterly John Player.

Many other successes and accolades followed, including an induction into the AMA Hall of Fame. The country boy from Norfolk had arrived. And stayed for the rest of his life as a huge figure in US motorcycle sport while also helping grow a large classic car and bike business.

Not surprisingly, the love of bikes for business and pleasure, was passed on to Gavin Junior. No mean motocrosser himself, he runs a motorcycle business in California. And in the meantime the tributes to his father have poured in.

Andrea Coleman of Two Wheels for Life was the first to break the news to Kenny Roberts. He said:”I am truly shocked. He was a great friend and helped me a lot in those early days. I think he did more to professionalise our sport than anybody, starting with the Anglo-American match races. Great days.”

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