Obituary: Paul Smart (1943-2021)

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Picture: Ducati Corse

The respect, admiration and affection held by Paul Smart was made plain within 24 hours of news of his death becoming public with the many messages of sympathy from the industry, racing bodies and fans.

Few were aware that little more than a month earlier the 78 year old had been given the ‘all clear’ following a lengthy battle with cancer, typifying the fighting spirit which carried him to many victories on the track.

And his love of motorcycles. A couple of weeks earlier he had been touring Spain with a gang of friends and enjoying every minute of it, getting back to Brands Hatch in time for the finale of the British Superbike Championship, a tournament in which he had been a star performer fifty years earlier.

Yet his background had little to do with bikes. He loved boats, water, canals, locks and was fully qualified to skipper a sail boat and did so in various exotic parts of the world.

But anyone brought up within hearing distance of Brands found the appeal of racing motorbikes compulsive. And at a time when the lightweight classes were being invaded by manufacturers like Greeves and, to the surprise of everyone, used versions of their two-stroke motocross engines to beat up Italian four-stroke Aermacchis.

Taking advantage of this was a certain Charles Mortimer who, not short of a bob or two and aided by legendary tuner Francis Beart, set up the Mortimer Beart racing school following a deal with Greeves.

Conveniently, it provided a great learning class for his own son Chas but also for one Paul Smart who by then, 1966, all fired up and raring to go, had bought his own bike, a Bultaco followed by a Villers-engined Cotton on which he had won the MCN 250cc championship.

But the Greeves were better, being provided and led to more success for both Messrs Smart and Mortimer. The 1966 Stars of Tomorrow title went to Smart at Donington and in September he rode the Greeves Silverstone in the Lightweight Manx GP, a useful intro for the Manx Production 750 class where, riding a Norton for Paul Dunstall in 1967, he finished second. He was on his way.

Sponsorship from Joe Francis Motors provided a variety of competitive machinery, a win in the ‘69 Hutchinson 100 and then a works ride with Triumph on their Trident ‘threes’ and the beginning of an international career embracing Daytona where he also joined up, and became great friends, with Mike Hailwood who had been lured by BSA. The racing and the social activities were enjoyable.

It was the time when his career took off firstly with Triumph where the Meriden factory, via their USA arm, were desperately trying to fight off the Japanese. But the lure of riding two-strokes for Kawasaki and being based in California was too much and not without success.

However, the historic victory at the 1972 Imola 200 for Ducati changed everything and although he won at Ontario his Japanese masters were not impressed by his hiring of Colin Seeley to design a new frame for a bike which couldn’t handle the horsepower. He moved to Suzuki where he was later joined by his brother in law Barry Sheene.

What followed was success in a variety of areas in Europe after failing to win at Daytona despite getting two poles. Then the Match Racr series which was great fun. But a bad accident, breaking two femurs at the Race of the Year, and repeating it a year later was when he decided to concentrate on his motorcycle dealership in Kent and, from time to time, making appearances round the world for Ducati who remember him with great affection.

Someone yesterday said of Paul: ‘They don’t make them like that any more’. They never did then either. Well, except for one.

In fact, everyone regarded Paul Smart with great affection as well as admiration. He was an example to us all in enjoying the rarity of a bad word never being said about him.