Watts vs Roper at Daytona Vintage Grand Prix (1981)

Clive Watts leads eventual winner Dave Roper (both on Matchless G50s) during the Vintage Grand Prix at Daytona in March of 1981. (Gary Van Voorhis photo)

Vintage racing was just starting to take hold when Daytona held its Vintage Grand Prix during Bike Week in 1981. It was a smash hit and was one of the events that helped launch a golden era of vintage motorcycle racing in America. The race was held on the short 1.6 mile infield course at Daytona International Speedway. This photo shows the battle for the lead of the race between the UK’s Clive Watts (No. 18), on his Ray Cowles G50 Matchless, and Team Obsolete’s Dave Roper, on another G50 that had been originally raced raced by the legendary Al Gunter.

Mick Woollett’s coverage of one of the seminal events in historic racing.

Roper takes on the story:

Watts, a Brit who’s presence at Daytona was some how facilitated by Alan Cathcart, I think.  The race started with a push start and Clive, being used to that in UK Classic racing, was off like a shot.  There was a big crash towards the end of the first lap and the race was red flagged.  Kurt Leibman was livid because someone had run over his foot in the push start and was agitating for a clutch re-start.  A vote was taken and a clutch start won.  Jimmy Adamo, riding a 350 Duke single prepared by Reno, nailed the clutch start with me 2nd then Clive.  Clive and I got by Jimmy quickly being on 500s and I won the race.  There was a bit of controversy because I had a 18″ slick tire on the rear, but a 19″ PZ2 Michelin on the front.  Clive had 18″ treaded tires, but disc brakes.  Rules for ‘Vintage’ racing in the States weren’t really sorted then.

Ray Cowles was a Welshman and a real character.  Before the first Classic Manx GP in ’83, Ray tried to convince Rob Iannucci that he had too much fuel in the tank and we were carrying unnecessary weight.  For the ’84 Senior Historic TT, Ray’s rider was Ian Lougher, who was a newcomer that year and he finished 2nd to me.  Since then, he’s gone on to compete in 137 TTs and won 10.  Some years ago, Ian and I were trading Ray Cowles stories and he said that Ray had told him that in his early days he had crashed at Snetterton and was thrown so far that he had to pay to get back in.  John Cronshaw told me that he was racing at Aberdare, a snotty little circuit around a park in Wales, and he asked Ray if the circuit was that bad back when Ray was racing there.  Ray said “No, no, no……it was worse!”

Thanks for the great backstory Dave.

Dave Roper after his big Vintage GP win at Daytona in 1981. (Tom Mueller photo)

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