Jeff Byne's story and history - part 2

As told exclusively to

1978 got off to a disastrous start for Jeff with an accident following a stuck throttle. He took the rest of the year off to build a double engined Morgo Triumph powered bike which he brought out on May Day 1979. The bike was quickly competitive and Jeff took the ACU championship that year also setting the Santa Pod track record for ET and speed. During the early 1980s the quicker racers reverted to single engines and Jeff's bike, run on a tighter budget than others, became less competitive. Although he retired from full time racing after 1983, he has kept his bike and brought it out at Dragstalgia in 2015 and subsequent years to give himself and fans a taste of what racing a twin engined fuel bike was like 35 years or so previously.

Easter 1978, our first meeting of that year, on the first run going through the top end I shut the throttle and it didn’t shut off, I then switched off the ignition as usual but nothing happened. In those days you could fit the fuel shut off anywhere and mine were thumb taps in the 2 separate fuel lines, which is ok when you're sitting in the scrutineering bay and are asked "Where’s the fuel shut off", saying "I’ve got one here and one there". At 160 mph with throttle stuck open, a little more interesting!. I grabbed the brakes, having already flicked the ignition thinking that it would be alright as the magneto should cut out, but at those kinds of revs it didn't and the engine kept running at full power.

It transpired the front engine didn't shut off the back one did. I had it all locked up, it was skating down the road with the front wheel on full lock and the tyre was all distorted. According to Ray Baskerville who heard it coming through the top end, he said he had heard the noise and saw the front brakes glowing red hot when I passed him. I was on a tangent to the Armco barrier as it was in those days. And the first point of contact if it wasn’t the handle bar it was going to be my knee so I bailed out, just f***king rolled off it.

Jeff's bike after the top end accident

The rear wheel and frame were in bad shape

I remember thinking "this is going to be expensive". Anyway I flipped off the side just before the bike hit the barrier and cartwheeled. I went rolling off and sliding down the road, at not less than 100 mph. I remember thinking as I was sliding down the track, "Jesus Christ when do you stop", because I just seemed to be going on forever and luckily was ok once I did stop. I’d worn holes through both elbows and bashed my hip. The bike was some yards back down the track on its side, obviously well mangled, there are some photos of it. The fire marshals and ambulance turned up. I was told it had caught fire which I didn't think was correct as I’d walked over to the bike and turned the fuel taps off and there was no fire then.

As reported in the Slough Observer

Photo from Slough Observer

Photo from Slough Observer

So the first run in 1978 and that was it. There was a hat put on the ground in the pits next to the bent bike and a few people put money in it, and we collected a few quid. Also Roy Phelps sent me a cheque for £100, and said get back soon, I didn't tell people about that. I also received a very nice letter from Brian Taylor, the then commentator. John Clift built me another frame, I changed to an 8 inch Goodyear slick as the 6” was out of fashion by then. I decided to fit an aviation fuel pump to pressurise the fuel system which I got from Angus Mcphail. This overcame the fuel problems I had previously. I still used the hydraulically operated slider clutch. At that time Mick Hand worked at the AEC and he machined 4 toothed belt pulleys for me, instead of using the triple V belts I had previously used.

I came out with the new bike in 1979, my photo used on the cover of the May Day programme, and got it going well, running 8.08 at 176.9 at the August bank holiday meeting, the best runs I did were September and October 1979. (a photo of myself and John on the startline was used on the cover of the October 1979 Santa Pod program) September 15th 1979 was my quickest run, 8.02 at 178.8 mph then October 19th I did the fastest speed of 181.8 mph in 8.17 seconds.(at that time the quickest ET and terminal speeds outside of America) By then both me, John and everyone wanted to run a seven second pass especially when we were knocking on the door of it.

The new bike came out at Santa Pod in 1979

The May Day meeting at Santa Pod.

There was a show at Crystal Palace organised by Santa Pod to promote the upcoming meeting which I guess which was in September (the World of sport meeting that was televised, which I have a copy of). John and I were invited to display our bikes on a stand at the show. At the World of Sport meeting I won my first round, when I went out for the next round the bike was flat, no power. I had a bent push rod in the first round, I’d done the between round checks and thought all was ok, I lost against one of the Dutchmen, Cees Van Dongen I think. Jonny Munn was riding John Hobbs' bike and won the final. John gave up at the end of 1979 so that must have been 1980. I watched the World of Sport meeting when it was shown on TV on a Saturday afternoon before heading to York Raceway, match racing with John Hobbs the following day.

I never really got back to running in the 8.0s, I got in the 8.1 and 8.2s times like that fairly consistently and 170 mph plus terminals which was still pretty good. But the likes of Henk Vink were about and running well. At one meeting I was pitted next to Henk, me with my rusty old Transit with an awning on the back, the missus frying up bacon sandwiches for breakfast; parked next to us is Henk with his air conditioned camper and trailer, 2 bikes and a paid mechanic, Jan, a big tall fellow, and some others from their team who were being chased around by their cook with a live lobster; different ends of the spectrum. I’m thinking about my setup compared to his, I’m still racing him and I can beat him. They always stayed in a hotel, not the camper.

Later in 1979 Jeff and team adopted white as their colours.

There was money getting into it, the Americans had been over, Danny Johnson and Kenny Annesley. There is a photo of me on the starting rollers taken by Keith with my 9 inch tyre and his 14 inch tyre, Henk Vink had bought the injected double engined Kawasaki from Carl Ahlfeldt bringing over the mechanic from America to fettle with for the first few meetings and soon ran the first European 7 second pass. Stefan Reisten on his blown Yamaha was in the 7's with good terminal speeds on his single engined bike. The double engined bikes were coming towards the end of their time and they weren’t very reliable. I had to do a good qualifying run on my first pass then if I got through to the final another 3 rounds, by then all the gears linking the engines would work loose, I'd have to Loctite them on. It was all done on a compromise to my tight budget, when it was built with a gas fitters salary in 1975.

In 1983 Brian Johnson bought Sam Wills bike, a blown Kawasaki already running low 7's in America and he was soon running consistent high sevens 7.7, 7.8 seconds himself along with Henk Vink and others, the route forward was a single engined blown bike. Even the Americans gave up multi engines, like Russ Collins triple engined Honda. The writing was on the wall. I was still competitive and I could go out and win a meeting. In fact, according to Keith Lee's book, at the Jubilee meeting in 1977 I was the first European to qualify with an 8 second run and go through and win the final running 8 seconds in every round. I was ACU Champion I think in 1979. We went to a fancy do at the Lyceum for the presentation, Barry Sheen was there, Murray Walker doing the commentary. We also went to a buffet at the RAC in Pall Mall during the day.

Jeff raced Brian Johnson at Mantorp Park in 1983

Jeff with Brian Johnson and other competitors

During 1983 the year I stopped racing we had been to Holland and Sweden as well as Santa Pod. In the final at Mantorp Park against Brian Johnson I got a holeshot but he passed me towards the top end, he was running high sevens and I was low 8’s. After the run he said "Which f***ing light did you leave on", a bit surprised by my holeshot. I was still getting used to the new Crower style clutch set up after the hydraulic clutch I had always run. A friend of mine had recently made a billet Crower style pressure plate that did away with the hydraulics but only got it down to the low 8’s before I stopped racing.

At Drachten, Holland in 1980/81 we were racing at the Philips owned airfield and the number 2 of Phillips was walking round the pits. He came over to me and said "is everything ok for tomorrow," I said "no I’m not running" and he asked "why what’s the problem". I said "I’ve blown the cylinder head and torched a chunk out of it and I need aluminium welding to repair it" He said "in our factory we must have that equipment" It must have been at the end of qualifying as John Clift, who could argon arc weld, said he would do it if we could find the argon welding set. This guy took us both into the factory which was a mile or so away. We went in through security, the factory was spotless, the security guard took us round until John spotted an argon arc machine.

They phoned the guy who worked the machine and explained the situation and he came to the factory from home especially to weld the cylinder head for us and wouldn’t take anything. When the machine operator was told we were English he said "The English must be helped". He was an older gentleman and must have remembered the post war years and the relief food drops by the RAF. After welding I filled the weld on the joint face down and finished it with some wet and dry paper and raced the following day. Derek Chinn did later on machine the head to accept wire O rings which stopped it happening again.

These spectator shots show the pattern for bike starts back in those days

Anyway, 1983 eliminations, I was racing John Clift I spun the tyre off the line and he got a bit of a head start. I was a bit heavy on the throttle and didn’t shift in time. It all went very lumpy and clunky and I had completely smashed the front engine, broke the gear case and cracked the frame and that was that for the end of the year and I thought right, this was August I was going on holiday in September and thought that will be next year then.

I collected together a set of crankcases, an empty engine with no crankshaft, John Clift had some steel conrods, originally I had used Weslake ally rods but changed to PAC steel rods a few seasons before, as I kept breaking the Weslake rods. This was with the view of putting it back together for 1984. The stumbling block was I’d cracked the gearcase and it got smashed in half, I’d not broken one before and they were no longer available.

This meant I would have to fabricate one which was doable. That was it basically, I started fishing and the fishing bug caught. The bike sat in the garage on a bench at my Dad’s house in a sorry state until I moved here in June 1986; it came here in bits. The frame was hung on the wall, the wheels pushed under the bench, the engines with superchargers and gearbox put on blocks of wood and put under the bench, it sat like that for 30 years.

Since 1983 I had been to Santa Pod once to pick up some camshafts which I bought from Nick Pepper for my Suzuki GS 1000 road bike which I went on. It was the meeting where Alan Ritmeister was killed in the Top Fuel car. The next time I went was to Dragstalgia with a couple of mates in either 2012 or 13, I don’t remember why I went. I was walking through the pits and there's John Hobbs and his bike and we chatted more than we did when we were racing, being competitors previously.

People had asked what I was going to do with the bike, I always said to be honest I have no idea. I said probably offer it to the small museum in Greenford as there are a lot of Triumphs in it. Sadly it has now closed. I would just put it together enough to look complete and it can go and sit there. I was not going to spend money to rebuild it. In the car on the way home from Dragstalgia I said to my mates "Maybe I should put it back together. I've got the engine bits, the gear case needs fixing and some other parts need machining".

Racing in Holland 1980/81

I said "I suppose we could make it run couldn't we". my mate Dave chimed in and said "If you're going to make it run you might as well ride it". I said "No, forget that, it’s tyres, they're ancient, 30 odd years old, the brakes have got to be done they're all corroded up. I said no, that's a complete rebuild to ride it. It's one thing to make the engine start, but a different thing to get on it and go up the track on it". Anyway that’s what happened and over the next 18 months or so it got put back together. Then we hired a van and took it up to Dragstalgia 2014.

I made some fundamental misjudgements rebuilding the engines, one of the big hairy Somerton camshafts I had previously used had got damaged in the front engine blow up and I couldn’t obtain replacements. I could have got alternatives, I made a decision at the time and it was the wrong one with hindsight. I put standard camshafts in both engines. The engine parts I’d bought off John Clift included a pair of forged pistons, I could never afford forged pistons when I was racing the bike and used cast one's which were prone to cracking, the pistons would break, then a rod would go through the front of the engine. Back then it meant buying 6 pistons, 4 for the bike with 2 spares. I just didn't have the money, other racers were only just starting to use forged pistons and they were scuffing and picking up because we didn’t know what kind of clearances to run.

Jeff with Hurricane, occupying his garage in 2022

My bike was reasonably reliable back then, apart from the fact that it would break now and again. The rebuilt front engine had flat topped forged pistons. As I was planning to run the bike "softly" I put the original cast pistons in the back engine to save money. Eventually I had a pair of forged AE pistons made for £525 or so for the back engine. In fact, apart from the camshafts, it’s in better nick than it ever was. I’d decided I didn’t want to break it and I didn't really need to go quickly. Getting round to the 8’s in that area would have been nice so I tried to run on 40% nitro and it just didn’t go. Also I hadn’t ridden it for many years and because it’s heavy on one side it tends to go left off the line. I’d kind of forgotten this until I rode it again for the first time in years.

I went to several Dragstalgia meetings and got down to 9.9 seconds,not as quick as I had hoped for. I was going to do a match race with John Hobbs, he said "this will be the last time these two bikes will run together" because he was retiring his bike after this run, it would have been good for the photos of the two bikes on the startline together but his bike wouldn’t start and it didn’t happen.

I decided to go to a run what ya brung and put some proper fuel back in it, and put it up to 60% nitro. I used to run it on 70 to 75% back in the old days, the engines didn’t like 75% much so it used to break things. I used to run port nozzles to correct the mixture as well but I’d taken all that off and didn’t bother with any of that. So I put them back on with the 60% nitro expecting to run a low 9 seconds but it was slow, no power. It had stripped the front blower belt and I thought that was the problem. We changed the belt and went out again, still the same, I had to push it off the strip, I didn’t get to the other end.

Jeff's trophies

More of Jeff's trophies

We’d never not had power so we started it up in the pits and f***ing hell it sounded really good, it’s got a really good crack to it. I thought I might have richened it too much. So I decided to come back in a couple of weeks. What I’ll do is take all the port nozzles off and go back to where it was when it ran 9.9 and put 60% nitro in and change the jetting slightly. We went back and it still wouldn’t go or rev, I'm thinking "There’s something really odd here, I’ve never had this kind of problem, everything appeared to be alright". It transpired I’d sheared the front blower drive shaft off and just hadn’t realized it, it must have happened when we ran the 9.9. We had been to 2 RWYB meetings with the broken shaft and of course it wouldn’t run well.

Jeff on Hurricane at Dragstalgia in 2021.

Mick Hand made a new shaft from a piece of billet and it was welded in by one of the Page brothers.New parts were just not available. If you could find a second hand blower you’d have to pay £1,000 for it and it would need to be completely rebuilt. We just never really got going again, then we had covid.The last time out in 2021 on our first run we had a duff magneto on the back engine, then it appeared to be alright. We tried it again to then have a heavy fuel leak. We replaced the 30 year old fuel fitting and went out for another run but the magneto was still dead, I had a spare magneto but didn’t want to change it as it was the worst of the three I had, the two best ones on the bike.

I got as far as taking the magneto off, with Antony Billinton needling me all the time. He said how long is it going to take you to change the magneto. I said about 4 hours, he said well it’s 5 o’clock now, he offered to help but I said it’s really a one man job. Anyway I got the magneto off and then I couldn’t get any spark from the spare one. I said let's forget about it and have a couple of beers. I got the magneto rebuilt with a rewound armature. I’ve bolted the magneto back on and it’s still in the garage with bits disconnected and I haven’t set the timing up yet and that’s where we are today.

I've always had a bike of some kind, at 16 I got a BSA C15,a Triumph Tiger Cub which seized solid then a couple of BSA A10’s.In the 70's I bought a GS750 four cylinder Suzuki, then a GS 1000 four, then a Yamaha FZR 1000 and finally a Ducati 748 both still in the shed down the bottom of the garden and neither have been ridden for about 15 years. They got elbowed out of the garage when I had to put the drag bike back together.

In early 2020 I had a phone call from Stu Bradbury to say I had been nominated to be inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. An honour and privilege indeed. The presentation had to be postponed until November 2021 due to covid. Sadly as we know Stu had died before then.

Interview with Jeff in 2022 (click here)

Citation for Jeff's induction to the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame (click here)

Gallery: click on any thumbnail for a large image.

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