Manx Grand Prix 2019 Guest of Honour, Gordon Daniels, was perhaps destined to become a motorcycle racer, as he had some illustrious tyre tracks to follow. His father Jack Daniels was himself a successful motorcycle racer on grass and sand, also competing in trials and scrambles. The famous “Under Milk Wood” author, Dylan Thomas, was their neighbour for a time and used to enjoy watching Jack racing on the beaches of Gower. In his formative years, the young Gordon would watch his father compete near the family home in Swansea.
In 1948 aged 32, in his first ever road race, Jack won the Senior Clubman’s TT on a Vincent HRD 1000cc. Then, on a Velocette KTT 350cc, won Eppynts first Unlimited race and came second to World Champion Maurice Cann on the works Moto Guzzi in the 350cc race. Then back to the Isle of Man Manx Junior Grand Prix taking 5th place. Sadly, Jack died in a motorcycle accident later in 1948 when he hit a pothole, riding with his friends from the Swansea Motorcycle Club in Gower, when Gordon was just six.
Gordon said he would never forget the moment when the policeman came to the house to tell his mother his father had died, after hearing the news from his mother, he promised his dad that he would win the race he had wanted to win, the Senior Manx Grand Prix. 21 years later following 48 accidents at over 50mph and no broken bones, he stood on the rostrum with the wreath around his neck having fulfilled his promise!
Gordon said, “It started in 1961, when I went to a local sprint meeting and one of the guys let me have a go on his sprint bike, I had a 1935 250cc Velocette at the time and he told me how to tune it, I followed his instructions then at the next meeting - I beat him. My mother accepted that I was sprinting because she saw that as safe.”
Before long Gordon moved onto road racing, scraping the money together, attending meetings with an old Morris Minor van and racing using a borrowed pair of leather trousers. “I had to train my half-brother Steve to be my mechanic, he was only nine, even his paper round money went into my racing.”
When I was 21, having inherited £300 I bought a new Greeves Silverstone to compete in club racing. In 1963/64, I won two club championships and broke into national and open centre meetings. “Armed with my results in a book, I went to Monty and Ward in Twickenham, I asked for sponsorship and I got it. In 1965, I teamed up with Derek Minter and Bill Ivy on works Cotton Telstars and an ex Tommy Robb works Bultaco.
I made my debut in the Manx. After a good practice, ignition failure ended my race.”
In 1966, Gordon bought the ex-John Williams AJS 7R, “I adjusted to the big bike and my confidence grew, it was a flyer!” He entered the Junior Manx and finished 20th with a silver replica. In 1967 he had 13th place and rode Ray Cowles’ G50 Matchless, but retired in the first lap of the Senior Manx. 1968 seen him ride the 7R in the Junior Manx and again retiring the G50 in the Senior race, in very bad weather, having crashed in second place on the fourth lap at the Black Hut!
At this point, I decided to give up racing, 'I'd promised I would stop because I didn't want to risk leaving my children with no father, as happened to me,' he said. However, fate had other ideas, one night the following June there was a knock at his front door. “Two men were there asking me to ride a bike they had built for the next Manx. It was a DMW Starmaker.” Once on the island, after putting in a 95 minute practice lap, he decided the bike was too slow to ride. Instead he was offered a Padgetts TD1C 250cc two stroke Yamaha, as well as Ray Cowles' G50 Matchless.
He was flying on the Padgetts Yamaha, however he was concerned with the bike’s reliabilty after the first practice session and decided not to ride it any further. Having
rode the early practice sessions on the G50, for the last session, Ray took him to his van and said “take this out for the last practice”, it was the 1964 Manx Grand Prix winning bike Selwyn Griffiths used and the bike that John Hartle finished third on in the World Championships behind Hailwood and Agostini. This bike had a 5-speed gearbox and he had to re-learn the course with an extra gear and a powerful front brake! He completed two uneasy laps at 95mph+.
Queuing to start the Senior race, Gordon noticed that the carburettor was dripping petrol, the first few riders were away, but he was number 96 so there was just enough time to strip and clean the float chamber as he moved forward, then it was off down Glencrutchery Road. “During the race, I had a lot of traffic and in pouring rain found it difficult to overtake on blind corners”. All seemed to be going well when at the end of lap one he had a 35-second lead, by lap two it was 55 and on lap three, it was just over a minute. However, at the pit stop, he took on extra fuel to make sure, and this, coupled with a problem with his goggles slipping down, slowed his lap times. “Suddenly, I saw a pit board saying I was in second place, 15 seconds behind the leader, the race favourite and my mate from Llanelli, Gordon Pantell. I saw Ray Cowles waving me on, during the last lap, which meant I could use more revs so I took it up to 7,200, I was clawing back a second every mile, on the last lap, I put the 5 speed gearbox and front brake to the test.”
When he crossed the line, Gordon Pantell, his friend threw up his arms - he thought he'd won, so did his wife. “I was flat out when I crossed it, going so fast that the policeman waving us in, further down the road, had to jump out of the way. When I went up the return road at the end of the race, I asked my pit attendant Derek Padden who had won, he said “you did by 7 seconds”, my knees gave way and I just dropped to the ground, he had to catch the bike”.Interestingly, the final and 48th finisher in the same race was a certain Mick Grant, racing in the island for the first time on a Velocette. In the night, Ray asked me what I revved it to, I told him 7,200, he said “you could have gone to 7,600 if you wanted!” Gordon won a number of other accolades that day, the Dicky Dale trophy for the fastest lap 96.66mph on the last lap of the race and the Gary Hokin trophy for the best Welsh rider.
After his 1969 Manx Grand Prix win, Gordon continued racing, in the TT races in 1970 and 1971 he took four silver replicas. “In the 250cc Production TT, Barry Sheen and I were side by side from the mass start until Sartfield, at the top of Barregarrow, I passed him and he crashed into the bank and retired from that race.” Barry also raced with him in the 125cc however, they both did not finish, he crashed at Quarterbridge and I had a broken crank at Ramsey on the last lap fighting for the lead, Barry didn’t race in the IOM again, he said it was too dangerous.
Gordon continued to win races in club and national meetings, in 1971 he came second in the 250cc British Grand Prix at Silverstone, splitting the two works Hondas of Bill Smith and Tommy Robb.
Gordon wanted to give something back racing so he signalled for five years with four men and four boards at the Manx at the Gooseneck. “My first winner was Carl Fogarty in the 250cc Manx Grand Prix, after his father George asked me to signal for him.”
Between 1971 and 1981 Gordon started trials riding as a winter sport and won 40 first class award and the West South Wales Centre championship in 1981, riding a very special 175 TY Yamaha that he built in his workshop. “I also taught school children to ride in the Neath Motor Club. I competed in three St David National trials and was the best Welsh rider on each occasion.”
Gordon started his own garage business repairing cars and machining cylinder heads in 1976 and ran it successfully for 20 years. He sponsored five Welsh riders (including his son Christopher) between 1981 and 1985 on TZ Yamaha’s, he prepared the bikes and took them to meetings in a van and got other sponsorship for the riders.
In 1986/87 Gordon made a comeback to road racing at club level on a Spondon Morbedelli 125cc. He competed in 150 races and finished 148 times and represented Wales in Mondello Park with five teams of racers there from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, he finished 5th. “I won five club championships, was runner up in two and third in the other. At the Earls Court show, Dr Joe Elrick offered me a works 250cc EMC and asked me to ride for him in 1988 however I thanked him but decided to retire.”
Gordon bought a boat and took up diving in 1988, in 5 years he did 40 trips from Swansea to Lundy taking six divers each weekend as a part-time business.
Then he bought a yacht with the intention of learning how to sail, he set sail from Swansea in August 1996 and and arrived in Grenada February 1st 1997, having completed the journey mostly single-handed. He spent 15 years living on his yacht and sailing up and down the islands, he also visited Venezuela and Trinidad and went up as far as Antigua each year, completing 20,000 miles in the Caribbean. During this time he raced his own boat in Antigua and crewed on 24 - 80 foot yachts, he also completed four Atlantic crossings.
At 77, he is now happily settled back home in his native Swansea, where his hobby is rebuilding yachts and sailing the Bristol Channel.