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Leaney stars at Christmas Hills International Motocross

Leaney stars at Christmas Hills International Motocross

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International Motocross, Christmas Hills

26 NOVEMBER 1967, CHRISTMAS HILLS - VICTORIA
1967 International Motocross at Christmas Hills - Greg Leaney Greeves

Photos: [Left] Young Victorian rider Greg Leaney was third overall on his Greeves at the Christmas Hills International Motocross spectacular in1967 (Photo: Merv Whitelaw); Californian 22-year-old desert racer JN (Jimmy) Roberts was one of the visiting overseas riders, with this event being his first ever motocross race. (All other photos by courtesy of series organiser Tim Gibbes)

Greg Leaney stars at Christmas Hills International Motocross spectacular

On 26 November 1967, a young Victorian rider Greg Leaney starred at the International Motocross spectacular at Christmas Hills in Victoria.

After only just being upgraded in local racing, he virtually carried Australia’s honors on his shoulders in Round 3 of the Rothmans (Cigarette company) International Motocross series at the 8-mile hillside circuit.

The 1967-68 tour kicked off in Snake Gully near Adelaide (SA) on November 12, then moved to Wollongong a week later, then finally to Christmas Hills on 26 November – which was hosted by the Hartwell Motor Cycle Club – before heading over to New Zealand.

Leaney was the fastest and best performing Australian rider that day riding a Greeves against the overseas stars at an event that the Australian Motorcycle News described as the “Greatest Australian Motorcycle Spectacular Ever”.

Australian Motocross Legend, Tim Gibbes originally from New South Wales who later settled in New Zealand, arranged the annual International series down under in the mid-1960s after returning from racing in Europe and the United States.

This second tour included multiple rounds across Australia and New Zealand with the International contingent featuring: John Lewis (Wales), Gunnar Lindstrom (Sweden), Jimmy ‘JN’ Roberts (USA) and New Zealanders Morley Shirriffs, Gordon Holland, Ivan Miller and Gibbes himself.

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Lewis from Wales wins the Christmas Hills round

Lewis’ Matchless Metisse had failed to arrive by ship, so for Christmas Hills he borrowed Ken Rumble’s new 360 Husqvarna – having borrowed local Ray Christie’s 441 BSA Victor to win the Adelaide round.

Australia’s official representatives were Matt Daley and Laurie Alderton (NSW) and Ray Fisher (VIC), but they didn’t handle the cold, wet and slippery circuit as well as the overseas visitors, who were used to and reveled in these conditions.

Leaney, however, was Australia’s highest finishing rider in third overall (VIC, Greeves, 15 points), just two points behind the winner John Lewis (Wales, 360 Husqvarna, 17 points) and Morley Shirriffs (NZ, Tri-Met, 16 points). Victorian Ray Fisher was next Aussie rider home, finishing in fifth (VIC, Matchless-Met, 12 points) with Dave Basham (SA, Greeves) tying for sixth with Swede Gunnar Lundstrom (10 points).

Lindstrom, the Husqvarna factory test rider, won the first of two International Moto’s ahead of Lewis and Leaney.  The young Aussie rocketed into the lead on his 250 Greeves and stayed there until halfway through the 10 lap race when he dropped the model, leaving Shirriffs, Lewis and Lindstrom to scrap. Then the Kiwi fell, and Lindstrom forced his way into the lead on the final lap to win narrowly from Lewis, with the gallant Leaney back into third place.

Leaney also led the second moto, but this time Lewis displaced him early with Lindstrom following soon after, only to have his Husqvarna seize. Lewis’ engine was next to go off-song, leaving the spectacular Shirriffs to win from Gibbes.

Shirriffs, the 21-year old from Palmerston North (NZ) was reprimanded by the stewards for ‘dangerous’ riding – travelling the length of the main straight on the back wheel!

Photos:  [Top] John Lewis (3, Wales, Husqvarna) was the overall round winner at the 1967-68  Rothmans International Motocross round at Christmas Hill on  Ken Rumble’s new 360cc Husqvarna. This photo was taken at the SA round, where he rode a burrowed BSA from John Christie;  [Bottom] Kiwi  Morley Shirriffs (26, NZ, Tri-Met) passes Ray Fisher (33, Vic, Matchless) while wheel-standing, which he was later reprimanded for by the ACU of Victoria stewards.

Californian desert racer introduces new racing gear

JN Roberts, a 22-year-old Californian (US) struggled in the conditions, being more used to desert racing – having just won the Mexican 1,000 mile desert race, which later was renamed to the Baja 1000.

Roberts pioneered a number of safety innovations in the field of off-road racing. He did this by incorporating protective gear from other sports with his own: bolting a American Grid Iron (football) helmet face guard to his motorcycle helmet, wearing football shoulder pads, as well as a baseball catcher’s shin guards. 

These changes were considered to be the first steps in the evolution of modern safety equipment around the world.

Up until then, all Australians wore open faced-helmets, with only goggles to protect the eyes from dirt and rocks.

Roberts was not used to the tighter circuit and close contact with the other riders and complained to race organizer Tim Gibbes. In fact, this was actually the desert racer’s first ever motocross meeting having missed the opening round at Snake Gully due to a delayed flight to Australia.

Photo:  Californian JN (Jimmy) Roberts (US) competed in the 1967-68 International Motocross series, introducing for the first time down under new protective shoulders pads, as well the latest helmet with a nose and chin guard.  Christmas Hills was actually his first ever motocross event!

1967-68 Australia New Zealand International Motocross

Final Placings – Christmas Hills Round

1. John Lewis (Wales, Husqvarna, 17 points)
2. Morley Shirriffs (NZ, Tr-Met, 16 points)
3. Greg Leaney (VIC, Greeves, 15 points)
4. Tim Gibbes (NZ, Husqvarna, 14 points)
5. Ray Fisher (VIC, Matchless Met, 12 points)
6. Dave Basham (SA, Greeves and Gunnar Lindstrom (Sweden, Husqvarna), (10 points)
8. Ivan Miller (NZ, Husqvarna, 6 points).

Tim Gibbes racing in Europe

Photo:  International Motocross series organiser Tim Gibbes finished fourth overall in the Christmas Hills round in Victoria

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