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Motocross Legend Watson

Motocross Legend Watson

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Australian Motocross Legend Bill Watson

Bill Watson racing in Kalgoorlie with insert
Bill Watson racing at Southern Cross in the 1980s - By Peter Kitchingman
Bill Watson with son Brian at a VMX meeting

Photos: [Left]  Bill Watson’s racing career began in 1949 in Kalgoorlie; [Centre] Bill in action in the King of the Cross, Southern Cross WA in the 1980s (By Peter Kitchingman); and [Right] Bill with  his son Brian, both Husqvarna fans and regular Vintage MX competitors at State and National level.

Bill Watson – Recordholder for longest motorcycle racing competition license

Bill Watson, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, has been an ambassador, pioneer and legend of the sport of motocross for over 75 years. He has to be the Australian (if not the world) recordholder for hosting a motorcycle competition racing license for the longest period – from 1949 when he first joined the Goldfields Motor Cycle Club, through to today.

During this period Bill has successfully raced all forms of motorcycling, but it was Scrambles (motocross) where he made his mark winning seven WA State Championships and finishing on the podium three times since the National Motocross Championships began in 1953.

Amazingly, Bill was born in 1928, the same year that the inaugural Harley Scramble was held at the Rope Works Circuit at Mosman Park, near Perth – and just four years after the sport of motocross was established.

Bill started racing in 1947 and in the 1950s was a regular competitor at Perth scramble circuits, including the Rope Works, where he had much success.  

In 1955, he won his first WA State title there and was the Runner-up Australian 500cc Motocross Champion and third outright (in the Unlimited class and Harley Scramble) behind other BSA riders Peter Nicol and Ron Edwards.

The National Championships that year were combined with the famous Harley Scramble with a record crowd of 20,000 people attending the coastal circuit near Cottesloe Beach at Buckland Hill between Perth and Fremantle – a record that stands to this day with only the 1992 International MXDN’s (Manjimup, WA) and 2000 500cc Grand Prix (Broadford, Victoria) matching it.

Due to the success of the annual Harley Scramble, the Auto Cycle Council of Australia (ACCA) approved combining the Championships and Harley Scramble, adopting its unique format.  Instead of classes being run separately over short distances, all groups were run concurrently and covered the same number of laps (10 laps of the 4.2km Rope Works circuit in the morning and 14 laps in the afternoon) with the class winners determined by their finishing positions and the size of their machines.

To regularly compete at this event, Bill would ride his BSA from Kalgoorlie to Perth and back in one weekend – a 1,200 kilometer return trip, then ride through the night (often without lights) to be back at work on the Monday morning.

Bill was one of WA’s first motocross heroes when the sport boomed in the mid-1950s.  He was one of WA’s first motocross heroes when the sport boomed in the mid-1950s, racing under the No.1 plate from the 1950s through to the late 1980s.

Bill was, and is still part of many technological advances throughout the sport’s history, holding a competition license today at age 95.  

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Bill Watson 6 times WA State Motocross Champion on the 250cc Maico at Herne Hill WA in 1961
1955 Les Sheehan leads Peter Nicol in the combined Harley Scramble - Australian Motocross Championships at the Rope Works in Mosman Park, WA

Photos: [Top]  Bill Watson 6 times WA State Motocross Champion on his 250cc Maico at Herne Hill WA in 1961; and [Bottom] Les Sheehan leads Peter Nicol in the combined 1955 Harley Scramble – Australian Motocross Championships at the Rope Works (WA), where Bill podiumed in the 500cc and Unlimited classes.

Being part of the evolution of bikes from street machines to purpose-built "motocrossers"

2014 MWA president Paul Foster proudly presents Bill Watson with his Lifetime Competition Licence - photo Gordon Pettigrew-True Spirit Photos

During his career, Bill witnessed the evolution from the 1200cc Harley Davidsons, to the lighter British BSA’s, then lightweight purpose-built ‘motocrossers’ in the 1950s through to the Japanese two-stoke invasion in the 1970s.

It was during this time we saw the second-coming of Bill Watson when, after purchasing a 250 Maico, he fell in love with the Swedish Husqvarna. Between 1970 and 1974, Bill won four WA 350cc State Championships on a Husqvarna, adding to his first 350cc State title on a BSA in 1962.  He was also the Runner-up Australian 350cc Champion when the 1974 National titles were held at Manjimup, WA.

Bill continued racing open motocross competitions into the 1980s and 1990s, eventually switching over to Vintage MX racing, being the founding member of the Vintage MX Club in WA.  He has been a regular VMX competitor since then, regularly travelling east in the 2000s to compete in the Australian Vintage MX championships, including Ararat (VIC), Coffs Harbour (NSW), Connondale and Harrisville (QLD).

Bill’s remarkable and enduring commitment to the sport is undeniable and is underscored by his unique quality of holding a competition licence, and competing in different motorcycle disciplines, continuously from 1947 through to today.

In 2014, in recognition of his enduring commitment to motorcycle sport (continuously competing in different motorcycle disciplines from 1947 through to today) Motorcycling Western Australia proudly awarded Bill a “Lifetime Competition Licence”.

 

Photo: 2014 MWA president Paul Foster proudly presents Bill Watson with his Lifetime Competition License – photo Gordon Pettigrew-True Spirit Photos

Growing up in Kalgoorlie and getting into racing

Bill Watson was born on 14 December 1928 and grew up in Kalgoorlie, but also spent time in Esperance and Marble Bar. During his school years, his parents were publicans in Kalgoorlie, so Bill boarded at Christ Church Grammar school in Perth for four years (1941 to 1944).

Following his school years, Bill completed a heavy industry apprenticeship. His motorbike fascination began as a teenager when he purchased a motorbike to ride between Kalgoorlie and Boulder to work.  Bill’s first bike was a 1930 Velocette 350 KSS, but he first raced scrambles in 1949, burrowing a mate’s BSA B31 after joining the Goldfields Motorcycle Club.

In 1949, Bill moved to Sydney for a year, when he was offered a job on the construction of the 50,000kW Powerhouses at Pyrmont. To get there, he rode his BSA Gold Star from Kalgoorlie to Sydney, using the same bike to race scrambles in New South Wales.

He became a member of the Maroubra Motor Cycle Club and, during this time became close friends with another legend and pioneer of the sport – Les Fisher. The mates raced in dirt track and road racing events around Sydney and flagged at the Australian Road Racing Championships held on the Easter weekend at Bathurst.

When the project was completed in 1950, Bill returned to Kalgoorlie for about 6 years and continued racing. Every second weekend he would ride his bike to Perth, stripping it into race mode to compete in the many scrambles events that were being held in the “suburbs” of Perth. This included racing in the Harley Scramble at the Rope Works, where he became one of the top riders during this era.

Bill Watson heading across the Nullabor returning from Sydney to Perth on the 500 BSA Gold Star
1950s Brooklands scramble Subiaco, possibly Bill Watson 1 and Glen Britza 23 - Glen Mottram collection

Photos: [Top] Bill Watson riding  his BSA Gold Star from Kalgoorlie to Sydney across the Nullabor for his new job.  In NSW Bill joined the Maroubra Motor Cycle Club and raced this bike in scrambles and street races; [Bottom] No.1 Bill leading the Brooklands Scramble in Subiaco with another legend Glen Britza (23) in third (Glen Mottram collection)

Big Bill's success at State and National level

1955 would be Bill’s most successful year where, at age 27 he won his first WA State title at the Rope Works, in the 500cc class.   That year he was also the Runner-up Australian 500cc Motocross Champion at the same venue and third outright (in the Unlimited class and Harley Scramble).

After marrying his girlfriend Mary, they moved to Perth in 1956 where Bill continued racing scrambles, but also started competing in the stockbike class at the legendary Claremont Speedway track (stockbikes being a gateway to solos) as well as competing in trials, where he won a WA State Trials Championship at Bickley Valley.

While in Perth, Bill worked at Mortlock Bros (WA’s biggest motorcycle dealership at the time) in the City, but when son Brian arrived, they settled back in Kalgoorlie for a while.

1954 Bill Watson at the Harley Scramble, The Rope Works in Mosman Park
1955 Harley Scramble and Australian Motocross Championships - Peter Nicol 1 and Les Sheehan 2 (Peter Nicol collection)
Motocross legend Bill Watson also successfully raced stock bikes at Claremont Speedway in the 1960s

Photos:  [Left]  At the combined Harley Scramble / Australian Motocross Championships in 1955 at the Rope Works circuit in WA,  on a BSA Bill Watson finished  second in the 500cc and third in the Unlimited classes and Harley Scramble; [Centre] Australian Unlimited and 350cc Champion and Harley Scramble winner Peter Nicol (1 WA) leads Les Sheehan (2 VIC) – the back markers working their way up through the big field of over 100 riders. (Peter Nicol collection); and  [Right] Bill racing stockbikes at Claremont Speedway during the  1950s and 1960s.

Bill’s fascination with the Swedish Husqvarna's

With two stokes taking the sport of motocross by storm in the 1960s, Bill purchased a 250 Maico before falling in love with the Swedish Husqvarna.  

The “Swedish engineering” took his true fancy and Bill bought his first Husqvarna in 1968 and now has his Perth northern suburbs home garage filled with them.  

Riding Husqvarna’s, Bill won four WA 350cc State Championships between 1970 and 1974, adding to his first 350cc State title on a BSA in 1962.  In 1974 the Australian Championships were held at Cosy Creek, Manjimup in the South West of WA and Bill was the Runner-up Australian 350cc Champion, behind South African expatriate Graeme Green on a Maico. 

Unfortunately, this would be the last ever 350cc Championship at both National and State level with the ACCU phasing out this class that year.

Bill Watson - WA State Motocross Champion - in his garage (The West Australian)

Photo: “Big Bill” as nicknamed at Claremont Speedway, at his Perth northern suburbs home with his fleet of Husqvarna motorbikes.

"Watto" the Vintage Motocross ambassador

2019 Bill Watson at the National Vintage MX Championships at Harrisville in Queensland

Bill continued racing motocross into the 1980s and 1990s, eventually switching over to Vintage MX racing, being the founding member of the Vintage MX Club in WA.

He has been a regular competitor since then, regularly travelling east in the 2000s to compete in the Australian Classic MX championships.

His last National Vintage MX Championships were in 2019 at Harrisville in Queensland. To compete in this event, Bill overcame the illness known as septic shock – a life-threatening condition that happens when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after an infection.

Bill crashed at that event breaking his right femur in three places, but made a quick recovery and was back racing within months. He and his son Brian had planned to compete at the National event at Port Augusta in South Australia the following year, but unfortunately this was cancelled due to Covid and the travel restrictions.

On 13 September 2020, at age 91, Bill competed in the over 55/65’s class on a Husqvarna 250 at the Millfarm Scramble in Wandering, a small country town south of Perth.

Photo:  Bill Watson at the National Vintage MX Championships at Harrisville in Queensland in July 2019 (Old Bike Australia)

Countless awards on and off the circuit

As a reward for over thirty years of service to motorcycle sport Bill has been made an honorary Life Member of the Goldfields MCC, AJS MCC and Motorcycling WA, which he received in 1981.

At the same time as he was racing, Bill was heavily involved in the administration of motorcycle sport and from 1956 – 1986, he was a: WAMCA delegate for Goldfields MCC, Member of WAMCA Motocross and Speedway committees, plus the Grading committee, which he initiated.

In 1998 Bill was crowned the Goldfields MCC’s official “Mr Vintage” to honour his long service to the sport. Their union was properly ordained in 2004 when his wife Mary, for her committed part in waving the course flags for many seasons, was named “Mrs Vintage”.

In 2014, in recognition of his enduring commitment to motorcycle sport, Motorcycling Western Australia proudly awarded Bill a “Lifetime Competition Licence” at their “Night of Champions” Awards at the Rendezvous Hotel in Scarborough, a location near the swimming pool where he has regularly trained throughout his life.

At age 95, Bill is the oldest person in Australia (and likely the world) to hold a motocross competition license.  As he is a teetotaler, let’s all have a drink and make a toast to celebrate his remarkable life, motocross career and outstanding contribution to the sport!

2019 Bill Watson and grand-daughter Rebecca at Queensland VMX Nationals - Photo by Debra Miller

Photo:  Bill Watson and grand-daughter Rebecca at the 2019 Vintage Motocross Nationals in Harrisville, Queensland – Photo by Debra Miller

Bill Watson's key motocross achievements

2020 - 91 year old Bill Watson competing at Wandering VMX meeting

Bill Watson, aged 91, at the 2020 Millfarm Scramble at Wandering (Vintage Motocross)

State

1955
500cc WA Champion

1958
2nd 500cc WA Championship

1959
Goldfields Scramble winner

1962
350cc WA Motocross Champion

1970
350cc WA Champion

1971
350cc WA Champion

1972
350cc WA Champion

1973
2nd 350cc WA Championship

1974
350cc WA Champion

National

1955
2nd 500cc Australian Championship (Rope Works, WA)
3nd Unlimited Australian Championship

1974
2nd 350cc Australian Championships (Manjimup, WA)

Other Awards

1981
Honorary member of the Goldfields and AJS Motorcycle Clubs

1998
Goldfields MCC’s official “Mr. Vintage” Award

2014
MAWA Lifetime Competition License, awarded at Night of Champions

Australian Championship results and photos

Click on the links below to view Australian Motocross Championship results back to 1953, event photos or rider profiles.
Australian Motocross Champions 500cc
Australian Motocross Champions List (All classes)
Australian Motocross Legends

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