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Motocross Legend West

Motocross Legend West

Motocross Legend West

Charlie West racing International motocross in Winterthur Switzerland in 1964
Charlie West (WA) at a 1963 British Scramble with Tim Gibbes (NZ)
Charlie West with WA's top riders in the late 1950s - Glen Britza, West, Gordon Renfree and Bob O'Leary

Photos: [Left] Charlie West racing International motocross in Winterthur Switzerland in 1964; [top right] West, right, with Australian Team member Tim Gibbes at the 1963 British Test; [bottom centre] West, second from right, at his first Australian Championship at Moorebank (NSW) in 1956  with the WA team – Glen Britza, Gordon Renfree and Bob O’Leary. 

Legend Charlie West – One of our best ever motocross riders!

Western Australian Charlie West is one of Australia’s greatest ever motocross riders.

West is one of our true legends of the sport and his achievements on home soil are right up there with Jeff Leisk, the Flood brothers, Gary and Trevor, George Bailey, Craig Dack, Anthony Gunter and Stephen Gall.

To put things in perspective, the young Western Australian won more Australian Championships than Gall – six in the late fifties and early sixties in all classes – even though his racing career down under was cut short when he moved permanently to England to race in Europe and the World Championships.

Like Gall, West won more than 20 State motocross titles across the country – in all states – and also moved on after motocross to have a very successful speedway speedcar career at State and National level.

If you consider how popular both Gall and the sport of motocross was during the Mr. Motocross era between 1974 to 1990, West was on a par during the late 1950s, with the Australian Motorcycle News magazine acclaiming the twenty-one-year old as the best motocross rider in the land!

West twice won the famous Harley Scramble (in 1958 and 1959) in front of more than 20,000 spectators at the Ropeworks circuit in Mosman Park, on the outskirts of Perth.  The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Club ran Australia’s first large-scale motocross event at the Rope Works circuit in Mosman Park between 1928 and 1964, with breaks only during the war years.

He was the legend of that era dominating all classes, including the prestigious Unlimited (All Powers) on a BSA Gold Star and C15 Starfire BSA in the 250s.

And he achieved this success despite experiencing a near fatal accident racing solos at Claremont Speedway, after winning his first Australian Motocross Championship at Moorebank, NSW in 1956 in the prestigious Unlimited (All Powers) class.

West missed the 1957 Australian Motocross Championship due to his injuries, but amazingly bounced back to win the 350cc and Unlimited classes in Launceston, Tasmania in 1958.

On home soil, West won the famous Harley Scramble at the Rope Works circuit in Mosman Park two years in a row – in 1958 and 1959 and in front of more than 20,000 spectators.

West could have easily won more titles at home as he spent four years racing International motocross and Grand Prix events in Europe between 1961 to 1964, when he was at his peak.

He represented Australia in many World Championship Grand Prix events, including Switzerland and France and, on 14 October 1963, he was a member of the winning side that beat the British in a test match at Pembury, near Brands Hatch.

In front of over 180,000 spectators, West placed second at the famous Teterow International grass track event in East Germany, and won many International events across Europe.

And after winning an International event three times in the South of France, West was awarded the keys to the City by the Mayor in a special street ceremony attended by thousands.

Throughout his motocross career, West won six Australian Motocross Championships and more than 20 State titles in five separate motoring sports – motocross, short circuit, speedway stockbikes, TQ’s and Speedcars. 

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New video – Charlie West’s Motocross Story (6M)

Charlie West - Two times winner of the Famous Harley Scramble

Photo: West twice won the famous Harley Scramble at Mosman Park in front of more than 20,000 spectators

Growing up in Forrestfield, WA

Charlie West riding his brand new BSA motorcycle

Photo: Young Charlie West racing scrambles on 1955 at the Brooklands Circuit in WA.

Charlie West was born on 12 October 1937 in Western Australia.

West was only 14 when he learnt to ride an ex-Army B.S.A. bike on his father’s poultry farm at Forrestfield. The ancient sidecar was used to carry the stock feed.  

In 1952, at the age of 15, he joined the BSA Motorcycle Club.  His first competition bike was a 1951 rigid frame B33, on which he rode a couple of handicap events. He was a shy boy and was not keen to ride in his first race. But once he did, there was no stopping him.

West would ride his motocross bike everyday before breakfast on the family farm and he quickly became one of the State’s fastest riders.

In 1953, he became youngest club captain at age 16.

West started entering races in open competition and contested the 1955 Australian Championships at the Rope Works in Mosman Park, which was combined with the famous Harley Scramble.

West didn’t finish as the rigid frame on his B.S.A. machine cracked, but he got to compete with the fastest riders in the land and was already competitive.

The following year, West won his first WA State Championship in the 500cc class on 15 April 1956 at Kalgoorlie, which was combined with Goldfields Cup. 

And that year he was selected in the first official WA team to represent his State at the coming Australian Championships on 27 May 1956.  

The other WA riders (pictured above) included Glen Britza, Gordon Renfree and Bob O’Leary.  All of these riders were later inducted into the Motorcycling Western Australia Hall of Fame.

They bred them tough in the old days

Charlie West Australian Champion 1950-60s

Photo: Charlie West in action at the famous Harley Scramble at the Rope Works circuit in Mosman Park, WA.  West won successive titles in 1958 and 1959.

With scrambling established in Western Australia in the 1920s, WA riders dominated the National scene from the sports beginning to the mid-1960s.

The riders were extremely tough in those days – riding up to 1300cc four-stroke British road bikes across the roughest terrain, just taking off the lights for racing.

It was common for riders to travel to and from the circuit on their race bikes. Bill Watson twice make the journey from his home in Kalgoorlie to Perth – 600kms one way – riding through the night and still making work first thing on the Monday.

And the races were extremely long with the initial Australian Motocross Championships between 1953 to 1955 being run over 2 legs – 10 laps in the morning and 14 laps in the afternoon, which took around 2 hours.

The races were more like an enduro. The circuits were longer with the riders timed in practice and released one at a time – with the fastest rider starting last and the winner being awarded to the riders setting the fastest times, rather than the first to cross the chequered flag.

Six-times Australian Motocross Champion

West won his first National title in the All Powers class in 1956 at the Moorebank Army Camp circuit in New South Wales.

That year was the first true championships with official teams entered from right across the country.  These championships were also televised, the first outdoor telecast by Channel 9.

He didn’t compete at the 1957 Australian Championships at Heit Park, Amberley in Queensland due to a near fatal accident while racing solos at Claremont Speedway during the 1956/57 season.

West laid down his machine to avoid a fallen rider and was hit from behind.  He was jammed between two bikes with the throttle stuck on one of them with the chain cutting his throat.

In addition to his cut throat, which almost pierced an artery, he fractured his skull, broke a bone in his neck, dislocated his shoulder and broke six ribs.

But West made a full recovery and a year later he was back racing again and made the long haul from Perth to Evansdale in Launceston, Tasmania in 1958 for the Australian Championships.

West showed no signs of his serious injuries and won both the 350cc and Unlimited classes in Tasmania, successfully retaining the Unlimited title the following year at Royal Park in Adelaide (SA).

Although West only won one title in 1959, he was the standout rider at the meeting. 

As well as the premier Unlimited class, he was the fastest rider in the 350cc and 500cc Championships, but unfortunately experienced race mishaps on the day.

Throughout his career, 1960 was the only time West contested an Australian Championship and failed to bring a title back to WA.

That year at Arthurs Creek, Victoria it was a mud bath with the circuit practically washed out. 

These conditions better suited local and multi-Australian champion Ken Rumble who dominated the Championships, with West nursing a shoulder injury coming second in the 500cc class and third in the 350s.

But West bounced back at the Moorebank Army Camp circuit in 1961 winning the 250 and 350cc classes.

That year West brought his immaculate fleet of three BSAs to the Australian Motocross Championships – winning two to take his overall tally to six National titles.

West always performed well at the sandy Moorebank circuit in New South Wales winning three Australian Championships there.

1956 Charlie West - Australian Unlimited Motocross Champion Moorebank NSW

West won his first Australian Motocross Championship in 1956 the Unlimited class at Moorebank (NSW).

In 1958 Charlie West won both the Australian Unlimited and 350cc Championships in Launceston, Tasmania

In 1958 Charlie West won both the Australian Unlimited and 350cc Championships in Launceston, Tasmania

West loved the Moorebank circuit and won two more Aussie titles there in 1961 – the 250 and 350cc classes

The local WA motocross scene

B.S.A. advertisement promoting Charlie West’s State motocross championship wins

On the local scrambling scene, West twice won the prestigious Harley Scramble – in 1958 and 1959.

This annual event was held at the Rope Works circuit in Mosman Park on the outskirts of Perth between 1928 and 1963. At its peak more than 20,000 spectators attended this event and the riders were household names and raced for big prizemoney.

Surprisingly, West won more Australian Motocross Championships than State WA titles, where he won six.

The reason for this is he raced three seasons in Europe – the 1962 to 1964 seasons.

While WA held the State Championships over multiple rounds, one day events were more common on the east coast, so West contested these while travelling interstate for the National titles.

Between 1956 to 1961, West won more than 17 State titles across Australia – in WA, QLD, SA, VIC and NSW.

Racing International Motocross in England and Europe

Charlie West racing International motocross in Europe

Charlie West racing International motocross in Europe

1963 Victorious Australian Team at Pembury in England

The winning Australian Team at Pembury in England.  Charlie West  is  the rider standing on the far left-hand side

In 1962, at just 24, West sold his garage business and packed up his home in Perth and travelled 12,000 miles by ship to England.

He lived in Kenton, Middlesex and became a mechanic with Pinks of Harrow.  Although he had not ridden for ten months, in his first race he finished seventh in the 500cc Experts race.

That year he raced all over England, Wales and Scotland and Europe.

Over the next three years West raced international meetings in France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, East and West Germany – getting start money to compete.

He also represented Australia in a World Championship Grand Prix in France and, on 14 October 1963, he was a member of the winning side that beat the British in a test match at Pembury, near Brands Hatch.

The winning Australian team also included: Kelvin Franks (SA), Bob Walpole (VIC), Ray East (NSW), Ray Fisher (VIC), Jack Pringle (NSW) and Tim Gibbes (NSW), who are pictured to the right in that order.

In 1964, West competed across Europe in 39 races over five months – riding up to 3 days a week – Wednesdays to Sundays.

One of his favourite wins was winning a big International motocross in Rossdorf, in East Germany.  At the time East Germany was part of the Iron Curtain when there was the “Cold War” between Russia and the United States, so this was uncommon and really highlighted the local East German’s love of the sport.

In Communist countries at the time, there was no freedom and crossing borders was tense and extremely dangerous for Westerners.  But Charlie was treated as a hero and welcomed in that country.

Another favourite memory of Charlie’s was winning an International Motocross event three times in the South of France.   At a special event West was presented with the keys to the City by the Mayor.  As part of the promotion for this event, West was filmed on live television entering the town on his motocross bike being chased by a policeman, then riding up onto the stage.

Back home and switching to cars at Claremont Speedway

On return to Australia, West switched to speedway and was successful here too – winning multiple State titles in the Formula 500 TQ class (three-quarter midgets) and Speedcars at Claremont Speedway.

Two of his greatest achievements in speedcars were winning the 1970 State Championship and being the 1972 runner-up Australian Champion.

In life, Charlie is successful at everything he puts his mind to and, throughout his racing career he won State titles in five separate motoring sports – motocross, short circuit, speedway stockbikes, TQ’s and Speedcars.

Charlie has been married to his wife Cheryl for over 50 years and they have three children and many grandchildren.

Charlie West State TQ Champion at Claremont Speedway

Charlie West State TQ Champion at Claremont Speedway

West's key motocross career highlights

Charlie West at Herne Hill in WA

Charlie West at Herne Hill, on the outskirts of Perth in the late 1950s

1956
Australian Unlimited Champion, Moorebank Army Camp (NSW)

1958
Australian 350cc Champion, Evansdale, Launceston (TAS)
Australian Unlimited Champion
WA State 350cc Champion
WA State 500cc Champion

1959
Australian Unlimited Champion Royal Park, Adelaide (SA)
WA State 350cc Champion
WA State Unlimited Champion

1961
250cc Australian Champion, Moorebank Army Camp (NSW)
350cc Australian Champion

1963
A member of the winning Australian Team against the British in a one-off Test Match at Pembury, near Brands Hatch

2016
Inducted into Motorcycling Western Australian Hall of Fame

* Charlie won more than 17 State motocross titles in various States across Australia, plus speedway titles in stockbikes, TQ’s and speedcars

Charlie West with his father and Gordon Renfree at the the 1956 Australian Motocross Championships at Moorebank NSW

Charlie West with his father (Charlie senior) and Gordon Renfree at the Australian Motocross Championships at Moorebank NSW in 1961

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4 Comments

  1. First saw Charlie West ride at cavalier hill Kalgoorlie 1956 as a 7 year old boy followed his career from that day on ,he dominated scrambles TQ s and speedcars,I have never seen a more dominant speedcar driver in a grey Holden
    Powerd speedcar anywhere in aust,a true legend in every sense of the word.
    Peter boulder Wa.🏁🏁🏁🏁🏁🏁🤙

    Peter
  2. Good to see a video & recognition of Charlie West carreer in motorsport.
    He rode MX without a front brake at all until he went to England & Europe, so check the front wheels of earlier days, just a hob, no brake.
    Obviously the overseas trip taught him what the front brake was for!
    I met him a couple of times while in the Northern Hemisphere
    Some of the photos in the video are not Charlie but depict other Australian greats from a forgotten era, well done

  3. I would like to interview Charlie for the “5 Minutes with” page in ADB magazine, does anyone have a phone number for him? If so please private message it to me on my FB page.
    Thanks,
    Warren Jack.

    Warren Jack
  4. Hi Warren. Just discovered your request. Apologies for the late reply, but my site is continuously being bombarded with spam despite paying for protection . If you call me on 0423 789 009, I’ll give you Charlie’s contact details. John Steyntjes (AMX History Author).

    John Steyntjes

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Australian Motocross History