Richard Madsen-Mygdal

Moto Cross star David E. Langford continues his tribute to local heroes in motorsport

Richard Madsen-Mygdal
Richard Madsen-Mygdal on his 1000cc Vincent 'V' twin, riding out of the dip
at Governors' Bridge during the 1053 Isle of Man Clubman's TT

My father's family came from the village of North Leigh, near Witney, and many of my happiest childhood days were spent here, wandering the fields behind the cottage that my grandfather owned at the time.

In our teenage years. my cousin and I, along with some friends, would occasionally visit the Harcourt Arms Inn, built in 1783. Now a private residence, the house is situated down the hill near the church of St Mary.

Having more than a passing interest in the history of motorcycle racing, one lasting memory of the Harcourt was the many black and white photographs of the Isle of Man TT races which adorned the walls in the lounge bar. The rider depicted in the photographs was the landlord at the time, Richard Madsen-Mygdal.

Dick Mygdal was a well-known character among the motorcycling fraternity, and his famous TT ride inspired the painting I produced to illustrate this story. It shows him on the 1,000cc Vincent V twin, riding out of the dip at Governors' Bridge during the 1953 Clubman's TT.

This event, and Richard's part in it, feature in David Wright's book Vincents, HRDs and the Isle of Man, 1925-1999 (first published 1998, Amultree Publications, ISBN 1901508056). On page 95, there is a photo of Richard leaning the big Vincent into the first right-hand corner of the TT course at Quarter Bridge.

The text begins with the observation that most people remember 1953 as the year of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, but on the Isle of Man it was the year that the 1,000cc clubman's class was run again during TT week.

On the day of the race, only eight riders and their machines in the 1,000cc class came to the start line for the four-lap event and the last man away was Richard Madsen-Mygdal.

What is remarkable about his race entry is that he rode the bike to the Isle of Man with his new bride, Stella, on the pillion. It is difficult to imagine many of today's competitors going to these extremes to get to the island, but club racers often rode their machines to a meeting on mainland events, raced and then rode the bike home again.

During the initial stages of Richard's TT race, one of the leading riders came to grief at Union Mills Les Floodgate dropped his Vincent in a shower of sparks, breaking his collarbone and forearm.

Richard went into the lead for a while before he too crashed at Brandywell on the mountain section, 1,300 ft above sea level.

This is a particularly fast stretch, and Richard fractured his skull in the accident. The bike was severely damaged but the repair bill was covered by the wise investment of a £5 insurance premium, which Stella had persuaded him to take out prior to the race.

During the inevitable hospital treatment which followed, the bed next to him was occupied by another injured rider, George Brown, who had been caught up in the debris on Bray Hill after the crash that killed the world champion, Les Graham, a story I have told in previous chapters.

Regardless of this horrific experience, George Brown went on to become the most successful record breaker in sprinting history using Vincent-engined machines.

Richard did not compete in any more TT races after this, but his one TT experience won him enough respect to be supplied with two fully-sponsored Manx Nortons, which he raced on mainland circuits like Silverstone and Thruxton, gaining race wins on a number of occasions.

His son David was to follow in his father's footsteps but on a more regular level. He became a familiar TT competitor from the early 1980s right up until 2007, when he broke the record for the greatest number of finishes in the Tourist Trophy races since they began 100 years ago.

A tremendous achievement in any sport, but especially so given the number of miles involved at record-breaking speeds.

His father was a classic example of the club racer of the day. His racing experience began with the Motorcycling Club (MCC) speed trials at Silverstone, where he rode the bike to and from the circuit as well as racing it there.

He bought his first Vincent Rapide in 1951, adding the faster Black Shadow to the stable in 1952. He used both bikes for everyday, transport and touring, leaving other motorcyclists in awe of the Vincent as the ultimate motorcycle of the era.

Richard's decision to enter the 1953 TT was helped by Ted Hampshire, who prepared the machine for him. Ted was a former employee of the Vincent company and knew every inch of the machine, especially carburation settings.

These had to be precise to cope with the variation in weather conditions, which riders have to suffer on the 37-mile circuit.

From sea level to over 1,300 ft. the conditions can go from warm sunshine at the start line, to freezing cold mist on the mountain – enough variation in humidity and temperature to test the finest engine tuners to the limit of their expertise.

Richard has since been back to the island to ride a few parade laps on historic machines – and last month celebrated his 80th birthday. The painting above was presented to him by his many friends.

• If you have any memories of your own experiences in motor sport on wish to view or commission any original paintings, please telephone David Langford on 07865 434359.
October 2007 Oxfordshire Limited Edition