The circle of referrals and introductions is a remarkable thing and especially when an ocean separates so many of us. However, due to my having met Malcolme Tunstall and his father Syd, I was introduced to Mick Walker. The first time that I met Mr. Walker, I was visiting my mother in Cambridge, England and Mr. Walker was, unfortunately, traveling to Cambridge for a funeral for one of his fellow fire firefighters that was being cremated there. From the beginning of the relationship with Mick Walker, I was initially known as the "Crematorium Scot Wilson" as there were so many other international visitor's looking to meet him.
Shortly thereafter, that title was no longer needed and I would talk with Mick several times a year and he would always share his excitement of the next book project that he was working on. As mentioned earlier, I have always felt very honored to have been able to befriend Mick as he was so generous of heart and such a wealth of significant information on those things Ducati, motorcycle racing, and a wonderful introduction to racers that he has either known or mentored. It has always been a point of great pride that he was able to use the photos of my bikes in his books, however, it is the people that I have met as a result of this relationship, that I find most rewarding and appreciate. Photoed here is one of my favorites of the legendary Paul Smart and myself at Vintage Days at Mid-Ohio Racetrack when Ducati was the featured marque. What an exceptional gentleman!
Another opportunity to meet people of note came when Mick contacted me and invited me to his gathering of racers, present and past in 2001 at the Rose & Crown in Wisbech, England. This was a particularly important gathering as the event was an honorarium for Mick's son, Gary, who had died racing his motorcycle at Brand's Hatch. Regardless, the mood was still festive as it truly was a celebration of Gary's life and racing achievements. A photo of happier times with Mr. and Mrs. Walker. Despite the function being an honorarium, the event could not have been more "life-affirming" and celebratory. In the photo below is a very young James Toselandand quite humble, it seemed, despite all of his notoriety. It appeared to this outsider that James felt truly humbled to have the support of these friends, mentors and the British racing community. He, too, was in the presence of Racing Royalty and in the process of becoming British Racing Royalty as well. I will always remember so fondly that at the end of the presentations, that James turned to his other love, music and serenaded the entire audience with his piano playing which was quite exceptional.
Another racer of note in attendance was Ollie "Ginger Gigolo" Bridewell. This young man was on his way to a very successful career when that career was cut short at the racetrack. Again, another exceptional young man that Mick mentored. Racing is a dangerous profession and not for the faint of heart. Yet young men and now women risk it all for the love of their sport. Ollie is now another member of British racing history.
Similarly, this very unique meeting with the young James Toseland is something that I continue to remember very fondly. James is one of these truly remarkable young men who despite his successes, could not have been more gracious to this "yank from across the pond". Very devoid of an inflated ego, he was very pleasant, engaging and what is called in the US, "down to earth". One of my favorite autographs is from this fine young man as I found him to epitomize everything good that can found in a grounded celebrity. I did get the autograph before James won his first World Superbike title and before he was referred to as "King James" in the news media. Yet, I am confident that his new celebrity would not change the man that he was becoming. Yes, indeed, I am a Toseland fan!
At the end of the gathering, my "jet lag" plus a couple of glasses of wine was really beginning to impact me and I announced that I was ready to head back to my mother's flat in Cambridge. Upon hearing of my departure, I was so astonished that James ran over to say "Good-Bye". Being the impertinent Yank, it was then that I had to ask James for an autograph which is the copy of the autograph above and remains one of my most treasured to date. Below is the now famous #52 at speed on his HM Plant Ducati doing the business!
I was to meet James again in 2010 when my wife and I drove to the World Superbike races in Salt Lake City, Utah. At that time, James was with Yamaha but I asked him to sign one of my favorite covers from Motorcycle Racer when James was racing for HM Plant Ducati. It appeared from that meetingt that the earlier days were happier times as this aspiring talent was emerging on to the World's stage. Now he was working with teams and dealing with the pressures of these professional teams with so much at stake financially. I apologize for the poor quality of this photo but this signed photo was hanging on my office wall for the longest time and too much of the intense Arizona sun has taken its toll on the photograph. Yet, James's impact on the sport of motorcycle racing remains clear, colorful and significant.
After the seasons with Yamaha and BMW, I was happy to read that James was retiring from racing and focusing on his professional music career. I wish this young man all of the best as he has had great successes in at least two industries that I am aware of.
It is critical, in my opinion, that we all celebrate both talent and character of our celebrities. My only meeting with James was quite brief. However, it is unique how even a brief meeting can lead to such positive impressions. His character has been bourn out as I read other publications by authors who know the man better. Yet, 2 World Superbike titles with two different manufacturers, competing at the highest levels in Superbike and MotoGP, and now succeeding in the entertainment industry, I find that to be quite impressive.
In conclusion, it is important that we recognize those people who have influenced a young professional like James throughout the course of his development and career like Mick Walker. I know that without meeting someone like Mick Walker who came as a result of my relationship with Malcolme Tunstall and his father Syd, that my life would not be so rich as well. Thank you all.