The roar of engines, the smell of engine oil in the air and the thrill of speed – all of these elements converged at The Malle Mile Festival, creating an electrifying atmosphere that showcased the true essence of two-wheeled joy. Among the standout moments was the ‘Art of Sprint’ where the recently launched V4CR went head-to-head with James RJ May astride his classic 1953 Manx Norton 500cc. But who is James, and what stories does his Norton tell? To uncover its history, we caught up with the owner.
James’ journey into the world of speed began early, as his father blazed a trail of success racing Manx Nortons. A tapestry of victories adorned his father’s racing career, with notable feats like six finishes at the Isle of Man Manx Grand Prix races, with a remarkable 4th-place finish at The Manx Grand Prix in 1989 on an original Manx Norton with an average speed of 96.59mph, and three coveted Replica Trophies. The legacy extended even further, as James’s father clinched the Classic Racer of the Year title in 1989, etching his name into the annals of motorcycle racing history.
The intricacies of James’ story unfold further as he delves into his grandfather’s role in the saga. “My father had his Manx Norton’s tuned by my grandfather – Ray Petty. My father married Ray’s Daughter – Tina (my mother), so I can say that I owe my life to the Manx Norton.” Petty, a luminary in the world of Norton tuning, left an indelible mark on the racing scene. “Ray was one of the most respected tuners of the Norton Manx Engine, he was also an accomplished racer himself with eight Isle of Man TT finishes and two Manx Grand Prix finishes. Ray also competed in the International Six Days Trials in 1949 winning team gold, one of his team member’s included a very young Murray Walker.”
The tales of Petty’s achievements during the war and his subsequent contributions to Norton’s legacy are nothing short of awe-inspiring. “During the second world war Ray was under the tutelage of Engineer and Tuner, Frances Beart. Setting up his own workshop in 1955, Ray worked exclusively on the Norton Marque and worked with many top riders of the period including legendary racer Derek Minter, with whom he shared many victories.”
The last British Championship won by Percy May on a single cylinder machine in 1971, was on a Petty tuned Manx Norton. His innovative mind led to the design of the ‘Petty Manx’ and he continued to tune his beloved Norton’s right up until his death in 1987. “Sadly I never got to meet my grandfather, but as I grew up I learnt about his achievements on two wheels, which was a source of inspiration for my own racing.”
As James navigated the winding roads of his youth, surrounded by the resonance of classic motorcycles, he sought to carry forward the legacy that coursed through his veins. Trials and motocross were steppingstones toward the circuit racing that both his father and grandfather had embraced. The Classic Racing Motorcycle Club (CRMC) and the Lansdowne Classic Series provided the platforms for James to compete in classic motorcycle racing
James’ racing journey soon led him to compete in the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy at Goodwood Revival in 2022. The opportunity to race the 1953 Manx Norton; built by Fred Walmsley, flanked by none other than the legendary Mick Grant, marked a culmination of passion, history and reverence. This was the manifestation of a lifelong dream, a recognition of heritage and a celebration of the symphony of power and precision that only Norton can orchestrate.
Sponsorship by Malle London from 2021 onwards has fuelled James’s aspirations within classic racing. And now, in 2023, James finds himself poised on the start of yet another chapter, preparing to compete once more at Goodwood Revival alongside his trusted partner, the 1962 30M Manx Norton, and once again partnered with Mick Grant.
In an era where innovation continually pushes boundaries, James’s dedication to preserving the sights and sounds of a bygone era is both remarkable and inspiring. The Lansdowne Classic Series, a bastion of tradition, provides unwavering support and a platform to keep the embers of history aglow.