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Article from the Daily Mail newspaper, February 25th 2000

I'm mad ...but racing keeps me young, says the 130 mph granddad

Photograph of Les Judkins
Les Judkins the oldest boy racer of them all

Ivan Speck meets Les Judkins - still burning up the track at 69

Les Judkins is mad. He admits it. One brick short of a hodful, a sandwich short of a hamper, or - most appropriately - one wheel short of a Ducati.

At 69, the motorcycle fanatic jets off to the United States this weekend to race at Daytona in a classic meeting.

Note the word 'race'. Not simply take part or potter around on his vintage machine as many people much younger than him would do.

Let's face it, most people younger than him wouldn't get on a racing motorcycle in the first place.

But then Judkins isn't most people. He got a job fitting toilets at the age of 63. He worked 80 hours a week, often staying away from home, and insisted to his prospective employers at the interview that racing would come first in his life.

He is a father of 10, grandfather of 16 and great-grandfather of eight. Seven of his children followed him on to the track and two — daughters Lesley and Beverley — accompany him in sidecar races as his passenger.

- So maybe the idea of hurtling at 130 mph around one of the most famous tracks in the world on his 29-year-old 350cc Ducati doesn't seem quite as outlandish after all.

Judkins does, however, admit to a certain anxiety over the nine-hour flight. His last ride in an aeroplane was 45 years ago — in a Dragon Rapide bi-plane at a Southend air festival.   

'I'm mad, stupid and dedicated,' he said. 'It's a sickness really which is very difficult to cure. But don't run away with the idea that because I'm old and the machine is old we just potter around. Once I get the machine rolling and I'm firmly in the saddle, I'm 18 again.'

His devotion to racing — he began in 1955 and has ridden in Isle of Man TT races as well as on continental tracks such as Assen in Holland — is evident in every facet of his life.

His house in Northamptonshire, some 25 miles from Silverstone, is called Pole Position and his second wife, Kathleen, is so dedicated to her husband's passion that she attends every meeting, logging lap times and grid positions for him.

'She's an absolute angel, a brilliant woman,' said Judkins. 'She did take a day off once to have a baby, but she's been to every other meeting.'

He shrugs off the dangers with the outlook of a man who knows the value of a life. His building firm was a victim of the 1980s recession, two of his daughters have died of cancer, while his son Steve, another racer, was killed in a road accident in Germany.

Unconscious for three days

Judkins' worst accident on the track came at Snetterton 21 years ago when he was picked up for dead amid assumptions that he had broken his neck and spent three days unconscious. 'My only concern when I came round was that they had cut my leathers off,' he said. 'Riders hate that because they're quite expensive.

'I've broken a lot of bones but you can't let that bother you. Injuries only happen to other people, don't they?

'The only medical criterion to be allowed to race is to have good eyesight. I had a test recently and I was told that my eyesight would do justice to a 20-year-old. Anyway, I must be fit, otherwise my company wouldn't keep employing me.'

Quite what the Americans, will make of the mad Brit in the classic races at Daytona Week in a fortnight's time is anybody's guess. Especially when he turns up with youngest son Michael and it isn't the 23-year-old who dons the leathers and straddles the bike but his pensioner dad.

Judkins said: 'It's my last great adventure. It's a big step to take but I've done things later in life which I didn't think I'd ever do.

'I have three aims. Firstly to enjoy it, secondly to finish the race and thirdly to bring all my skin home. I don't want to leave any on the tarmac.'

Les Judkins is mad. It's official.

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