Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

When Charlie was the darling of Ulster GP

When the talk in the grandstand at the Ulster Grand Prix this year turns to the anniversary of the massed start the name of Charlie Dodson will be mentioned.

For Charlie, from Wolverhampton on a Sunbeam, was the first winner to take the chequered flag that afternoon in 1927 after more than 100 riders roared away together irrespective of which race in which they were competing.

He won the 350cc event that day, leading from start to finish and his time was 2hrs, 51 mins and 54 secs at an average speed of 71.55mph.

Charlie afterwards put his victory down to his familiarity with the notorious Seven Mile Straight. He had paid particular attention to its twists and bumps during practice.

But he also revealed to friends at the circuit that he had often visited this area of south Antrim out of season just to ride the course on an ordinary motor cycle and to get to know the Straight in particular.

Another little piece of history was established that day of the first Ulster massed start for Charlie became the first rider in the race to lap at an average speed of more than 70mph.

"It must have been a dramatic sight that August afternoon in 1927 as all those bikers roared away together at the gun," says Ulster buff Mervyn Rea, a former Mayor of Antrim. "Before that there were timed starts for each race when the pits were actually on the Seven Mile Straight at Ballyhill."

Nowadays there are still massed starts on the current Dundrod circuit, but confined to each individual class.

Dodson was a stylish rider and an idol with the fans on the old Clady circuit.

But the 500cc event from that massed start in '27 had a dramatically close finish with Jimmy Shaw (Norton), Frank Longman (Rudge) and Stanley Woods (Norton) crossing the line in that order all within a minute.

But Dodson was the hero of the moment after his unexpected and deserved victory in the 350 event. The next year, he won the Senior TT on the Isle of Man, the last time a Sunbeam bike was successful at that event.

Charlie later graduated to racing cars and was a popular driver at the old Ards TT race along with Freddie Dixon.

"Dixon had a charmed life and survived many dangerous crashes in his time," says Mervyn Rea.

Charlie Dodson wasn't so lucky. Five years ago, with racing and danger apparently behind him, he accepted an invitation to ride in a cavalcade astride a vintage Sunbeam. It ran out of control and Charlie was killed.

"A sad end to a great and brave racer," says Rea.

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