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Origainally published in International Motorcycle, January 2002, Vol. 12 # 1

The Mathews Bike...

Steve Bond Meets A Piece of History

By Steve Bond

When we think of Canadians at Daytona, the names Picotte, Crevier and DuHamel (both Miguel and father Yvon) spring to mind, but don't forget Billy Mathews of Hamilton, Ontario. He won the Daytona 200 in 1941 and 1950 and finished second twice - a more than impressive record.

Mathews competed when the 2.1-mile course consisted of part coastal highway and part world-famous beach, years before the super-speedway was built. Local tide tables determined starting times for these early races as most of the beach was under water twice a day.

Mathews was the first non-American to win Daytona, and the 1941 race was the last event on the beach until 1947 as the AMA postponed the races during the Second World War. In 1947, racing resumed, the event attracting an unbelievable 176 starters - the first corner of the first lap was no doubt fairly congested. In 1948, the race was moved further south towards Ponce Inlet; the new circuit measured 4.1 miles but still used the beach as one straightaway.

The race used this format until finally moving to the current home at Daytona Speedway in 1960. Mathews finished second on this longer course in both 1948 and 1949, then won again in 1950, riding a Francis Beart-tuned Norton Manx works racer.

Mathews probably would have compiled an even better record but in 1951 he was turned back at the border and wasn't allowed into the States. It may sound silly now but McCarthyism was running rampant in the U.S. and one of Mathews' friends supposedly had ties with the Canadian Communist Party, so Billy was blacklisted and he never went back.

The motorcycle pictured here is an extremely rare 1950 Norton International E30T 500 cc single-cylinder dirt tracker, believed to be one of only two custom-built by the factory that year. One went to Mathews (who was a very accomplished flat tracker) and the other to Ted Sturgess, also from the Hamilton area. Most road-going Nortons of the time used a primitive plunger-type rear suspension, but with this bike the factory assemblers utilized the same rigid frame as used on their racing sidecars.

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The provenance of this motorcycle totally stumped a number of British bike experts. Even noted Brit-bike authority Titch Allen published a picture of the Mathews Norton in Motorcycle Sport magazine in July 1972 with the caption, "Can anybody place this special competition OHC Norton?" Due to the fact that there was no dirt track racing in England at the time, they'd never seen a Norton with a rigid frame, smallish ISDT tank, and up-swept pipe.

After winning the 1950 Daytona 200, Mathews raced this motorcycle in AMA dirt tracks for the balance of the year. He even set a lap record at the Rock-ford, Illinois race that stood for 15 years.

The next season, when Mathews was barred from entering the U.S., he sold the motorcycle to Pep Nucci of Drummondville, Quebec, who won the Canadian championship on it. At the end of that season, Pep sold the bike to T.A. Irwin of Cornwall who put the engine in a modified road-going International for his son Bert to race. Bert unfortunately crashed the bike, broke his back, and never raced it again.

Barry Brown, a vintage enthusiast from just outside of Ottawa, realized the historical significance of what had been languishing in Irwin's storage area for more than 40 years and reunited the correct engine and frame. Tom McGill was the Norton importer for Canada in the 1950s and documentation from his ledgers proves this is the engine that was in the frame when it left the factory more than a half century ago. The ledger also shows payment as "nil," meaning Norton gave the bike to Mathews, presumably as a gift for winning Daytona.

Due to an overstock of projects, Brown put out feelers to a number of Canadian sources with the stipulation that it would be offered abroad if no one in Canada stepped up. Fortunately, Bar Hodgson acquired the bike for the Canadian Motorcycle Heritage Museum before this unique piece of Canadian history was lost.

The bike as it sits is rough, although the frame is straight and it has the correct tank with the original decals. The engine needs a complete going-over and the OHC bevel drive needs attention. Museum founder Bar Hodgson says the motorcycle "won't be restored. The patina acquired over the years will be preserved, although we do plan to get it running. We want to make sure we don't remove any of the accumulated original oil deposits. This is one of the most historically correct Canadian racing motorcycles of that era still in existence."

It's encouraging to know that Canadian racing legend Billy Mathews' ultra-rare Norton International dirt tracker will stay in Canada, where it rightfully belongs. Sadly, Mathews is no longer with us. He passed away in 1980, and to their credit his family donated most of his racing memorabilia to the Canadian Motorcycle Association after his death. In fact, the Canadian Motorcycle Heritage Museum often borrows Mathews' 1950 Daytona trophy from the CMA for displays.

Billy Mathews was one of the old breed - he had a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-fighting and hard-riding individual. He was elected to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, one of the few Canadians so honoured, and the Canadian Motorcycle Heritage Museum recently announced it will be launching its own dedicated Hall of Fame, of which Mathews is sure to be one of the early inductees.

The Mathews Norton E30T Dirt Tracker is part of The Bar Hodgson Collection.

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