It’s hard to believe but it’s now 13 years since VeloVeritas’ Belgium and East Europe archivist, Ivan and I drove through to Strathaven to meet Mr. Norrie Drummond, former racing cyclist of note in Auld Scotia and Belgium and patron of the Drummond Trophy Road Race, one of few remaining ‘landmark’ races in Scotland.
There’s been a lot of water under a lot of bridges since then, so we were delighted to receive a phone call from Mr. Drummond the other day.
However, he was calling to administer a mild rebuke to us; about our obituary for Hector Mackenzie.
He was calling to say that it wasn’t the 1963 Glasgow Centre championships where he beat Hector into second spot, rather the ‘Milk Race,’ which was a single day race prior to becoming a stage race.
In those days they didn’t skimp on the mileages, the race ran from Ayr up to Falkirk – and then back again.
The following weekend was the Glasgow Centre Championship which Norrie also won.
Going back to the Milk Race, the first edition, which was held in 1961, saw Norrie second to the late Hughie McGuire.
This was another race which had to look of a recruiting exercise for the SAS; Arbroath to Cumnock, some 150 miles – and it rained all the way.
On the subject of the late Hector McKenzie, Norrie told us;
“As you said in your obituary, he won a Tour of Scotland stage – he was a very fast finisher, if he was there at the finish, he would beat you.”
That 1963 season when Norrie won the ‘Milk Race,’ his background condition came from being dragged round the Peace Race.
The ’63 edition was a particularly nasty edition, Norrie was part of a six man ‘Skzocja’ team with Ronnie Gardiner, Hugh McGuire, Thomas Murphy, Gordon McNaught and Herbert Waugh.
The race that year was run as Prague-Warsaw-Berlin over 15 stages. Unlucky for some, Stage 13 was over 245 kilometres at 40.307 kph.
Norrie recalls that it was a brutal experience;
“I think it was maybe the fifth stage and I was dropped very early, I thought I might have to chuck it but ended up catching about 90 other guys and getting through the stage.“
The Tour de France has only once ever topped 41 kph; that was Armstrong’s seventh win in 2005 when the record speed for the race was set at 41.654 kph over 3,608 kilometres.
Norrie was 83rd at 10 hours 3 minutes 16 seconds, the late John Woodburn who went on to be British ‘25’ Champion, BBAR and set the Land’s End to John O’Groats finished in a fine 14th spot at 22:14, with best Scottish finisher Hugh McGuire in 42nd place at 1:21:57.
McGuire was a rider of some quality, twice winning Ireland’s Tour of the North in 1960 and 1963.
In 1960 he had a string of top stage placings in the Tour of Britain Milk Race, in the company of riders like Milk race overall winner in 1961, Billy Holmes and Vin Denson who went on to win a Giro stage and ride as a top domestique for Rik Van Looy and Jacques Anquetil.
McGuire went on to win two stages of the Milk Race in 1961 with Norrie second to him on the Cheltenham – an appropriate venue for a turf accountant – to Swansea.
Norrie was McGuire’s domestique in that race, staying by his side because he rode the same size machine.
Sometimes though, extreme measure were required to regain the shelter of the peloton, as Norrie explains;
“We were off the back on one stage and I saw a Fyfe’s banana lorry coming up behind us, so we jumped in behind it – only to find most of the Spanish team were there before us!“
Savage though Norrie’s excursion beyond the Iron Curtain was, once he’d recovered he was flying – winning in succession the Douglas Road Race, the aforementioned Milk Race and the West of Scotland Championship.
He started the Scottish Championship as favourite and was away with the late Gerry McDaid and Ian Thomson the proverbial ‘all day’ over much of 140 miles parcours only to be caught late in the day and finish fourth.
But not all of his race days were as fruitful;
“I was in the army from January 1958 until the summer of 1960.
I got picked to ride the Scottish Milk Race but hadn’t been on the bike, albeit I did some long rides from Scotch Corner up to Glasgow – I was stationed at Catterick – but I wasn’t fit and finished second last!“
Norrie is a font of knowledge on contemporary riders whose palmarès are hard to find.
Pioneer Scottish pro, John Kennedy is one, Norrie lodged next door to him in Kortrijk during his 1957 Belgian adventure.
We already knew that Kennedy’s Belgian wife was so attractive that punters used to visit the café which Kennedy and his spouse ran just so they could sit and admire her over their pils.
But we didn’t know that her father was a renowned jazz drummer and played with the legendary Belgian jazzman, Django Reinhardt; his travels taking him to the Belgian Congo to accompany the great guitar player.
And another bit of information that we were unaware of; Kennedy was a skilled welder, a trade he returned to after his cycling career ended, and built the frames for JG Robertson who also sold frames under the ‘Milano’ marque at his Govan Road premises.
Apparently, the fact that star rider Kennedy built the frame added cachet to it.
Only quality trivia from Norrie.
“I rode the Hull International with Ken, Hughie McGuire and Ron Parks; it was a quality race with top guys like Billy Holmes, who I mentioned already, and Ron Jowers who was the ‘25’ Champion, won the Manx Mountain TT and was a very good pursuiter and roadman.
Ken gave me a very good piece of advice; ‘when your legs are hurting Norrie, just remember that so are everyone else’s!‘”
Norrie rode with another of the very few Scots who went on to turn professional, Tour de France rider Ken Laidlaw;
Ernie Scaly is another of Norrie’s contemporaries who’s still hale and hearty at 83 years-of-age; Scaly was twice Scottish road race champion and won the famous Tour de Trossachs time trial and the now defunct classic Inverness to Elgin road race.
“Ernie was a very talented rider, he was on the British Olympic short list; but got suspended a few times, as did Hector, they weren’t the kind of guys who were keen on officialdom!“
And we couldn’t speak to Norrie without asking about the Drummond Trophy;
“It’s run unbroken since 1956 when Belgian double Peace Race stage winner, Roger Vindevogel won ahead of Britain’s Olympic Road Race bronze medallist, Alan Jackson with the first prize back then a new bike valued at £100, which was a lot of money in that era.
We hope perhaps it can be re-scheduled for later in the season, ‘lock down’ conditions permitting.”
With thanks to Norrie for sharing his reminiscences with us, we’ll certainly not leave it another 13 years before we pay a visit.