Many off-beat subjects - including James Bond books and log tables - have featured as subjects for OU PhDs. Tony Wynne-Jones chose The Decline of The British Motorcycle Industry.

Tony's twin passions are learning and fast machines. Head of Technology at Cardinal Griffin Roman Catholic School in Cannock, Staffs, at weekends he travels Europe as crew chief (chief engineer) for a top drag-racing team.

For someone who dropped out of grammar school at 14 to work down a coalmine, Tony has climbed a long way up the education ladder. After qualifying and working as a mechanical engineer he took a full time BEd to become a teacher in his late thirties. He followed it up with the part-time PhD - which took him eight years - to give himself the edge career-wise. It worked: "Having the PhD got me my dream job as head of technology in a school with a new half-million-pound technology block."

And fast machines? From the age of 11 Tony was building his own motorcycles and racing them, becoming national champion in motorcycle drag racing in 1987. He went on to build his own racing car, the Westfield, a Lotus 7 replica, which he drove to victory in six championships over five years.

Can a study of the decline of the British motorcycle contribute to the sum of human knowledge?

"There are lessons to be learned," says Tony. "I think the car industry has learned some of them."

What surprised him was how quickly it happened. "A set of rather complex and unrelated events occurred suddenly over a period of two years, and the industry went from being number one in export to almost non-existent."

Since finishing his PhD in 1996 Tony has completed an MA in Education. His next ambition, fired by his European racing tours, is to learn Italian.