THE FINAL link with grand prix motorcycle racing of the 1930s has been severed with the death of Stanley Woods. The last survivor of a galaxy of British and Irish stars who dominated international racing before the Second World War, Woods was also the most successful Isle of Man TT rider of the era with 10 wins, a record he held for over 25 years until the late Mike Hailwood beat it. When he did so, Woods was waiting at the finish to congratulate him.
The son of a toffee salesman who Stanley drove around in the sidecar of a 1,000cc Harley Davidson, Stanley borrowed this machine to make his racing debut in 1921. He removed the sidecar and rode in a public roads event until a crash removed him from the race. He replaced the broken handlebar with a branch cut from a roadside hedge and rode home.
Woods' TT career began in 1922, when his Cotton caught fire during a refuelling stop. He dowsed the fire, brushed aside the officials who were trying to persuade him to stop, and rode off to finish the race in fifth place; he was 18 years old. In 1923 he was back with a new Cotton and rewarded the Gloucester-based company with their first TT win.
He graduated to the Norton team in 1926 and won the 500cc Senior TT for them. It was the beginning of a love-hate relationship with the company. In 1929 Woods won the Spanish Grand Prix and two years later joined with the Lancastrian Tim Hunt to dominate European grands prix after Hunt had won two TT races in a week, the first man to do so. From 1932 it was Woods' turn to lead the way, winning 350cc and 500cc TT races in both 1932 and 1933, then travelling on into Europe to dominate the grands prix.
By 1934 his independent character and the prospect of better money took him to Sweden, to sign for the Husqvarna factory, where the first test of his new mount was on a frozen lake. It proved less able on the tarmac and in 1935 Woods changed camps to give the Italian Moto Guzzi factory their first TT victories, with the 250cc and 500cc titles. In the 500 race he broke the record average speed per lap by 4mph to pass Jimmy Guthrie, the new Norton team leader, and snatch victory on the last lap.
From 1936 until his retirement from racing in 1939, Woods rode mainly for the Velocette factory, where he enjoyed a good personal relationship with the shop floor and the board of directors. His retainer was modest (some said as little as pounds 200 - Woods kept the figures to himself) but bonuses were generous; he was earning his living on results.
His fearless riding style - he would talk calmly of drifting corners at 100mph on the loose surfaces of the time - was combined with mechanical sympathy to win two more TTs for Velocette in 1938 and 1939 and bring Woods' own score to 10. At the same time he rode for the German DKW factory on a supercharged two-stroke 250, but the engines were fragile and success was limited. His faithful Velocettes and Guzzis served him better and he enjoyed good relations with both companies long after his retirement from active competition.
In recent years, with burgeoning interest in the classic motorcycle scene, Woods was in demand for interviews. His natural modesty was reflected in the way he caught a ferry from Ulster to in 1979 to join the queue for the first Classic Bike Show in Manchester. Three years later he was guest of honour at the same event, clearly overwhelmed to be feted as a star by enthusiasts many years his junior. His ability built him into a legend, but his modesty prevented him recognising it.