Freddy Gray

How we beat the Boche — at sidecar racing

A documentary on YouTube pays homage to this terrifying sport that has the passenger's head inches from the ground

How we beat the Boche — at sidecar racing
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There’s courage, there’s fearlessness, and then there’s the sort of sublime audacity you need to do something like sidecar racing. Stan Dibben, 87, has it in spades. He won the world sidecar championships in 1953, still whizzes around the racetrack today and is the subject of a beautiful short documentary film by Cabell Hopkins, No Ordinary Passenger.

Sidecar racing is terrifying to watch. The passenger — the non-driver — has to hurl himself from one side of the three-wheeled bike to the other as it zooms around corners; his head is often inches from the tarmac. Mistakes are disastrous.

Stan Dibben got into this crazy sport after the war. ‘I was told to make my mind up,’ he recalls. ‘Did I want to be a wireman or an insulation man? And I said: “Oh, to hell with it, I wanna ride motorbikes.”’ By 1953, Britain’s Norton Manx pair — Dibben in the sidecar and Eric Oliver driving — were in fierce competition with the BMW team. It came to a head at the Belgium Grand Prix. The Brits won, thanks in part to Stan shoving his shoulder into the ground around one turn, showering the chasing German with stones. ‘He very quickly disappeared,’ cackles Stan. ‘Not the done thing, really.’

No Ordinary Passenger, which can be seen on YouTube, mixes old racing footage with Dibben’s voiceover to convey a sweet English nostalgia. The sense of having got one over the Boche is not lost. It should be pointed out, however, that ze Germans went on to win the championship for the next 11 years.

Written byFreddy Gray

Freddy Gray is deputy editor of The Spectator. He was formerly literary editor of The American Conservative.

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