Ken Blake – One of the greats

This article appeared in the February 2008 issue of BMWWorld, the club magazine of the BMW Club of Victoria. I’m indebted to Damien Cook for providing it for use on this site.

“All eras of sport have their greats. They stand tall amongst their peers and if they could be transferred to the current time they would still be at the top of their sport.

In the 1970s motorcycle racing was entering a new era as motorcycling became popular with the rise of the Japanese manufacturers. There were many skilled riders but there was one who stood out from the crowd, one who the spectators payed their money to see, one who always gave them what they came to see.

His name was Ken Blake.

Ken, originally from South Australia, came to Melbourne in 1970 to ride a Triumph at Sandown and at Bathurst that year he won the Unlimited GP on a Kawasaki H1R 500. He had taken on the best and won. He was on his way.

He rode all manner of bikes on tracks across the country; often he would ride in three or four events in a meeting, competing in 250, 350, unlimited and production races. Always it was flat out and spectacular to watch and more often than not he was on the podium at the end.

He rode Yamahas, Kawasakis, the ex-works Bruno Spaggiari Ducati 750 SS and his position in BMW history is cemented by his victory with Joe Eastmure in the 1977 Castrol 6 Hour on the R 100 S.

The 6 Hour was perhaps his greatest stage; he was the consummate production racer. In 1973 he rode a Kawasaki Z1B 900 to victory, riding solo, a feat he repeated in 1975 when again he completed the tough event solo bring the R 90 S home in second place. In 1976 again he was BMW mounted but this time, sharing the ride with Tony Hatton. The result was the same; the legendary R 90 S was destined to never win the world’s greatest production race.

In 1978 BMW made their last appearance in the great race with Blake and Dave Burgess riding the now underpowered R 100 S into fourth place. These 6 Hour rides were not his only BMW connection; he was the rider chosen by Graeme ‘Gyro’ Carless to ride his special R 75.

This was an Improved Production machine based on an R 75/5. In some meetings it was called Registered Touring, it was in effect the beginning of Superbike racing and Ken and Gyro were determined to have BMW in the action. The team raced at the tight but spectacular Hume Weir track and in 1978 at Adelaide Raceway they achieved victory, a victory still treasured by Gyro.

On the international arena Ken tried his luck in Europe where it was a battle but he achieved some great results. In 1979 he was second in the Belgium GP riding an RG 500 Suzuki. This was a wet race that was boycotted by the top works riders, but his name is on the board and not those who were not there. His talent was soon recognised and found himself riding in the Honda France Endurance Team. This was not a minor position as at that time Endurance racing, especially in France was held on the same level as GP racing.

Any discussion on Ken Blake always rightly returns to Laverton in 1976. The RAAF airbase was converted into a racetrack giving Australians a first hand look at international motorcycling racing. The greatest rider of that and perhaps of any time, Giacomo Agostini and his MV was there along with a host of top internationals. It was a hot day and the action was hotter on the track with Blake riding a Suzuki RG 500 hounding the Italian. The air was electric as the battle went on. It was Blake who stunned the world and sent the large crowd away more than happy with an amazing victory.

On June 9 1981 Ken was riding at the Isle of Man and in his usual style he was flying rounding up 103 riders in five laps of a six-lap race. He had stated late due to a fuel leak. He pitted and shot out in eighth place chasing down the leaders. 5 km down the road at Ballagarey Curve, he hit a wet patch and slid into a concrete post and died instantly.

Every year on the anniversary of his death his friends meet to commemorate a great rider, a rider whose place in BMW racing history is assured. If giving pleasure and great memories to spectators is the mark of any sportsman (or women) Ken Blake is up there with the best of them.”