George O’Dell – Seventies Super Hero

George O'DellWhen George O’Dell clinched the World sidecar championship in 1977 he broke a 24-year drought of English champions, the last one being Eric Oliver in 1953.

The tempestuous O’Dell began racing in 1967 at the age of 22 on a 650cc Triumph outfit with local friend Alan Gosling in the “chair”, the pair finished third in this first outing. This version of the O’Dell team lasted for the next three seasons until Gosling, following a fall, out was replaced by another local man, Peter Stockdale. After a short period with BSA engined outfits O’Dell purchased a 700cc Weslake motor in an attempt to stave off the up coming challenge from the two stroke outfits that he, being a staunch “60’s rocker”, held in pretty low esteem. The result was an outfit that was unbearable to ride with the big Weslake vibrating itself to bits and regularly cracking the frame work, in sheer desperation O’Dell made the switch to the dreaded stroker engine and slotted a Konig into the Weslake frame.

The successful Konig was a German development of a marine outboard motor and was incredibly small in comparison to its power output.

The first ride on the Konig shocked O’Dell, he actually liked it, quickly getting to grips with the different characteristics of the engine and being especially impressed with the smoothness of the 500cc flat four.

Once on the strokers George progressed through the domestic ranks and on to the international scene with points scoring rides at most GP’s throughout the mid 70’s. Armed with the experienced Kenny Arthur in the chair O’Dell started the 77 season in the strongest position he had ever been in and was convinced of his team’s ability to clinch the World Crown that year.

George O'DellGeorge won the title despite not actually winning a race that season in fact it would be fair to say he was gifted the title by Rolf Biland who failed to score points in two races while O’Dell soldiered on to the finish line with a pocket full every time. O’Dell chose to run with a stock Yamaha motor while the others had highly tuned power plants which raised the rate of attrition considerably, enabling the Brit to finish more races and consequently higher in the points than any other rider that year.

George O'DellAs well as winning the sports major crown in 77 O’Dell and his passenger Kenny Arthur also became the first sidecar pair to lap the TT circuit at over 100mph on the way to winning the first of two sidecar events that year. Using the Windle chassis, in preference to the fragile Seymaz, and were well on their way to scoring a double victory when sidelined by a burnt out clutch, luckily right outside the pub at Ballaugh bridge. This “success” in the island actually led to the split between Arthur and O’Dell over money leading to Kenny’s replacement by experienced Shropshire passenger, Cliff Holland.

As this was midway through the Grand Prix season the split could have spelt disaster for O’Dell but luckily Holland fitted straight into the team and their performances were not compromised in any way.

The expensive Seymaz chassis that O’Dell believed was the necessary tool to win the title did not help so much in the end as he had to revert back to his trusty Windle more times than enough, this was due to the Seymaz’s lightweight construction and subsequent fragility. O’Dell purchased the Seymaz outfit from Rolf Biland, the Swiss rider had used it to compete with in the 76 campaign, for a sum reputed to be six thousand pounds, serious money back in 1977. This futuristic outfit and backing from oil giant Shell gave O’Dell the confidence he needed to seriously challenge the established stars of the Grand Prix circus.

George O'DellO’Dell first realised the weakness of the Seymaz at a national meeting held at CadwellPark, Arthur fell out of the chair over the Mountain and without the ballast George crashed trying to negotiate Hall bends. The Seymaz was very badly damaged needing to be returned to Switzerland for costly repairs.   Later in the season a simple accident, involving another Seymaz belonging to Switzerland’s Bruno Holzer, ended in a spin with his outfit travelling slowly, the wrong way down the track. Completely innocently O’Dell met Holzer’s outfit head on, what looked like a simple incident actually wrote off the front end of the O’Dell’s Seymaz.  Thankfully Holzer, O’Dell and Holland were unscathed in the coming together although Holzer’s passenger Cristian Meierhans broke his arm in the initial spin.

The whole of the Seymaz outfit was designed with a minimalist approach with no more structure and strength than was absolutely necessary, with very little metal work actually holding the wheels inline. It was in fact a three wheel F1 car. Consequently the smallest force in the wrong direction and the frame would yield. A typical example was at the Dutch TT of that season, while O’Dell stood warming up the Yamaha engined Seymaz, it accidentally jumped into gear; The force bent the rear suspension rods and the temporary repair that was affected to that item subsequently failed during the heat of the race.

George O'DellThis frailty was never more evident than at the British Grand Prix in 77, held immediately after the Dutch TT, when O’Dell, who had to beat Biland around the then super fast Silverstone circuit to clinch the title, could not get the Seymaz rear suspension repaired and race ready in time. As it transpired the Windle chassis was more than adequate as Biland faltered in the torrential weather conditions, ironically this was due to a decision to use the wrong strength Loctite on his wheel nuts and the inability to then remove the wheels to fit rain tyres.

There were also major tyre problems in the O’Dell camp. The team could not secure enough of the treaded wet weather tyres for all three wheels and were forced to line up on the grid that day with only the rear and the chair fitted with wets, a completely smooth slick doing the steering on the front.

Not the ideal way to battle it out in the final throws of a World title. As it happens Biland struggled with the conditions and O’Dell lapped him on the way to third place and the Championship title. Had it been a dry race perhaps the whole outcome would have been a very different one as Biland had been the faster driver all season long.

George O'DellThe following season George set out with the Schmid Yamaha pictured here, once again a trend set by Biland, keeping the Seymaz and the Windle as spares and along with funding from Wurth, O’Dell looked like a really serious challenge for a second title. It was a feat that George would not repeat as he broke his leg at Laguna Seca, practising for pre season demonstration race. The break was very severe, although O’Dell was back riding again by the first GP, his title hopes faded when he crashed at the TT breaking the same leg again. The second injury preventing him and Holland from seriously challenging for the title eventually finishing the championship season in eighth place this time behind future champ Scotland’s Jock Taylor.

George O'DellIn March 1981 it was reported in MCN that George O’Dell had been involved in an incident at his father in law’s Hemel Hempstead Home. It would appear that George was saddened by a recent medical report advising him not to race again for fear of further damage to his previously injured spine. That report and the split from his second wife, Joyce, drove him into a deep depression. On a visit to his estranged wife, the short-tempered O’Dell armed with a shotgun, held his wife, her stepfather and brother in the house. Shots were fired wounding them all and despite attempts by the Police to diffuse a siege situation lasting some six hours, the house was set ablaze by O’Dell and the former World Champ succumbed to the Fire. In an obituary of the time fellow racer and chassis builder Trevor Ireson said the George had only recently ordered a new outfit from him indicating his intention to race that season.

As well as being crowned World Champion, and breaking that 23-year duck, what O’Dell really achieved was the opening of he flood gates for the English talent that followed him. Names like Taylor, Darren Dixon and Steve Webster later stormed on to the world stage that had, for over two decades, previously been the sole domain of German or Swiss drivers, to this day English crews continue to dominate the Sidecar competition at the very highest level.

While George O’Dell and Cliff Holland received their medals and accolades at the end of the 77 season, no recognition was made by the FIM in respect of Kenny Arthur’s participation. After all Arthur had completed the first half of the championship, however Arthur was later officially recognised by the FIM and presented with his medal.

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