Scrambles, Enduros, Trials, Road Racing, Dirt Track and Ice Racing – in a career that spanned 22 years, Bill Sharpless rode them all. And he wasn’t just a dabbler. He tackled each motorcycle discipline with panache, verve and winning form, earning himself the handle “all-rounder”, not to mention a trunkload of championship titles. He started racing in 1953 when motocross went by the name “scrambles” and few serious dirt bikes were available. Most off-road competition then was done on motorcycles that were little more than modified street machines. Compared to today’s state-of-the-art motocross weapons, they were heavy, (weighing up to 180 kilograms), technically unsophisticated, and far from dirt friendly. Bill Sharpless may well be considered a motorsport anomaly, and not just because he was a master of several disciplines. Unlike most of his peers and successors, who sacrificed post-secondary education for a career in racing, Bill studied mechanical and aeronautical engineering at the University of Toronto, and spent those summers taking pilot training in the RCAF. Bill modestly credits his success in racing not so much to talent, but to a passion for motorcycles, and the fact that he rode street bikes as a chief means of transportation for 30 years. His love affair with motorcycles not only translated into “ace competitor,” but “event organizer” as well. He was a founding member of the competition- oriented Nortown Motorcycle Club in 1953. From ’54 to ’65 (except for a 2-year stint in the Air Force) he served the club as either president or treasurer and spearheaded the organization of more than 100 motorcycle events. Motorcycle competition, however, is where Bill excelled above all else. He won his first Canadian Championship in Enduros in 1955 on his modified 650cc street bike. 1956 and ’57 were spent in the RCAF in New Brunswick, where he organized the Maritimes’ first Road Race and first Enduro. Then back to Toronto to an engineering job at De Havilland Aircraft, and to begin motorcycle competition in earnest. And what success he had. 1958 was the first of 4 consecutive years that he laid claim to the coveted “White Trophy”, (named after Ron and Eve White, early CMA officials who are also members of the Hall of Fame). The trophy was awarded to the rider who accumulated the most points in Canada in the various disciplines, and with it, the overall championship. During this period, Bill’s successes included the 1959 Canadian Trials, the ’59 and ’60 Canadian 500cc Scrambles, and numerous Regional Championships. Although road racing championships escaped him, Bill was recognized as one of its top competitors, both in Canada and in the Amateur Class in the United States, where in 1961 he was sponsored by the Triumph Corporation. But then in March of ’62 disaster struck. While leading the 125 mile road race at Daytona, Bill suffered a crash that left him in traction for 6 weeks with a multiple-fractured leg. Problems with the leg and mounting family responsibilities forced him into semi-retirement, now competing only in Trials and Enduros, and refereeing at Road Races. The operative words are “semi-retirement” because Bill won the Canadian Enduro Championship in 1966 and ’67. In 1969 at age 35 he decided to go overseas to ride his first International Six Day Enduro, but one week before leaving he was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in his left hip. Since his motorcycle had already been shipped, and with a prescription of an anti- inflamatory drug that seemed to work, he left for Germany anyway. He did not finish his first ISDE, but he had to try again, so off to Spain in 1970 where he finished with a Bronze Medal, then to England’s Isle of Mann in 1971 for a Silver. In the spring of ’72 Bill again won the Canadian Enduro Championship, but further trips to the ISDE in Czechoslovakia in ’72 and the USA in ’73 did not produce the elusive Gold Metal he longed for. By 1974 arthritis in Bill’s hands prevented him from further ISDT attempts, but it didn’t stop him from trying the new sport of studded- tire ice racing. It did, however, finally put an end to his competiton career in 1975. But he still does score- keeping at enduros as his interest has never wavered.
Image via Corduroy Enduro on Picasa