To many motorcycle racing enthusiasts of a certain age, the name of Joe Craig is forever linked with the development and success of the Manx Norton. However, the man himself remained something of an enigma, rarely giving interviews and claimed by some to be dour and as unapproachable as his Nortons. Sadly, Joe died in 1957 as the result of a car crash, aged 59, which added more fuel to his mythology. Fortunately, author Mick Duckworth has recently been given access to many previously unpublished photographs and items from the Craig family archive which has helped redress the balance in this fascinating book.
Joseph Craig was born in 1898, near Ballymena in County Antrim. On leaving school he was apprenticed as a mechanic at a local garage, where he worked until joining Norton in 1926. A keen motorcyclist, his racing mentor was Jimmy Shaw, Belfast’s Norton agent. After competing in hill climbs, he became a local hero by being the fastest rider in the second Ulster Grand Prix andwinning the 600cc class on his o.h.v. Norton in 1923.
Norton took on Ulsterman Craig as a team rider in 1926 when he finished fourth in that year’s Senior TT and was employed in the experimental department at the company’s Bracebridge Street, Birmingham headquarters. By the time he left the company and went into the semi-retirement by the end of 1955, Norton had won 27 Isle of Man TT races, eight individual World Championships and nine Manufacturer’s World Championships (including sidecar titles collected by factory-supported drivers). In what can be regarded as Norton’s Golden Age in racing from 1930 to 1938, Craig’s team won more than 70 grands prix and 10 European Championships.
While secretive about his own team, Craig always tried to extract information from rivals. Although he lacked formal engineering qualifications and was no draughtsman, he was a master of cautious step-by step development and a pragmatist who saw failures as pointers for improvement. After Walter Moore’s departure to NSU in 1929 he became race team manager and worked with designer Arthur Carroll in developing the newo.h.c. singles to keep them competitive for the following decades.
By 1950 Norton took a decisive leap forward replacing their ageing plunger frames with the Rex McCandless-designed “Featherbed” frame and including the brilliant young Geoff Duke in their racing team.
With over 180 never-before seen and well captioned images at home and abroad of a galaxy of Norton riders, starting with Joe in his early Irish racing days, this high-quality book is a credit to author Mick Duckworth. Highly recommended.
Book reviewed by Jonathan Hill
“Joe Craig – making Norton famous”
Photographs from the Craig family collection
Author: Mick Duckworth
Publisher: Mick Duckworth
Available from http://joecraignorton.com
Designed by Alan Wilson, Redline Books
Hardback, 195 x 220mm (portrait); 218 pages with over 180 photographs and illustrations.
£35 (GB); $45 (USD); $60 (CAD); $69 (AUD).