Us Europeans know the Ducati bevel twin legend was forged in the heat of two battles - Paul Smart at Imola in '72, and Mike Hailwood at the IOM in '78. What some forget is that the stool this legend sits upon has a third leg - Cook Neilson's win at Daytona in 1977, the event that cemented my Ducati fandom. I would reread Cook and Phil Schilling’s tales and tests of Ducatis, and gradually fell in love. Cook and Phil Schilling ran Cycle, the largest and (in my opinion) at the time finest motorcycle magazine on earth. Somehow they found the time to buy, race and develop a Ducati 750SS - aka the Californian Hot Rod, later renamed Old Blue. And by tune I don't mean bolt aftermarket bits on - Harley valves were made to fit, bespoke gearboxes were made and many dyno runs were done. And then they published all of this and sent the details to Ducati. Ducati in turn sent them parts, and Cook sent Steve Wynne parts to help with the Mike Hailwood project. Steve told me the Venolia pistons still sit on his desk, deemed too fragile for the Isle of Man. Finally they beat allcomers in the Daytona Superbikes race in March '77, against the Yoshi Kawasakis of Dave Emde and Wes Cooley, pushing Reg Pridmore's Beemer and Mike Baldwin's Guzzi down to 4th and 5th. In other words a couple of amateurs beat a bunch of professionals on big money rides. Smarty and Hailwood's achievements stand as magnificent, but they were hired guns on racebikes prepped and primped by the factory. Neilson and Schilling were journalists living a dream, and managed their win with a mix of grease and ink under their fingernails. That's a hell of an achievement, and because all this got reported to the largest motorcycle market in the world, perhaps commercially more valuable to Ducati than the Imola or TT wins. I am forever indebted to @vicki_smith for an introduction to Cook, passing on questions for an interview in Benzina 1. I then actually got to meet him in person while working on my Ducati and the TT book and he proved to be a real gentleman and fantastic raconteur. I might have made no money in publishing, but I have been showered with riches.
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