Interview Dane Rowe
1. Dear Dane, how are you after all these years. Can you please share with us what is keeping you busy these days?
I'm fine, I had a heart attack (stress from working at concerts!) in 2006 but am fully recovered and very busy. Something like that changes your outlook on life.
I am doing lots of things, working on wildwinds.com, doing translation work, replying to 40 emails a day sent in to wildwinds from people needing help with identifying their coins, looking after Rudi and our two fur babies (our two cats Neko and Kenji), trying to keep the mice away from my tomato plants in my growing shed.....
2. Can you tell us how you started in the world of racing and who was the first driver you worked with as a co-driver?
I went to a local national race with a neighbour, whose boyfriend used to race a Manx Norton. I can't remember the name of my first rider. It was someone at a club race whose passenger hadn't turned up.
3. Later on, you formed a team with Rudi Kurth, can you tell us how you met and decided to team up?
It was in Bourg en Bresse, France when I was there riding with Bill Copson. "Bill Copson and I had, as one of our first races together, taken part (and won) Bourg en Bresse in France. We needed some hydraulic oil and with Bill knowing my love of languages (though not as extensive or as fluent as today), he asked me to find some. I asked him whom I should ask and he said, "Ask Rudi Kurth, he has everything hydraulic." So, in school we had learned (very incorrectly) that all the Swiss speak French (actually Switzerland has four official languages, with Swiss-German being in the majority), so I walked over to where Rudi, with his back to the paddock, was working on his Cat outfit and asked, in my (at the time) atrocious Anglo-French, whether he had any hydraulic oil. Rudi turned round and looked up at me, and asked in English, "you what ?". As I write this, I am shaking, because when I saw his face, something flashed like lightning inside my head. I KNEW that this was the man for me, that he had been put on this earth for ME. "Love at first sight" may sound corny but it happened for both of us. He felt exactly the same.
4. Where and when did you step in with Rudi for the first time?
I think it was in May or June 1969 in Rouen.
5. Back in the days people did not really know whether you were a team or a married couple. Was this a well kept secret? Or did it just go like that?
We were a couple and didn't get married until April 1973. We got married in a registry office with only two friends as witnesses - no big party or guests, not even a wedding ring (we couldn't afford one) and didn't bother to tell anyone. Two days after we got married we were in hospital in Germany after a crash at the Nürburgring...
6. How many years have you been a co-driver and can you tell us when it started and when it ended please?
My first ride as a passenger was in 1966 at a club race somewhere - I think it was Lydden in Kent, and it ended in September 1977 when Rudi and I retired from racing.
7. Did you have contacts with the solo-riders or was sidecar racing a world on it’s own?
It was all one big happy family in those days and there was a lot of contact between riders of all classes. The solo riders did not look down on the sidecar racers and when one needed help in any way, everyone from every class was willing to help. Some solo riders used to park on our field behind our house and use our workshop when they were travelling between races. So our field sometimes used to look like a mini-paddock with solo machines, sidecars, riders, passengers and mechanics!
8. Did you manage to financially get around by sponsor money only? Or were there other sources who financially supported you?
We used to make and sell sidecar fairings but otherwise we did not have any sponsors until 1976 when Enicar (Swiss watches) paid us to put their name on our sidecar outfit. The French company Furygan gave us a set of leathers each for free but did not pay us any sponsorship money. (They made lovely leathers.)
9. Back in the days sidecar racing was in it’s early days, maybe there wasn’t a lot of pressure. But what specifically attracted you to live in paddock and out of a camper?
It was just the way things were done. Some richer such as Barry Sheene and Jack Finlay could afford a caravan, but our Citroen - later our modified CatVan - was the best way for us.
10. Can you indicate who were your biggest competitors in the Worldchampionship?
Lots of them, because our engines were usually quite unique and experimental, so were prone to breakdowns. It wasn't until Rudi built the 3-cylinder Yamaha using one and a half 350cc engines that we began to have success, and it was on the basis of that 3-cylinder that Yamaha asked Rudi to build two solo machines with engines.
11. Have you ever experienced ‘scare moments’?
One at a national race at Mallory Park (before I met Rudi) when I nearly landed in the lake, then the accident at the Nürburgring when I broke my leg and Rudi smashed his knee.
12. Rudi appeared to be a great mechanic and engineer; was there enough funding available to always turn his ideas into reality?
He didn't need much money to do that and I have always been careful with money - something my grandmother taught me. I don't buy many clothes, hardly ever buy new sneakers, I don't like jewellery etc (Rudi calls me "user friendly", haha). So whenever he did need material which didn't cost a lot, we could usually afford it. However, when he was starting to make the Cat Cheetah carbon triathlon bikes we owed some companies money, (e.g. a German company for components) so I used to put every 5 Fr. coin I got into a pot, then paid instalments from that. Also when we got money from e.g. selling a Cheetah, we made more instalment payments to the companies and managed to clear our debts. Owing money is something I hate.
13. Can you tell us what was your best performance on track, and where/when this was?
Several 1st places with Bill Copson in Bourg en Bresse (F), and Mettet (B) and 6th and silver trophy at the TT in 1969. 1st place at Mettet with Rudi a few years later, some 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at Swiss hillclimbs. (I can't check all our results because I can't find our old logbook.)
14. Being a female co-driver, did you feel you got extra attention from the media those days?
A bit, yes, but I hated it when they wanted to glamourize me. And the stuff they used to make up about me ! One French journalist wrote that I had been offered a starring role in a film with Steve McQueen - what rubbish !!
15. How did other fellow male co-drivers work and deal with you; did you get appreciation from them or were the guys who just ignored you?
I was never ignored. They always treated me with friendship and respect and, because I can speak several languages, I was often asked to interpret for them, when they needed to speak to another rider who didn't speak the language, or to deal with problems with race organisers.
16. What was your favorite track and can you tell us why?
Silverstone, because of its history. I liked it the way it was in the 1970s. After we stopped racing I worked there as office interpreter for several years. I also liked Le Castellet-Paul Ricard in France. I organised the very first sidecar race there at the request of the circuit management and was very thrilled and honoured to meet the owner, Monsieur Ricard himself, whilst we were both admiring the track.
17. Safety on track wasn’t always considered top priority. Can you tell us which track you considered as the most dangerous?
Nürburgring - i.e. the old circuit. I am also happy that they never race motorcycles or sidecars at Monaco.
18. What do you feel were you worst and best moments in your sporting career?
I think the worst moment was realising that the brakes had failed at the Nürburgring in 1973, when we were approaching a 90° corner at 120 km/h. Otherwise it was all enjoyable fun. Receiving our first cat Kuro ("black") from Tanaka-San of Yamaha, Amstelveen was a lovely moment - we have named our cat Kenji after Tanaka-San's son. Having Barry Sheene bring Kuro back to our CatVan at Hockenheim was also sweet - we used to take Kuro to races with us and he'd wander around the paddock visiting the riders. He made himself comfortable in Barry and Stephanie's Sheene's caravan and "helped" them eat their dinner in the evening.
19. Are you still following motorsports today?
I don't, Rudi does. He has an app on his IPad and asks me to set out satellite TV system to the appropriate channel when a race is on. (Our sat TV system and the 1.5 meter dish on the roof is my baby, except when Rudi has to climb up onto the roof to e.g. reset the angle of the motorized dish after a bad storm.)
20. Since big money started to rule the motorsports, implying luxury, motorhomes etc. Can I ask you what your opinion is about that?
It's progress and it'd be silly to expect riders to still turn up at races in rusty Ford Transit vans if they or their teams can afford something nicer. I am not the type of person to wag my finger and say, "ohhh, when I was young, we only had.....".
21. What is Rudi doing these days?
Working on an electro-powered, giro-stabilized two-wheeler. He has made a model, which works (doesn't fall over) around corners, going backwards and forwards, for about ten minutes when it's tested, then it just falls over. He also made a beautiful tilting snowmobile for a friend (i.e. it tilts using hydraulics when you turn a sharp corner, like a motorcycle).
22. Is there anything in particular you would like to do? (bucketlist)
My bucket list comprises of 1. drive a tank (Panzer) and 2. visit and go inside a real submarine.
23. Looking back on your career, are you satisfied with what you did and achieved?
Definitely. There is nothing I would change, because one decision led down a path to more decisions and in the end it seems that the decisions we both made were absolutely correct, because today we have such a wonderful life.
24. In your professional life after racing, did you have any advantages from being a famous racing-couple?
No, not really. Identifying ancient coins and organising heavy metal concerts are different worlds. So the different groups of people rarely know anything about my connection with the other subjects.
25. And finally, is there anything you would like to express or say to your fans from back-then?
1) Enjoy life as much as you can, but never at the cost of others. 2) Never get angry about something you can't change - it just causes stress. 3) Be kind to animals and to each other. 4) Thankyou for your support during our racing days. 5) If you find an old Roman coin when you're digging your garden, never clean it with a metal brush and you are welcome to ask me to help you identify it !
Dane, thank you very much for this interview
Translated by Jenne Smit.