JPS Norton Race Team History
Brian Crighton the brains behind the Norton rotary racers was no stranger to racing himself having been British 50cc champion in 1973, 74 and 76 on a self prepared highly modified 4 stroke Honda. During this time Brian also ran a Honda dealership he had set up near his Midlands home.
After selling the dealership in 1986 Brian’s engineering talents came to the attention of the Norton factory in Lichfield and he joined the company working in the service department.
Within 12 months of joining Norton Brian Crighton was promoted to the Research and Development department where he was involved in the development of the Norton rotary engine. With his expertise in engineering Brian quickly became convinced that the rotary engined road bike currently being used by the Police would make a great base for developing a race bike.
Having approached the management about such a venture, the project was turned down by a very sceptical hierarchy. Unperturbed Brian went about the project in his spare time in the caretakers shed at the Norton factory and proved his vision a success and changed the minds of the sceptical management in 1987 when a mildly tuned version achieved a speed of 170 mph at a MIRA test ground!
Later on the same year the prototype race bike scored a race win at only it’s second ever meeting and the factory decided that a proper race development programme should take place which it did during the whole of 1988.
The only real outing that the bike made during the 1988 season was at Brands Hatch on the 23rd October for the annual end of season finale the Powerbike International. Steve Spray made his debut on the rotary racer and what a debut it was. After two fantastic races, Spray came home first in both the races entered, the TT F1 British Championship race and the Powerbike International open race. This performance led directly to the team gaining the sponsorship of JPS which continued throughout the factory teams years racing.
The 1989 season was superb for the JPS Norton team, Steve Spray won the 750 cc Supercup Championship and the British F1 title, Trevor Nation also had some super rides but didn’t quite match the results of Spray who set lap records at Donnington Park, Thruxton, Snetterton, Brands Hatch Indy Circuit and Cadwell Park during the season.
1989 was also the year when Brian Crighton was made Senior Development Engineer at Norton and during the year found it more and more difficult to cope with the new jobs responsibilities, develop the race bikes and run the racing team. Because of this at the tail end of 1989 Barry Symmons the ex Honda Britain boss was brought in to run the works team.
Symmons brought Ron Williams a chassis guru into the squad immediately and things seemed to be working well on the track during the season with a 2nd and 3rd place finishes for Trevor Nation and Robert Dunlop at the Isle of Man, and Trevor Nation won the MCN TT Superbike Championship.
On the outside everything seemed fine at Norton but early in September 1990 the shock news was released that Brian Crighton had resigned from his position at Norton. Crighton blamed the split on Symmons “Everything I wanted, he did the opposite. It was either him or me and there was no way Norton were getting rid of him”.
One of the main problems for the unhappy split seems to be the fact that Symmons switched the team to Michelin rubber which meant that all last years work was out of the window as the bikes had been set up for Dunlop tyres following a side by side test of the different brands.
Brian Crighton had his own ideas about what made the rotary racer work and started on a new project….. The Roton.
Norton continued for the next three seasons with a factory team before financial difficulties forced the bike manufacturer to sell up. During these times Ron Haslam, Robert Dunlop and Terry Rymer raced the black and gold machines but never to the same devastating effect that Spray and Nation had before, the Japanese bikes were beating the factory Norton bikes, BUT the Roton was fighting back in style!