John Clark - "The Vincent Kid"

By Bev Bowen

 

Known as "The Vincent Kid" while a college student at The University of Texas in Austin, John Clark earned renown thanks to being fast on his 1953 Vincent, bought new in 1955.

 

John was a good student, the valedictorian of his graduating high school class in Leonard, Texas, located northeast of Dallas. He enrolled at UT and studied aeronautical engineering. His spare time was largely spent motorcycling . in the fast lane.

 

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John Clark - "The Vincent Kid"

 

His Harley wasn't quite satisfactory for him, and while hanging out at Jack O'Leary's Motorcycle Shop he fell in love with a Red Rapide Vincent. But, school commitments and family obligations and summer work at Douglas Engineering in California (while out there he frequented Marty Dickerson's shop in Hawthorne) were obstacles in his desire to purchase the machine, and the bike slipped away to another customer. But, Jack took a liking to this young man and made him an offer he couldn't refuse: he had a Vincent Rapide in a crate. This was then 1955, and the Vincent factory had announced its closure. Jack was eager to make a sale and pretty much "gave" the Vincent away in trade to John. In service to a previous buyer, Jack had robbed the rear carburetor to supply a customer, but he ordered a spare and threw it in the crate with the deal. John put it together, less front mudguard, and went racing.

 

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John Clark's Touring Rapide

 

Back then, racing on a street motorcycle took many forms and in the coming couple of years John Clark won drag races and road races (essentially, these were top speed runs on lonesome roads). Just for examples, following are 3 racing stories shared by John.

 

His favorite "Road Racing" tale involved beating a "fuel" Norton in Austin. Jack O'Leary had received a call from a Triumph shop, wanting to know if "The Vincent Kid" wanted to race, wondering if he wanted to put money on the line. Jack told them "The Kid" and his bike were indeed fast, but that as a college student he wasn't going to put up any money, but that yes, they would somehow cover expenses for them to show. The going drill was to head to the lonely road NW of Austin, where there were no side roads, get the machines up to 100 MPH and then go for top end. Clark left the Norton! For added excitement, near the end of the run, John passed by a police cruiser! He never let up and headed for O'Leary's shop, where he hid the bike. Fort-five minutes later the policeman came by and asked why John hadn't stopped to accept his applause! The cop was a pal of the other racer and had come to watch!

 

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John Clark and his Vincent in front of Jack O'Leary's Shop

 

Clark really excelled at drag racing and one of his best feats was besting Pete Molnaar of Houston, known for his powerful "Lightningized" Black Shadow Vincent, built for Bonneville land speed competition. John Clark kept his Vincent in top fettle and its main strengths were jetting, ignition timing and sprocket gearing. The bonus was that John was a highly skilled dragster. While Molnaar's machine was no doubt more highly tuned, the combo of John's Vincent tuning and setup and his skill made for no contest - he won handily. The venue here was a drag strip in New Breunfels, Texas.

 

 

"The Vincent Kid" went international! Yes, he went to Monterrey, Mexico for a "run what you brung" event, on DIRT! He paid the entry fee, found an un-abused launch area, and proceeded to win the preliminaries and the main event!

 

Of course, John, as did many others back then, rode his machine to many meets, with his racing straight pipe (1.5/8") strapped to the bike. Like Rollie Free, John was a "flat out" racer in road race, laying prone on the seat with tight clothing and his arms tucked in. And, even more like Rollie, he paid great attention to detail in tuning. He raced a nearly stock Vincent, beating other machines sporting maybe more racing bits, but he knew 180 main jets, rear sprocket (sometimes up to 60 teeth!) and racing savvy were enough.

 

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John Clark's Vincent trailered behind '57 Chevy

 

Clark went into the U.S. Army in 1957. At this time the bike needed work. Apparently, all the drag racing had caused the flywheels to shift, so he left the bike with O'Leary with instructions to correct the alignment and then sell the bike. When John was discharged in 1960, he returned to Austin to find that his bike was still in the shop. O'Leary told him he never had any intention of selling the bike, so John was set for more fun. Which he had, but the flywheel setup was still not satisfactory and after a few thousand more miles, John tore it down for a rebuild sometime in the early '60s.

 

But, he's still waiting to do the job. John's international work and family commitments kept him distracted from that task, so the machine still sits. John now resides near Dallas and owns/runs a motorcycle shop, Clarks' Wheeled Sports in Greenville.

 

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John Clark (r) with Carlton Williamson, May 2012 (Bev Bowen's Red Rapide)

 

He is a favorite among motorcycle enthusiasts near and far, and may yet have his Vincent back on the road! "The Vincent Kid" may have added a few years, but as you can see from the pictures, he's still power-packed!

 

 


 

 

 

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Copyright 2012 by Bev Bowen