Anyone remotely interested in motorcycle Drag Racing during the 1970s and 80s will be familiar with the name John Clift. He was always a determined, hard charging competitor in Top Fuel, or Top Bike as it was called at the time; arguably the most competitive class in British Drag Racing in that period.
John originally competed in road racing up to National level, but a friend kept nagging him to have a go at sprinting. He started out drag racing in 1971 running in the Junior Bike class, but made rapid strides through the bike ranks as he developed his machinery.
He made his name first with a supercharged Triumph, interestingly called ‘The co-respondent’ and John was the third rider below 9 seconds in a fast and furious 1975 season. In 1979 he set the 1000cc record at 8.34s/165.
John was an early collaborator with HoF member Pete Davies, helping to develop world dominating Puma engine parts, in the search for better and stronger items to keep him racing. Travelling to race meetings with wife Pat and young daughters Julie and Nikki, it was a rare meeting for the lanky rider to be absent.
A talented fabricator, many well-known riders of the day, both in the UK and abroad, would use one of his rolling chassis or other fabricated components. His generosity of advice and financial terms were renowned throughout the paddock. At the same time he was a fierce competitor on the track, and would always make race day – no matter how many hours of work and travel it took.
He was one rider who helped build good relations in Holland in particular, where John and wife Pat were always very welcome guests. Their two daughters, Julie and Nikki, were brought up in the pits, and went on to be involved in the bike side of the sport themselves in later years. Grandson Jamie now crews for Rune Fjeld Racing.
The Puma Weslake, featuring the first of Puma’s billet heads, was still competitive heading into the mid-1980s, ending with a best of 8.21s/ 181mph.
One of John’s most enjoyable moments was seeing the Brachtvogels using one of his chassis to run the first UK 6 second time and 200mph clocking.
His on track career ended in the Pro Stock class, winning the European Championship in 1988 on a Suzuki, before retiring in 1990. At that time he was actually constructing a state of the art Top Fuel bike, which would feature the first complete 4 cylinder Puma billet motor. Sadly rising costs and delays didn’t see its completion, but the machine did go to Australia, where ex-pat Jay Upton became a top runner.
Rarely do you come across someone involved in Drag Racing who is so universally liked and respected as John. When a rider had mechanical gremlins he was always first on the scene to offer a helping hand, often putting his own racing activities in jeopardy due to the time spent in helping out others.
His outgoing, generous in spirit personality is an asset to the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
John and Pat moved to France in 2007, which allowed him to pursue his other love – fishing. A carp lake was established on the smallholding they purchased, which has been developed into a successful fishing holiday business run by daughter Nikki and her husband Marc.
Profile By Keith Lee