When one considers which were the iconic machines during the history of Drag Bike racing in Europe, one of the names to achieve legendary status is that of Pegasus. The name is synonymous with the show and go aspect of the sport, as one of the first show quality machines to grace the strips.
Team Pegasus was the eventual result of three friends from the Bedford area coming together to have a crack at sprinting and drag racing in 1967. The three young lads in question were Derek Chinn, Mick Butler and Ian Messenger. Their initial venture into racing was with an old 600cc single cylinder Panther powered bike, which was aptly named Long Rod, and served them up with times in the 13 second bracket. This bike, which still survives today, whetted their appetites for something quicker, in order to challenge the top racers of the day, who mainly used vee-twin motors.
The first incarnation of Pegasus was an unblown 998cc Vincent, that first appeared in 1968. They all took it in turns to ride the bike, and quickly saw the elapsed times improve. However, a blower was soon considered essential if they were to challenge the quickest riders, so a Shorrock supercharger was fitted for 1969 – and the bike started to fly. Pegasus was one of the first bikes to travel to Sweden to race in that same year, at a time prior to bikes actually being raced in that country. Mick Butler rode the bike to its first British Drag Bike Championship win, defeating John Hobbs in the final.
A real highlight came in 1970, when the beautifully prepared Vincent was one of two British bikes to make another historic first trip, to race at the NHRA Indy Nationals. Transportation delays precluded any possibility of the planned testing session, but the experience of competing at the sport’s number one drag race was a brilliant adventure for the young team. The bike joined the nine second elite, recording best times of 9.83s/150mph.
This was still the period of long smoky side by side charges by the quickest bikes, and Pegasus was one of the true favourites, notching up a good number of wins. 1971 saw the Vincent scooping both the BDR&HRA and NDRC championships, as the riders continued their winning ways. Derek busied himself working on the motor to extract more power for 1972 by upping the capacity to 1458cc, but in the end it was decided the bike would soon be retired in favour of more modern powerplants with wider sponsorship potential.
At this point, when the Vincent was retired in 1972, Mick Butler decided to strike out on his own. He had already been running a Norton powered bike alongside Pegasus, as he always wanted to have a ride, whether it was his turn or not. His future builds included Super Cyclops, a 1000cc double Norton, which dipped down into the low nines, followed by a very neat Weslake vee-twin, which Mick rode into the low eights. The three original team members all shared the same values regarding quality and will always be linked together after their time spent in establishing the Pegasus name.
1974 saw Derek and Ian unveil a stunning new addition to the Top Bike ranks with backing from Bike magazine, the 1656cc double Norton was a true work of art. Early times were fraught due to a weak transmission, as the era of slipper clutches and two speed transmissions was only just starting to replace the old style motorcycle gearbox and clutch. Once the bike was fitted with a Lenco and stronger clutch, the times started to tumble, as the bike headed down into the 8 second zone, and started to take wins. Eddie Keightley became an unofficial member of the team by crewing on the bike at race meetings.
In addition to winning numerous Best Appearing and Best Engineered awards at the races, the Norton was a big hit on the show circuit, being resplendent in a series of airbrushed murals. Over the years, the always immaculate bike sported several superb paint schemes, which were unmatched in their day.
Eventually, at the beginning of the eighties, the bike was retired as the focus shifted towards Japanese based motors, which brought the age of the double-engine bikes effectively to a close. Best times achieved by Pegasus were 8.39s/170mph. Happily the bike was not lost, as it was sold to the National Motorcycle Museum where, for many years it was the main attraction in the entrance foyer to the museum.
Derek went on to build a replica of the original unblown Pegasus in the late 1980s in order to have some fun racing at sprints, and the bike is still a regular runner at Dragstalgia. Amazingly, in 2016, after the double Norton had spent some 33 years in the museum, Derek and Ian were allowed to try and get the bike running again, which was a big ask after such a long period on show. Although front end issues prevented the bike making a good run, it was quite something to see and hear the iconic Norton out on track, with Derek riding it for one last time.
Profile By Keith Lee
Further details can be found at www.pegasusteam.co.uk/