When Alex Hofmann lines up on the grid at the Sachsenring riding the NSR West Honda Pons machine this Sunday, ask any German if a rider from their country has ever won a 500cc grand prix race. The answer almost certainly will be that no German rider has won a premier class race - but they would be wrong.

In an era when the likes of Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read and Barry Sheene were making all the headlines a certain Edmund Czihak won the 1974 West German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

'Edmund who?' many will ask - and quite rightly so, because he brought Germany their only 500cc grand prix victory, ironically at his home race, in very special circumstances.

Grand prix motorcycle racing was very different in 1974. It was dangerous and the riders were starting to react from the death and serious injuries inflicted on them by money-grabbing organisers who were regarded as having no care for safety and putting far more effort into lining their own pockets.

Matters came to a head at the second round of the 1974 championship at the infamous 22.835kms Nurburgring circuit, when British rider Phil Read was leading the 500cc championship on the Italian MV Agusta machine after winning the round one at Clermont-Ferrand in France.

Seven times world champion Read was at the British Grand Prix at Donington Park last weekend to be inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame, and he remembered that cold snowy weekend at the Nurburgring like it was yesterday.

''There was snow on the ground as well as the mountains, and it was literally freezing - but it wasn't just the weather that upset us,'' Read recalled, ''Contrary to the FIM regulations, the grand prix motorcycle meeting was combined with car racing and the bikes were being made to take second place.''

The main problem was the lack of straw bales protecting the armco barrier-lined circuit. Armco, which stopped cars crashing off the circuit, had already claimed the lives of many grand prix motor cycle racers, and was the biggest enemy in their safety campaign.

''When we went out to practice, the word came back that there were only a few thousand bales of straw scattered around the 22km circuit - instead of the ten thousand or so needed to make the armco-lined barrier safe,'' Read continued.

Sadly, as so often happens, it took a serious accident to bring the riders together to demand more protection or threaten a boycott. British rider Bill Henderson broke his spine when he crashed and hit the unprotected Armco barrier. It also took the ambulance ten minutes to reach the stricken rider, and the riders decided it was time for a showdown.

''A meeting of the riders followed, from which Giacomo Agostini, John Dodds and myself took an ultimatum to the organisers,'' Read explained, ''If they refused to put out more bales, the riders would refuse to race. A further 2500 were promised but, in our opinion, that was not enough.''

The riders signed a document stating they would not race, which was then delivered to the organisers.

''It was signed by all the works riders and their team managers,'' Read confirmed, ''However, when all but a few privateers also declared their intention not to race, the organisers realised they had under-estimated the strength and unity of the riders.

''The only unhappy feature of the whole affair, from our point of view, was that the paying spectators were robbed of seeing the stars they'd come to watch race. In the event, a few solo riders - mainly Germans in fear of losing their licences - raced, as did the leading German sidecar men after a good deal of arm-twisting.''

The organisers were shaken, and lambasted the riders over the PA system, incredibly accusing them of a lack of courage. The German Federation also suspended a number of riders and issued a press statement stating the riders had demanded more money, which was not true. At a special FIM meeting the next month, the organisers were fined and the German Federation reprimanded. The rider suspensions were lifted.

''At the time, it seemed like a great victory, with riders forgetting their differences and acting together - and not for money, but for safety,'' Read said, '' I felt proud to be part of it. Yet what came of it? I'd like to think that our action, in the long term, did some good.''

It certainly did a massive amount of good. Armco barriers have long disappeared from, or are adequately protected at, modern day grand prix circuits. Organisers now work hand-in-hand to provide the safest possible workplace for the riders to display their skills in a very dangerous sporting environment.

And their brave actions brought German their only 500cc grand prix winner - Edmund Czihak.



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