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FEATURE: How Paul Smart became a Ducati racing legend

The above Paul Smart 1000LE was released in 2005
The above Paul Smart 1000LE was released in 2005
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Tuesday, 23, Apr 2013 12:28

by Suzette Rabout

Famous for winning the Imola 200 on this very day in 1972, at the age of 29 on the then new Ducati 750, legendary British racer Paul Smart turns 70 today.

So to mark this milestone, MotorbikeTimes has been taking a look back at his career and the race that made him famous.

Imola 200

23 April 1972 was a momentous day in racing history as the English racer took to the track on the new Ducati 750 and won, closely followed by fellow Ducati team mate runner up Bruno Spaggiari.

What makes this achievement even more momentous is that it was Ducati's first major race, and this one-two finish established the Italian firm as a force to be reckoned with.

The inaugural Imola 200 race was created in 1972 to rival the Daytona 200.

Paul had been riding in America for the Hansen Kawasaki team on a petty wage and was there when he received a call from his wife about racing in Imola.

He said: "I didn't even know where Imola was, but Ducati paid my airfare and there was £500 wages, win or lose, so I was up for it."

After preparing to race the unfamiliar Ducati 750, Paul took the bike for a test spin on the Modena circuit and was originally perplexed by the sheer look of the bike, and was initially unimpressed at its long wheelbase, adding "it's got a hinge in the middle".

After some practice at Modena and a surprisingly fast set of laps, the race day finally came and it was time to see what Paul was made of.

He recalls: "On race day I couldn't believe how many people there were. The atmosphere was electric and full of noise like only the Italians can make."

To make it worse, he was racing against world champion Agostini on his MV Agusta.

Smart's team mate Spaggiari was keeping up with him and they even made a fuel stop at the same time to add to the drama.

On the last lap Paul sped past the finish line with Bruno closely following behind, and the reaction was truly memorable.

"I remember riding the bike back into the pit lane and seeing the faces of the entire race team, especially Ducati's Managing Director, Fredmano Spairani: Total elation. This was a big deal for Ducati."

The day was special in more ways than one as it was also Paul's birthday; needless to say celebrations must have been full-on after the win.

Smart was also promised by Ducati that he would be allowed to keep the bike and true to their word they did hand it over.

Years later, Paul returned the favour by donating the bike to the Ducati museum in Bologna.

Keeping it in the family

Racing runs in the smart family, as his brother-in-law is 1973 Formula 750 world champion Barry Sheene.

And his son, Scott Smart has followed in the footsteps of his famous father and uncle by becoming the 250cc British Champion in 1997.

Scott has gone on to compete in the British Superbike Championship riding for the likes of Hawk Kawasaki and Rizla Suzuki.

Future and legacy

After making his mark in the history books for Ducati and winning further races it was in 1978 that Paul finally hung up his leathers and decided to retire in order to maintain his motorcycle business.

His successful career meant it was inevitable that he would have a commemorative bike made in his name, and indeed

in 2005 Ducati released a Paul Smart 1000 LE (limited edition).

Powered by a 992cc L-twin cylinder, the bike is based on the original style of the 1972 750 on which he won the Imola 200, and a green frame helps to complete the race replica look.

Only 2,000 of the models were made, with just 120 coming to the UK for sale so if you managed to bag one, consider yourself lucky, rumour has it that the man himself purchased two just for good measure.

Here at MotorbikeTimes we are wishing Paul a very happy birthday. To take a closer look at the original bike and the later limited edition version, click on the slideshow below.

Find more photos like this on MotorbikeTimes

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