Every now and then you get lucky enough to meet someone very cool and famous at the same time. We have all seen her and admired her but like many I wanted to know more about Dane Rowe. She was a star or the sidecar racing circuit in the 60’s and 70’s and recently found fame as a style icon in Men’s File Magazine. Today, she promotes rock concerts and authenticates ancient roman coins. I was very intrigued by her but I couldn’t find any real information on any of the sites I normally use for some of my research. I did some cyber sleuthing and was able to make contact with Dane (Rowe) Kurth. She graciously agreed to an interview. We exchanged several e-mails and I am pleased to share with you our conversation.
Where did you grow up and were there any motorcycle influences in your childhood?
“I grew up in NW England, on the Lancashire coast. The home-life of myself and my three brothers and sisters was a sad one, with a brutal mother (father had already left us) who used every opportunity to hit us with whatever instrument was closest at hand, be it a steel vacuum cleaner pipe, an iron poker from the fireplace or a ladle in the kitchen. The three saving features of our lives was our grandmother who came to look after us when our mother went out at night, the Girl Guides for myself, and later, when I was about 11, a motorcycle shop on the road where our grandmother lived. I had passed it once and was immediately intrigued by the smell of oil and engine bits and when the mechanic, whom I could see through the open workshop doors, lying beneath a motorcycle doing some work, called out and asked me – a small girl of 11 or so – to please pass him a spanner which was just out of his reach, I managed to discover which tool he needed and continued to “help” in fascination. He was extremely kind and his kindness and respect was a huge influence on my life.”
I noticed you were a student of photography in Paris.
“No not Paris.”
Which school did you attend?
“The London School of Journalism.”
How did you go from photography student to sidecar racer?
“I had moved from home to West London to study and seeing as I had by then been a motorcyclist (with a 350cc Triumph 3TA) and a member of the 64 club, I wasn’t able to join the famous 59 club. Before I moved to London I had visited a couple of races with a neighbour’s daugter, Marie, whose boyfriend raced a 350cc Manx Norton in club and national level races, and I had watched a sidecar race. Passengering looked like fun, so I bought some second-hand leathers and boxing boots (much favoured by passengers at the time) and used to take them to races with Marie and her boyfriend, waiting for a chance. And the chance came when someone’s passenger didn’t turn up at a club race. So that’s how it started.”
You raced in the TT with C.C. Bird in 1968. Was that your first major race entry or had you been involved in racing for some time?
“That was my second year of racing and yes, the TT with Colin Bird was my first TT. And do you know what? I STILL remember how I felt when Colin said he had chosen me amongst the “applicants” following his advert in Motor Cycle News, and how I felt when I was on the Island just before the first practise session.”
Christian Lacombe took a wonderful picture of you and Bill Copson catching air aboard your BMW at the 1969 TT. Do you remember what was going through your mind at that instant?
“Yes, hoping we wouldn’t lose the sidecar nose entirely. The plexiglass screen of the sidecar nose had cracked and the vibration had started to spread so much, that it split the sidecar nose floor (the “pan”) as well, so that started to dangle off. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but that’s where the battery was, so the last one and a half laps of the race was spent with me holding the battery in place, as half of the floor beneath the battery was broken off and held in place only by about 2″ of fibreglass.. Oh, the fun of it all.. :-)”
Rudi Kurth and Dane Rowe-1976 Assen TT
How did you meet Rudi and how involved were you with his innovative designs?
“Bill Copson and I had, as one of our first races together, taken part (and won) Bourg en Bresse in France. We needed some hydraulic oil and with Bill knowing my love of languages (though not as extensive or as fluent as today), he asked me to find some. I asked him whom I should ask and he said, “Ask Rudi Kurth, he has everything hydraulic.” So, in school we had learned (very incorrectly) that all the Swiss speak French (actually Switzerland has four official languages, with Swiss-German being in the majority), so I walked over to where Rudi, with his back to the paddock, was working on his Cat outfit and asked, in my (at the time) atrocious Anglo-French, whether he had any hydraulic oil. Rudi turned round and looked up at me, and asked in English, “you what ?”. As I write this, I am shaking, because when I saw his face, something flashed like lightning inside my head. I KNEW that this was the man for me, that he had been put on this earth for ME. “Love at first sight” may sound corny but it happened for both of us. He felt exactly the same. It’s strange when you think that he was born 11 years before me. When I was born, he was a schoolboy at an age (he told me later) when young boys worry that by the time they get older, there will be nobody left for them. And at that precise time, 2,000 miles away in a different country, a baby girl was born who was meant for HIM.
As far as being involved in his numerous ideas and designs, no, they are all in his head. Very rarely I think of a *useful* solution to a little problem he has, but I think that has happened less than three times in all the years we have been together. All his ideas are his own. I did help him build the Vari-Eze plane of course, and I used to do fibreglass work, making fairings etc. And now, seeing as I have been using computers since 1977, I am the PC specialist at home, because Rudi is not very PC-experienced. It’s about the only thing he’s not brilliant at!”
Both you and Rudi raced during a dynamic and exciting period in motorcycle history. What was it like to be a part of the “Continental Circus” especially as a woman in a very macho sport?
“Some great friendships were formed and we usually had a lot of fun, especially with people like Barry Sheene, Phil Read, Chas Mortimer, Paul Smart (called in spoonerism-fashion “Small Part”). Sidecar teams and solo teams used to mingle a lot, not like today, since the Moto GP management has practically banned sidecar races from their own precious GP events.
I never asked, or expected to be treated differently, just because I was a woman. The riders never acted in a disrespectful manner towards me, probably because I had never done anything to merit disrespect. I was not and never had been a paddock groupie, I was there as a GP licence holder and was always willing to act on their behalf if they needed someone to represent them with a grievance, or they needed an interpreter (my language skills had improved, haha) when dealing with a sponsor, race promoter, potential buyer of material they had for sale etc.”
Were there other women racing at the time?
“Aga Neumann of Germany stopped racing about 2 years after I stated racing in GP and internationals. Later a couple more English women started racing at club and national level with their husbands but I can’t for the life of me remember their names.”
What is the most memorable moment in your racing career?
“Apart from meeting Rudi … 🙂
The thing that makes me smile when I think about it, is the Great Toilet Blaze Mystery of Imola, Finland. OK, it went like this. The paddock at Imola was in a clearing of a forest (!). There were no permanent building, so of course no proper loos (Loo: commonly accepted English-English word, used by all classes, for a lavatory). The only loo available was a three sided construction of planks of wood with no front, so no door (I donated a large bath towel which could be drawn across the door hole and fixed to a nail), and a hole in the ground. No proper installation, just a hole of about 15″ diameter, in the ground. And that was used by everybody. Of course the ground around the hole became very soggy and quite disgusting, so everyone started putting down newspapers etc. to walk on. We had tried small branches from trees in the forest, but they became smelly, wet and slippery, so we used newspapers and bits of cardboard – everyone who went into town was asked to bring back cardboard boxes, newspapers, anything.
We had asked the organisers on the Friday (practise day) whether they couldn’t organise a Porta-Potty (i.e. a mobile WC trailer) but they shrugged their shoulders and did nothing about it. People parked near the loos moved to aromatically safer ground further away.
So on the Sunday afternoon before the races started, we’d had enough. Barry Sheene went round from one racer to another asking for a drop of petrol (=gasoline). None of us were well-off back then and it often happened that we had to chip in because some poor bugger had wrecked his only engine in practise so didn’t have any money to get home. Usually, a couple of Francs or Pounds from everyone more or less covered the rider’s lost start money. So it was not unusual that someone would go round asking for a cupful of petrol.
Well, about an hour later, there was a whooshing sound and in the clearing, the loo was well and truly ablaze. We all stood around cheering. I bet we must have killed billions of germs and bacteria..
The police were called to investigate this case of blatant pyromania. And I remember Barry explaining po-faced to the police, “well, there were police in the paddock and I remember that one went in to the loo smoking a cigarette. There was a lot of newspaper on the floor. When he came out, he did not have his cigarette any more and a minute later the loo was on fire…..” And the policeman looked at Barry and wiggled his index finger left and right and said, “Nooooooo!”
I have some newspaper cuttings about the fire somewhere.”
As a child, I remember sidecar racing being very popular in France. What happened and why the schism with MotoGP?
“It was Mike Trimby who, although he used to be a sidecar passenger, seemed to have had a deep dislike for the sidecar class. He formed the IRA or something (International Riders Association or something or other), then they became official with the FIM, and I presume (cynically) in order to get more $$ for the solos (i.e. a bigger portion of the gate money, TV rights etc), they started by getting rid of the 50cc/80cc class, then the sidecars and the 125cc class, then the 350cc class, so now you practically only have what used to be the 250cc and the 500cc class, although, depending on whether you’re on a 2-stroke or a 4-stroke, the classes no longer have fixed capacities. They call themselves GP 1 and GP 2 (or Moto 1 and Moto 2).”
Is that why you stopped racing?
“No, not at all, we just thought it was a good time to stop, for no particular reason. Sidecar GP racing continued for several years after we stopped. I worked as interpreter at the British Grand Prix for about 7 years afterwards.”
Other than Rudi of course, who was your favorite racer of the era?
“Phil Read, I think (and if he ever reads this, “yes Phil, I still fancy you”) (that was a joke of his, he used to ask all the girls in the paddock, “do you still fancy me?”) and Barry Sheene, who was a lovely lad with a very gracious and beautiful wife, Stephanie. (I remember when our cat Kuro (the Yamaha manager’s gift), who used to come to races with us, made himself comfortable in Barry’s caravan once, at the German GP in Hockenheim. He didn’t know Kuro was ours and it wasn’t until there was a paddock announcement after the race (when Kuro always used to come back) that Rudi and Dane were missing a black cat, that he brought Kuro to us and said, “he won’t be hungry, we shared our dinner with him”.”
Do you still ride motorcycles now?
“No, I just stand and admire them and, when I’m driving, move over so they can overtake me safely and warn them if they are approaching a radar trap.”
Where does the strong feline influence in your life including your team team name, your Citroen DS based Catvan, and the Cheetah bicycle come from?
“Rudi used the name CAT for his very first racing car and the first outfits he built for Fritz Scheidegger because a CAT is light and slinky. But he had never had a cat (four-legged kind). We got our first cat (wee beastie), Kuro, as a gift from the Yamaha Race Manager, Tanaka-san and since then all our cats have had Japanese names. (Kuro means “black”) – that first Kuro lived until he was 12, our lady cat Inki died last year at the age of 17 (!) and our current cat, also black and who has grown to an enormous size in less than 3 years, is also called Kuro.”
As if racing wasn’t avant garde enough for the time, you were involved with heavy metal bands. How did you get into that work and which bands were you involved with?
“I think it has something to do with the rocker philosophy which is closely related to that of heavy metal. I just happened to watch a TV program one night which showed excerpts of the first ever heavy metal festival in Germany with Def Leppard, Kiss, Motorhead (I had first met Lemmy in my 59 club days), and some others, and it just hit me. I started covering heavy metal concerts and bands for a couple of local newspapers and international (German-language) magazines, then decided to organise a couple of concerts myself, then got involved with the Z7, Switzerland’s most popular concert venue (www.z-7.ch). I worked in the Z7 office for 13 years, I am still vice-president but now do my work from home, though I do go up to the venue to help out at multi-day festivals.”
“Motorhead, WASP, Accept, but also some unusual stuff such as the Andrews Sisters (I heard them once in a WWII movie and love their harmonies).”
Roman Numismatics. How did you become an expert in ancient coins?
“When I was at school I wanted to be either a police detective or an archaeologist. I was half an inch too small to join the police, although I had been a police cadet (a voluntary organisation at the time for teenagers) and there was nowhere in my area where I could study archaeology, although one far-sighted locum teacher once took some of us on a field trip to Lancaster (NW England) and we visited an archaeological dig. Later, with the advent of metal detectors and the internet I was able to buy a small group of Roman coins from a German dealer and my old love of history and archaeology was re-awakened. I started collecting coins and numismatic books and fortunately I am a quick learner and it all went from there. I used to send images and information with the correct references to my friend Dave Surber from California, who founded the wildwinds.com website and he would add them to the wildwinds database. Some dealers started sending me images for wildwinds. Then Dave tragically died in February 2009 and although some people thought I was the right person to continue, I didn’t have the money for the server costs. Fortunately at that time, an experienced English antiquities and coin company, Timeline Originals, for whom I had been identifying ancient coins for several years, stepped in and offered to buy wildwinds from Dave’s widow and have me look after the job of adding coins etc. And that is what happened.”
What are your impressions of your role as a fashion icon subsequent to your appearance in Men’s File Magazine?
“Dane, the fashion icon, LOL. I never thought of it as fashion, it was utilitarian and just personalized, that’s all. Almost all the badges on that Barbour jacket were gifts (some voluntary, others begged from the owners, haha) from 59 club members or from out-of-towner visitors to the 59 club.”
In my research, I find you engaged in multiple online forums hinting at a certain level of accessibility which contradicts the paucity of information available for both you and Rudi on Wikipedia or the Manx TT database as examples. Is that by design?
“I’m not quite sure what you mean by accessibility. If someone writes to us I reply. We don’t keep ourselves hidden away and I am on loads of forums, from SatDudez (satellite TV) to the Nokia owners forum, to Forum Ancient Coins (where I am fairly active) and now and again on Steve’s Place etc. when someone has a specific question. Most people just google the name Helvetica and find me eventually.
But I have so much to do with the upkeep of wildwinds (www.wildwinds.com), identifying coins for people, adding them to wildwinds with the correct references etc, tidying up and correcting old errors etc, that the Forum Ancient Coins is the place which gets most of my attention. Beside that there is work such as doing the tax forms (need to finish them this week), work for the Z7, fixing friends’ laptops, doing translations – voluntary unpaid (useful old French, German and Italian numismatic works from the 1800s) as well as paid translation for record companies.
What we do not do, is visit re-unions. We like to look forwards, not backwards. Our racing time was a lot of fun and it brought us together but that time is past. There is enough to do today and to look forward to tomorrow, without having to look back and sigh with nostalgia. Hope that doesn’t sound snotty or arrogant !”
Being forward thinking as you are, what do you see in your future?
“Crikey, no idea ! Continue what I’m doing now, I suppose.”
All I can say is that this was a very special opportunity affording all of us a glimpse into a dynamic period of motorcycle history and one of its most interesting participants. Dane Kurth embodies all the attributes of a true sportsman. Her generosity and sincerity were refreshing.
Thanks a million, Dane!