W. "Jack" Wilson
our beloved friend and world renowned Triumph icon died Sunday, May 7, 2000.
LANCASTER -- George W. "Jack" Wilson was born on May 1, 1927, in Coryell County. He served his country in the U.S. Army during World War II. Jack was the former owner of Big D Cycle in Oak Cliff for 35 years, specializing in Triumph motorcycles. He was famous worldwide for the Bonneville Salt Flat speed records. Survivors: Loving wife of 49 years, Catherine Wilson; sons, David Cantwell and Gary Wilson; daughters, Cathey Williams and Wendy Collins; brother, John Wilson; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Star-Telegram, Tuesday, 05/09/2000
[Picture of Jack's AMA Hall of Fame Plaque]
[Letter from Katy Wilson]
[Dave Howe's Tribute to Jack Wilson]
Jack Wilson with his famous "winner's" smile.
Jack Wilson Eulogy
By Robert Baucom
I'm not up here to say a lot of depressing things. We are here to lend our support to Katy, and the family in mourning the loss of husband and father, Jack Wilson. But, also, we are here to express our respect, admiration and love for a remarkable man. A man that accomplished so very much in his life.
Let's celebrate that life and those accomplishments and the sheer pleasure we enjoyed from knowing and being around Jack. When I think of Jack Wilson I remember the laughing, the kidding, the joking and if he ever got your goat, he dearly loved to pull your string.
I first met Jack at Pete Dalio's shop in 1951. I was 15 at the time. Jack called me Lightning. Nothing remarkable about that. He called everybody Lightning. He was too busy to remember all those kid's names. Later I bought a Tiger Cub. Now I had a name. Dalio called me Bascum. Jack gave nicknames to all paying customers. He called me "Baddd Bascum."
To all of us teenagers. Jack was our hero. What are heroes? To start with, Jack was one of the most honest men I've ever met. In my head I can still hear him saying, "lets do whatever is fair." That's good ole, down home, Texas values - "what ever is fair." If Jack caught an employee cheating a customer, that's when he showed that temper. His face and ears got red, and that guy was out the door and down the road.
Jack, first and foremost, was a competitor. He always went to win. Second place is not winning. If he had to do a valve job in the blowing sand, on the side of the race track, in a 30 mile an hour wind in San Angelo, Texas, he did it - cause he came to win. Any racer that didn't have that same fire in his gut never got another ride on a Jack Wilson race bike. I don't have to remind you, he especially liked to beat Harleys, BSA's and Prune Pickers, in that order. Top billing was a Prune Picker Harley.
To consistently win, you have to be smarter and more dedicated than the other guy. Jack had to be one of the smartest. His bikes nearly always won. Jack, even past his prime, was the fastest wrench I have ever seen. When it came to speed, there's only two or three guys that even belong on the same page with him. He had many other talents. Master speed tuner, custom painter, machinist, inventor, salesman, businessman and undocumented engineer. As teenagers, we kids went to the scrambles and Jack's bikes won. Go to the drag races, Jack rode it himself and won. To me he seemed fearless on a drag racer. I call that courage! Road races? How about three pickup loads of trophies? There are men in this room that still have boxes full of trophies they won riding a Jack Wilson race bike.
The list of racers that moved up the ladder on one of Jack's bikes or with his help is impressive. To name just a couple, Gary Nixon and Mike Kidd both went on to carry the number one plate. He set world speed records. How many? Most all of you know of the worlds fastest motorcycle record set by Johnny Allen in 1956. Stormy Mangham's streamliner was powered by an engine that Jack built and tuned. I mentioned he was fair. It always annoyed Jack that he and Johnny received so much credit and so little mention was made of Stormy Mangham. Jack said many a time, "it was Stormy that conceived and built that streamliner. Without Stormy none of it would have ever happened." After 1956, Jack's machines went on to set more Triumph world speed records than anyone else in history. A Triumph advertisement in the late 70's, listed all 36 world speed records still held by Triumph motorcycles. Twenty four of that thirty six were on bikes built or blessed in Jack's race shop. Determined is another adjective that applies to Jack. In the blistering heat, or a frigid blue Northern, tired and/or hungry, he fought it until he won, or everything was FUBAR.
I went to Bonneville with him and his son Gary in 1969. I am 11 years Jack's junior. He wore me out. He seemed tireless! Jack's three Tridents exceeded two or more of the existing world speed records every day for 5 days. The next morning, that's every morning he beat and set two or more new world records. To make those record runs Jack got us up around 4 am. After those record runs all three motorcycles were modified to the specs of the next classes out in that hot sun. Better than twelve hours, he worked past midnight, four nights in a row. By the third night Gary and I couldn't make it past 10 or 11. We'd just stagger off to bed. Heading back home, Jack and I were so wiped out, neither of us could drive for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. I doubt if Jack ever read any H. L. Menkin. But I guarantee he would have agreed with this quote: "One can seldom go wrong in over estimating the stupidity of the American public." You could say he suffered fools poorly. Jack had little time for persons that were lets say, sluggish in their mental processing, even me! I was just another one of those dingy teenagers hanging around Dalio's. I was, about 21, before I graduated to a title above "Piss Willie."
He had a great sense of humor. We are sure going to miss Jack. But we still have the memories. I treasure all the laughter, the practical jokes, and all the funny stories. All of us sitting around Jack's campfire at the rallies, laughing. All those racing tales re-told, re-lived, and re-enjoyed. Those bench racing sessions after hours, back in the workshop. Those are some happy memories. Jack Wilson is world famous in the Triumph motorcycle community. The man made history. Bob Kiser's email said it all: "You can't hardly carry on a conversation about Triumph motorcycles without Jack Wilson's name coming up.
I said before, as teenagers, he was our hero. We have covered: he was honest, fair, a competitor, had courage, set world records, smart, dedicated, determined, tireless, a winner, and had a great sense of humor. Now, what better attributes can you expect in a hero! Jack never leaped over tall buildings in a single bound. But, if you told him "he couldn't do it" he'd be burning the midnight oil, working out ways to get it done. Keith Martin first said it and I concur, "Jack Wilson is still my hero." The teenager's heroes now are rock stars. I have yet to see one of these sick looking freaks that is fit to carry Jack Wilson's helmet. I once read: "Anyone that excels at something they love to do is a success." I can't name any other person that better fits that description than Jack Wilson.
Jack piloted a single-engine, 160 hp Turbocharged Trident with
a 1,000 cc, Big D stroker kit to a 192.34 mph record in 1975.
Left to right: Dickey Powell, Brad Lackey, Ed Mabry, Jon Minonno, Jack Wilson, David "Packer" Wade,
Bill Oxley, Dave Howe. Bonneville, 1992, 601 ran 256.264 during this meet after this picture was taken.
Jack at work in Pete Dalio's Triumph shop, Ft. Worth, Texas, 1954. One of the
world's best known Triumph tuners, Jack built over 65 speed-record setting Triumphs
between 1955 and 1990, as well as countless winning road-race and dirt-track engines.
Triumphs Keep Flying' in Texas
Just as Triumph ended its official U.S. racing effort, one of the marquee's most famous dealer-tuners was launching Triumph's most successful club-racing effort. Jack's Big D Cycle prepared three motorcycles - two Bonneville based twins and an ex-Duarte (Mike Kidd's) Rob North Trident-for rider Jon Minonno.
Between 1976 and 1978, the small team won consecutive West-East Roadracing Association (WERRA) national championships in three different classes, -stock production, 750 superbike, and open superbike. Even more remarkable was the fact that their competitors were all aboard modem four-cylinder Japanese superbikes. "When Jon beat 'em, they couldn't believe it," Jack exclaimed, "so they usually made us tear our engines down for post-race inspection. We tore a lot of engines down in those days!"
Big D's Bonnevilles gained a new lease on life in the early 1980s, with the advent of the new Battle of the Twins series. Jack worked more of his magic, building a series of 750 cc, 860 cc, and even 975 cc twin-cylinder racers featuring Triumph's new eight-valve TSS cylinder head. The Frankenstein-like 975 was safe to 7,500 rpm because of its one-piece billet crankshaft, machined from aircraft steel alloy. But according to Jack, "The engine made so much torque that it wrecked gearboxes." In 1981, the 750 cc racer was timed at 153 miles per hour through the Daytona speed traps-faster than the Ducati 900s and scored a fourth overall at Talladega. In 1982, Jon Minonno and the 340-pound machine scored three firsts, three seconds, one fourth, and two DNFs out of nine races entered. At Laguna Seca, he came second to Jimmy Adamo's class-leading Ducati 900-still with only 750 cc.
The granddaddy of all Triumph streamliners is the Devil's Arrow (later nicknamed the Texas Cee-gar), built in 1954 by Fort Worth airline captain J. H. "Stormy" Mangham and Triumph tuner extraordinaire Jack Wilson. Stormy was an exceptional man as well. He was really the inspiration for the project and without his determination the bike may not have been built let alone win.
The machine featured a methanol-fueled 650 cc Thunderbird twin in a tube-frame chassis. Its molded shell was shaped like a knife blade: 15 feet, 8 inches long and just 22.5 inches wide in the center. With rider Johnny Allen (a well-known Texas dirttracker) at the controls, the Cee-gar went 193.3 miles per hour at the Bonneville salt flats in 1955.
Robert Baucom Remembers the Texas Cee-gar
A few months after the 190+ mph record was set, the NSU
group brought over their "Factory Effort." Super charged it topped the previous Johnny Allen
record. There was an all night Texaco Station in Wendover that a select few get to
use as a work area at night. As the Germans were loading up to go back
to Germany the Station Manager told them, "Those Texans will be back."
They were, in a few days, and raised the record to 214.00 mph. It was a
great disappointment to the NSU group. The son of the man that rode the
NSU spoke at the Anniversary Celebration in the UK. Katy Wilson
said, "He was a very gracious man."
Number 51 and the Piss-Willies
As you know Jack Wilson set many records at Bonneville over the years. Team Texas Triumph continues this tradition and was involved in many of Jack's recent records. Jon Minonno still rides for the team and was Jack's rider for many years.
Copyright © 2000 NTNOA All rights reserved.
Revised: January 05, 2018.