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Archive - Monday, 28 February 2005
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Belated tribute to tragic race star
Cyril Smith left the world of motorsport as an unknown sporting hero. Now, 42 years later, his achievements have finally been commemorated. Chris Brayshay reports.
AMENDS have been made at the grave of a one-time motorcycling legend.
Forty-two years after he committed suicide, former world champion sidecar racer Cyril Smith has had his burial plot in a North-East cemetery paid for and marked with a headstone.
"I did not discover until after my mother died and I was going through her papers that the grave had not been paid for, because my mother had no money,'' said Mr Smith's 65-year-old daughter, Kathleen Dibben.
Former Desert Rat Mr Smith was twice mentioned in wartime despatches and photographed with Field Marshal Montgomery for his work venturing into German minefields to recover knocked-out British tanks.
Always a keen motorcycle racer, he finished second in the 1952 Swiss Grand Prix, three weeks after breaking his collarbone and fracturing his skull while practising for the Belgium Grand Prix.
Later the same year, he became world champion, crossing the finishing line on his home-tuned Norton motorbike and sidecar.
In 1953, he finished second in the world championships and third in 1954 - again riding his own bike.
His wife, Irene, sang two nights a week with a band to help pay her husband's racing insurance. Unable to pay the policy, Mr Smith, was forced to retire from the sport in 1959.
"The only person to offer him a lucrative job was Tom Cowey, as his chief service engineer on motorbikes at Stockton,'' said Mrs Dibben.
The job brought her mother and father up from the Midlands to live in Redcar, east Cleveland.
The couple were there only two years before a disillusioned Mr Smith took his own life. He was 43.
The Reverend Chris Greenwell, the vicar of Kirkleatham, conducted a short service of thanksgiving for Mr Smith's life, at Redcar Cemetery, at the weekend and dedicated a headstone.
The group of family and friends were accompanied to the graveside by a standard bearer and veterans of the Royal Tank Regiment.
The regimental flag was lowered for a two-minute silence in memory of Mr Smith.
Mrs Dibben, who married the 1953 motorcycle world champion, Stan Dibben, travelled from Gloucestershire for the ceremony.
Mr Dibben was Eric Oliver's passenger in the FIM sidecar world championship.
Mrs Dibben said: "My mother would not give her permission to have the grave marked because she could not come to terms with the fact he had committed suicide. I have put that right now.'