BERWICKSHIRe is an area with a proud motor racing history thanks to the world championship winning exploits of the late great Jim Clark but who knew there was a female of the species in our midst who also caused quite a stir on the track?
In the 1960s, a girl in her 20s from Echt made the headlines of both local and national papers thanks to her being the only Scottish female to firstly compete in motocross and then in road racing.
The woman in question? Helen Watson, who now lives in Eyemouth and whose sporting history was unearthed by local athletics coach Henry Gray who got to know her after teaching her daughter to swim.
Looking at her sitting comfortably on a couch at her home in Queen’s Road, you’d never imagine this was the same girl who made quite a name for herself hurtling around some of the UK’s most famous courses.
Headlines such as ‘Helen’s out to beat the boys’ became ten a penny and Helen said looking back at all the cuttings and old pictures of her in action made her realise how much she was unphased by it all then.
“I thought it was all very nice how much attention people were paying me but I was just doing what I loved doing and wishing they’d let me get on with it,” she told ‘The Berwickshire News’.
“The main reason I got into biking was that my mum was the only daughter of her family and had seven brothers who all had bikes. One of my earliest memories was being lifted onto to one, grabbing hold of the handlebars and pretending to race.”
Now in her 70s, Helen looks back at her career with fond memories, although she admits it had a rather unorthadox start.
“My first bike arrived as a box of bits,” she recalled.
“Fortunately I knew a lot of people in the trade so someone built and sprayed the frame for me but I built the engine on my own.
“Once I had a bike to race I joined up with my local club, Peterhead and District MCC and things just went from there really.”
But not content with just practising at the club, Helen brought the action a bit closer to home by constructing a track at the farm where she lived with her family and it proved a popular draw.
“On Sundays when we didn’t have race meetings there’d sometimes by 24 of us racing on my track. Word spread about it and the fact that I was the only female doing motocross and it led to a visit from George Kidd, a world championship wrestler from Dundee.
“He had his own programme on Grampian TV called the ‘Wednesday People’ and it was after I was featured on that that more and more people became interested in what I was doing.”
As well as racing on her bike, by this time Helen was also working in the motorcycle trade and was proving good for business, with families calling into where she worked to steal a few moments with the girl who’d become a small screen star.
Whilst her career in the workplace continued to blossom, Helen felt that her career on the track was somewhat limited. She had her heart set on competing in road racing but there were only a handful of tracks north of the border that would allow her to fulfil her ambition.
So she moved to England, with one of her first port of calls being Clay Cross in Derbyshire. By this point Helen had a PHD in engineering under her belt and being an extremely valuable employee meant some of her bosses weren’t too keen on her racing.
“One of my bosses was always frightened something would go wrong,” she continued. “Although he never said anything to me my dad never appreciated me being involved in racing either whereas my mum was my biggest fan.
“The way I see it, to be a racer you’ve got to have belief in your ability and be fearless when you go out there.”
With an inner confidence, Helen took her seat in the sidecar for her first race largely unperturbed by the challenge ahead of her and said the few bumps and scrapes she sustained during her eight year career were all part and parcel of racing.
“I raced at some of the country’s most famous circuits- Malory Park, Oulton Park and Snetterton which I remember particularly as it had a big long straight.
“I was in the chair for my whole roadracing career which meant I was always either hanging out to the right or left trying to get the weight distribution right.
“If my driver was going too fast I’d tap him on the leg and if he was going to slow I’d tell him to give it some!
“I came off a few times and ended up upside down and back to front but my opinion is that if you don’t have a few bumps you’re not riding fast enough!”
Helen sat beside four different drivers during the course of her career - “some got married and their wives didn’t want them doing it anymore,” - and like them she too eventually decided to call it a day.
She arrived in Eyemouth with her husband 35 years ago. As a keen diver he was drawn to St Abbs and the couple ended up making their stay a more permanent one.
Helen is still a keen viewer of motoracing and gets a copy of Motorcycle News delivered to her every week.
She added: “I get two papers a week: that and ‘The Berwickshire News’ but I have to say ‘Motorcycle News’ takes precedence!”
Helen’s advice to any girl who is keen to pursue a career in motor racing: “I say go for it; there’s no reason why they can’t do it.”