Successfully Yours: Derek Woodman

by Dr. Iain Corness

Derek Woodman is a slightly built man who comes across as a nice guy. He is the Dealer Principal of one of the UK’s biggest BMW dealerships and was also a world championship level motorcycle racer who has stood on the podium with the world’s greats, such as Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini. He also spends six months of every year right here in Pattaya.

Derek was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, or even a plastic straw. He was born in Blackpool in the UK, which he describes as “Pattaya without the sunshine,” and his father was a farm boy who never owned a car and never had any money.

Derek went to a secondary modern school and was not noted for academic brilliance, but he was good at making things with his hands. By this stage he was mad keen on motorcycles, something that did not get parental approval, his mother’s first husband having been killed on one.

Against his parent’s wishes, he went to the Isle of Man at age 14 to see the famous races there and was amazed at how fast the riders took the corners. “It shattered my illusions. I thought I’ll never do this.” However, the two wheeled world still dominated his dreams. He left school at 15 and the following morning started work at the local motorcycle shop. The pay was almost non-existent, but it didn’t matter, Derek was prepared to work for nothing just to be around bikes and the biker’s world.

When the motorcycle shop said that times were tough and they were going to have to reduce his meagre pay, he left and joined the Hawker Aircraft factory, taking on a five year apprenticeship in fitting and turning. There he scrimped and saved, bought a motorcycle, machined up parts for it and dreamed about racing at the Isle of Man. But it was just a dream - to run there would take more money than he had.

This is where being a “nice guy” can have its advantages. The Hawker employees social club members all put sixpence a week into a fund to pay for his ticket to the island and back and his entry fee. “With a bit of luck you might kill yourself,” said the social club president who used to watch the young Derek’s antics on the road outside the factory every lunchtime. He raced, aged 18 and the youngest rider in the Manx Grand Prix, finishing 59th out of the 120 starters. There was no stopping him after that!

There was just one small problem - money, or rather the lack of it! He held down three jobs just to get enough money to continue his motorcycling career. Hawkers during the day, pumping petrol at night and working in a fairground Saturdays and Sundays!

This diligence paid off, as he entered every motorcycle race within riding distance of his home and was finally noticed by a sponsor who supplied a bike for the Isle of Man TT races, where he finished 10th, and thus got a world championship point. That was all the stimulus he needed, “I packed in me job and went racing!”

Going racing meant living in an old truck while he carted his bike all over Europe. Driving for 800 miles in one day - just to get to the next meeting where he could get some starting money as well as the chance of prize money. In those days, there were not the multi-millions available for riders that there is today. You worked on your bike yourself and won enough money to eat and buy the petrol to get you to the next meeting.

Derek was one of the “Continental Circus” of riders who rode at all circuits and by 1965 he had backing from the East German MZ factory and Castrol (Oil) and had claimed 3rd place in a world championship round in the 125 cc class. He was certainly on the way up.

The following year was, sadly, quite the reverse, being all downhill, with a sickening crash in Belgium which broke his pelvis and he missed most of the year. He also missed out on the chance to ride for the Japanese giant Honda, as he had not recovered fully from his injuries.

But when competition is in your blood, it is difficult to stop, but stop he did - when he was 32 years old. “I thought it was about time I earned some money.” Again, because the nice guy had built up a good relationship with Castrol, they assisted him into a garage back in his native Blackpool. It was a humble wooden shed, but Derek was now a penniless self employed garage owner, rather than a penniless motorcycle racer.

Another ex-motorcycle racer was working for BMW, looking for likely sites for their dealerships and he approached Derek. “I couldn’t afford the headlights for a BMW, so I told him to go away.” However, one year later they approached him again and he became a BMW agent, and he has never looked back since, even winning awards from BMW for the excellence of service in his dealership.

Hard work was always his way, but a coronary artery bypass operation suddenly made him look at himself. “It produced all the hang-ups - I thought I was an old man.” So he took some time off and toured the world, discovering Thailand six years ago. “I loved the attitude to life here, and the work-minded attitude of the people.” Those attitudes have been enough for Derek to spend six months here every year since. Returning to the UK people remark on how well he looks, but Derek just says, “It’s the embalming fluid!”

Success for Derek is merely being content with yourself and he says to the youth of today, “If you’ve got dreams, pursue them at all costs, but listen to good advice.” I wonder if Derek would have listened, way back then?