Walter Frederick Rusk

Pilot Walter Frederick Rusk was drawn to speed. Before the outbreak of World War Two the motorcycle racer from Northern Ireland broke records across Europe.

Leading Aircraftman

Walter Frederick Rusk

966122

Pilot Walter Frederick Rusk was drawn to speed. Before the outbreak of World War Two the motorcycle racer from Northern Ireland broke records across Europe.

Leading Aircraftman Walter Frederick Rusk (966122) served with the Royal Air Force during World War Two. He was best known as a phenomenal motorcycle road racing talent in the pre-war years.

Rusk was born in Belfast, Co. Antrim in 1910. He became one of Northern Ireland’s most prominent motorcycle racers of the 1930s.

Walter Rusk at the Swiss Grand Prix

Walter Rusk on his familiar Norton Machine at the 1935 Swiss Grand Prix. Photo from VintageNorton.com. Copyright unknown.

Achievements on the roads

In 1929, at the age of 18, he started his first North West 200 race on a Sunbeam bike. The following year, he would break the lap record on a Velocette and a promising career began.

Rusk’s first win came in 1931 at the Temple 100 Road Races on a Norton. Noticed by the AJS works team, he joined the team for the 1931 Ulster Grand Prix. Due to mechanical problems, he did not finish the race.

1932 saw the Northern Irish man join the Rudge team in the 250cc class. The following year, he started his first Isle of Man TT on a 500cc Sunbeam. He drew the attention of Joe Craig, team boss at Norton and joined their team alongside Stanley Woods and Tim Hunt.

On the road racing circuit, he finished 2nd in the 1934 European 350cc Championship. He also won the North West 200 on a 350cc Norton Model 40. He raced across Europe in the years before World War Two with performances in the German and Swiss Grand Prix’s of 1935.

Walter Frederick Rusk

Northern Irish motorcycle racer Walter Frederick Rusk awaits the start of the 1935 Ulster Grand Prix on his Norton motorcycle. Photo from UlsterGrandPrix.net. Copyright Derek Beattie 2013.

At the famous Isle of Man TT, Rusk finished 2nd once and 3rd twice in the mid-1930s. In 1934, he took 3rd in the 500cc class behind Jimmie Guthrie and Jimmy Simpson. The following year would chalk up a 2nd in the 350cc class behind Guthrie. That year saw another 3rd place behind Stanley Woods and Guthrie again.

In the 1934 Ulster Grand Prix, he finished ahead of the pack on a 500cc Velocette. The following year on the Clady Circuit would not end so well. Racing hard with teammate Jimmie Guthrie, both men spun out of control on the melting tarmac. Guthrie escaped serious injury but Rusk suffered a broken arm.

On his water-cooled AJS V4, he finished 11th at the Isle of Man TT in 1939. Teammate Bob Foster came in 13th with the bikes not handling well.

Rusk at the Ulster Grand Prix

Later in 1939, at the Ulster Grand Prix, the two men led from the start outshining the Nortons and Gileras. Foster retired on the first lap with plug trouble. That first lap ended with Walter Rusk in a 34-second lead breaking circuit records with 100.03 miles per hour average speed.

On the track, Rusk gained the nickname “The Blonde Bombshell”. Always wanting to go faster, he insisted on changes to the sprockets to drive the engine harder. He manhandled the bike around that record-breaking lap before the power of the bike tore apart its own frame. The bumps of the Seven Mile Straight and the power of the Norton engine would break the front forks and cause him to retire on the 3rd lap. The performance earned him the Motorcycle Union of Ireland Gold Medal.

Walter Rusk’s achievements on the track were phenomenal. History remembers Dubliner Stanley Woods as the most successful victor at the Ulster Grand Prix’s Clady circuit. But while Woods clocked up wins, Walter Rusk recorded the first 90mph and 100mph laps in 1934 and 1939.

Remembering Walter Frederick Rusk

1939 saw the outbreak of World War Two and like many road racers with a love for speed, Rusk enlisted in the Royal Air Force. While undergoing pilot training with the RAF, Walter Frederick Rusk died in a crash on 8th October 1940.

Leading Aircraftman Walter Frederick Rusk was with No. 7 Flight Training School on 8th October 1940. As a pilot under training he crashed the Hawker Hart K4368 into high ground at Tilton-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire. A co-pilot Flight Sergeant Johnson was also on board the Hart.

Rusk’s grave is in Division 4, Block 4, Grave 1661, Eastfield Cemetery, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England.

Newsletter Signup

If you'd like to hear more from WartimeNI, you can sign up for regular free updates to your inbox. Just enter your email address below.