Using Yorkshire grit (mined from a rich seam under the Pennines) James Whitham and favva, travel to the TT in Manx comfort and style. They could have been in an Austin 1800
Over the last few years the Isle of Man TT races have gone through a real transformation and there‘s a buzz about the place I haven‘t seen since the late ’80s. The lowest ebb was probably the late ’90s. At that time very few younger riders were even considering riding the TT or Manx GP. It seemed to be stuck in the past and even its most fervent supporters would’ve admitted the days of racing round the mountain course were probably numbered.
The big change came in 2004 when, unhappy with the way the ACU were running things the Isle of Man government took over. Since then the fortunes of the event have turned around. Not only have they been able to attract lots of younger riders to race the TT, they’ve been careful to attract the right kind of riders and encourage them to come over and learn the circuit beforehand. The crowds have also been coming back.
I’m not sure I quite agree with the claim on this years publicity material about it being ‘the greatest races on the planet’. But I have to say there’s something about it you just don’t get anywhere else. I took an old mechanic of mine over a couple of years ago, an Italian bloke I’d worked with during my Yamaha Italy years. He was full of Italian cool until he saw John McGuinness hauling down Bray hill three feet from where we were standing. Then he didn’t speak for two days.
Going through the boxes of photos to put together the ‘scrapbook’ feature in last months mag reminded me of my first trip to the Island. My dad had taken me to watch the odd race before, including an international meeting at Mallory Park in 1977 that pretty much put him off watching short circuit racing for good. We went down in the family Austin 1800 (like an Austin Maxi only shitter) it was meant to be a bit of a father/son bonding trip, but the day turned into a series of queues. We queued to get in, we queued to go to the toilet, we queued to buy a cup of tea and we queued to get out... and all we got to see all day were the backs of other people’s heads. We heard the bikes going past on the track, and the “oooohs” and “aaaahs” of the crowd, but that was it.
On the way home in the car, when he’d calmed down, my dad said he’d take me to the Isle of Man the next year to see some ‘proper’ racing. True to his word we went in ’78, but my dad being my dad we couldn’t just go in the car, or on his new 400/4 Honda like any normal race goer, oh no. He decided it’d be a great idea, and a real talking point for us to ride over on a 1937 Manx Norton he’d bought a couple of years before. Now, this was a pre-war racing bike, what it had was a big open megaphone exhaust, a single seat and 40-year-old tyres. What it didn’t have was lights, a kickstart, mirrors, horn or anything else needed to make it remotely road legal. It goes without saying it’d never been registered either. All this failed to put him off, he’d simply use the number off another 500cc Norton he had.
But he didn’t want to use the actual number plate off the donor bike coz this would mean drilling a hole somewhere in his beloved Manx. So he got some white paint and daubed the number on the rear mudguard... genius!
Even when his mate Clifford, who’d done most of the organising for the trip told us we were booked onto the midnight ferry, meaning we’d be riding to Liverpool in the dark, my dad remained undeterred. We’d ride down the M62 behind Clifford on his XS750 Yamaha. It had lights and according to pater’s twisted reasoning this would somehow make it all legal(ish). “And anyway,” he reasoned. “By the time we get near Liverpool there’ll be loads of bikes heading for the ferry and we can mingle in!” It was questionable how well we were ever gonna ‘mingle in’ wearing pudding-basin helmets, two-up on a bike with only a single seat and making so much noise it was audible in France.
At the time you just accepted he knew what he was doing and went along with it... and anyway, it meant missing school for a week, and was therefore well worth any small risks involved.
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