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 Newcomer's International incidents and accidents.

The 1998 TT was a big year for Honda, it being their 50th Anniversary of manufacturing motorcycles and the company having a great respect for their humble beginnings at the Isle of Man, returned in a high profile.

For myself, I had a team of 23 riders and 32 motorcycles, all Honda mounted and with 9 newcomers it looked to be a busy TT. Our garage was the old Manx Telecom building and even at 18,000 sq. ft, it was just big enough to accommodate all the teams and their gear. Added to this was the amazing collection of bikes from the Honda Museum in Motegi.

They were in the next garage bay to us and every day we got to witness the wonderful old Honda machines and their mechanics working away like beavers on their bikes with a genuine enthusiasm that has made the company very famous. They had arrived direct from Assen where there was a big international classic event and the bikes needed some work before the TT.

I remember we were playing about fitting some steering dampers to our bikes without having to weld any frame parts or cut holes in the plastic parts as the bikes we had were all brand new and had to be returned after the TT.

One of the museum bikes had done a fairly serious nasty at Assen and dropped a couple of valves. I think it was a 250cc bike and it had a row of cylinders and very expensive looking parts all made of unobtanium. The mechanics, we were told, were the original ones from way back in the sixties from the racing teams and now spend their senior years fussing over their machines of the glory days. There was this one old guy in his seventies, about four foot ten high who had the job of looking after this bike that had the bad engine from Assen. There was a bloody great container of spare parts about 6 ft high and the same in width. His mates threw him inside the big box and there was a flurry of cartons and paper and mutterings in the Japanese language and soon he was helped out with an armload of small boxes and a smile on his face.

Next time I looked in the garage about what seemed half an hour later, the old guy had the motor out of the bike and into the thirty thousand small pieces that make them run. He worked with the speed and professionalism of a man who had spent his working life at the racetracks of the world and his hands moved among the small parts like lightning. I went back to the problem of the steering damper and gave the project much thought and began to make a makeshift bracket from the steel crate the bike came in. Bush technology in one garage and an artist at work in the other!

Next thing I almost filled my pants with fright as the deafening scream of a sixties Honda with full race megaphones echoed through the garage as the little engine ticked away at 30,000 RPM or whatever the obscene figure is for these tiny four strokes. The old guy had done the whole job in about 2 hours and had that look of supreme satisfaction that only mechanics have when they have just bought their baby back to life. Something I shall never forget. The steering damper project took a new meaning and I got the job done well within the two days I set myself. In the garage bay on the other side of us, was Joey who prefers do his own work on the race engines and I could see the enormous amount of respect the Japanese had for a man who could not only ride the TT as fast as any person in the garage, he could also work on his own bike with the same joy that he got from riding. Another unforgettable experience.

Anyway back to our team-we spend a lot of time with newcomers and the other riders in the garage were always more than helpful. It was common to see someone listening to guys like Jim Moodie, Nick Jefferies, Phil McCallen who were never refusing to help the newcomers and give their best advice. The riders of the TT are a special breed and no matter how good or famous they are, I have never had a problem with the top jockeys, to assist in helping the others on the way up. Many times these guys would bundle a load of newcomers into their own car or van and go off for a lap or two and show them the right places to be on the 260 corners of the island. It's more like a fraternity than a group of prima donnas. These top guys don't hold back on the secrets of the circuit; they pass on the knowledge to the others. Something you only find in pure road racing and that's why I like the place so much.

I had riders from 8 different countries, so English was not always spoken and it was often quite funny to listen to a Swedish rider trying to ask how to get The Veranda right from a Scotsman and then pass the information on to the Japanese rider we had who we nicknamed "Fred" because nobody could say his correct name anyway.

Of course there is always some fun to be had with the newcomers as well, and I had to explain to them that it is not necessary to stop at the traffic lights at Parliament Square on the first lap of practice and they did not have to take a urine sample to the first scrutineering.

One day Fred asked me if he was Left Hand Fred or Right Hand Fred and it was my task to go back and tell the prankster he was just plain old Metric Fred. By and large though the newcomers were the best prepared as we have ever got them, thanks to the positive input from those in the garage. They were ready for the first lap of practice.

Now there were in those days, a few things that newcomers find out about the whole TT experience. They have to be up and ready to rock and roll at 4 o'clock in the morning. They are the first riders to go onto the road for the week. Newcomers are the first out. It's a daunting experience for them with their orange jackets on, and hoping like hell that they are not going to be off line or get carved up by another newcomer who is lost or wanting to be the next TT legend. Cold tyres and a tank full of gas and for the first time the roads are closed, so everything they had seen in the lead up laps in a car or road bike would be like chalk and cheese. Just ask someone what their first lap was like.

In 1998 at 5 o'clock in the morning of the first session it was dismal. The roads were wet and there was some rolling mist on the mountain. Off they all went down Bray Hill with a careful start and maximum bladder pressure.

We had a person at Parliament Square with a mobile telephone to tell us that all the guys got there safe and sound. The most difficult part over. It was now for them to cruise over the mountain as per instructions and complete their maiden lap. Time to light up a fag and grab a quick cuppa at the Hailwood Center and then talk to the guys in the paddock who were waiting to go out in the second session.

Next thing, I am told that four of the newcomers have fallen off on the mountain! They are all OK and will get picked up after the roads open by the recovery crews. By now some of the others are back and telling us that its pretty nasty on the mountain and the drifting mist is a real problem as it is there one minute and gone the next. Some riders say it was OK in a certain part and then others would say the opposite. So back to the garage and wait for the bikes to come back.

That's when the real damage was seen. You have never seen such a collection of short wheelbase Honda 600s in all your born days. It was like Rambo had joined forces with Mad Max, The Terminator, King Kong and every other Hollywood action movie hero and junked the bikes. Most countries were represented in the four separate incidents.

Gareth from South Africa got the prize for the most distance travelled. He got all the way to The Nook only spitting distance from the finish line before he decided to inspect the bird life in the trees there. The remains of a small bird were in the wreckage although he did not remember seeing it. His bike had bounced off the high walls in that section and after 100 meters or so of this punishment it was now the size of a kids mini bike.

Next prize was Fred who just before Kate's decided there were too many corners for his liking and rode headlong through a stone wall and blew a neat hole in it. He landed in a nice grass paddock and turned his leathers into a rich green colour interspersed with the brown /black hue from the odd patch of sheepshit he slid past.

The bike was in two parts -a front and a rear. Not sure which was which. Stone walls were also the flavour of the day for Brett from New Zealand who went trail riding up near the Bungalow where one of the walls lept out in front of him and commenced to devour his bike. They found most of the bike that day.

Last prize went to Bengt from Sweden who was not so interested to go over the mountain so much because there was enough mist in Ramsay. Another fast moving stonewall attacked him and the bike but at a much slower speed so the engine and the back wheel were still OK.

Nobody was badly hurt apart from a few bruises and dented pride. The TT was over before it began. The bikes were returned to the garage and everybody could not believe how the riders were still OK. Then the wrecking business started up. Every Honda 600 within a radius of 5 miles seemed to need some spare parts.

"AAHHH I wondered if you might have a set of standard fork springs John" "Yeah yeah, how many do you need" "Any chance of a lend of a back brake calliper for a 600" "Ill bring them back to you straight after the race on Wednesday" "Yeah yeah, try the bike in two halves I think there is a good one there" I'm still waiting for the Wednesday.

I forgot to ask which year. We made one and a half bikes out of four and the other teams were happy to have some spare engines, Honda don't actually supply separate complete engines to anybody so one must be removed from a new bike so they were grateful for the chance.

To their absolute credit, the guys at Honda were very philosophical about the whole incident and I must say that Bob McMillan and Dave Hancock were most concerned for the welfare of the riders and not at all the bikes.

Respect for them grew to new heights. The riders learned something for sure over it all. Gareth from South Africa and his father Robin set about making repairs and after a couple of days was back out---only to have a bloody great seagull smack into the front of his new fairing while flat out on the mountain. It went through the headlight hole and out through the tacho console- the last thing that went through the seagulls mind was its arse! What a mess. Gareth "feathered" the throttle and cruised back to the pits wondering what this TT stuff is all about.

Brett organised himself another ride and gingerly continued his TT experience although he had hurt his arm and was not able to put in his best performance. Fred kept coming up to me and in his best polite bow, kept saying "solly John" To the point that the other Japanese in the garage thought that my name was Sollyjohn.

Bengt was renamed Bent and came into the garage a day later with a wheelbarrow. In it were his testicles that had swollen something shocking. I sent him off to the TT doctor with a note in English telling the Doc that he wants the pain to be taken away but to leave the swelling. I took another look at the gas tank from his bike and saw the reason for the damage to his private parts. Try slamming your nuts into some solid steel at 100mph and see how you get on.

So that's the story of the first day of practice at the 1998 TT. Its funny how the fortunes can change and just a few days later we are celebrating our first TT win when Paul Williams braved the rain in the 400cc lightweight to take a one minute victory. He had on his summer leathers which were full of holes to cool him down, the tyres were cut slicks which were a waste of time in the conditions and he lost all his tear offs after ten miles. He looked like a survivor from the Titanic all cold and shivering. But his face lit up like a beacon when we told him he had won. Another memory I will never forget.

Now its soon time for the 2001 TT. We will be using the same garage again and all the Honda guys will be there doing their best to hold up the good record that the company have achieved on that famous island.

That Paul Phillips and I are planning to invite the Bulletin Board posters to come down to the garage one day during the TT period and having a few beers and some sandwiches and to meet some of the riders who you may not normally get the chance to shake hands with.

Plus we also get to meet you posters who have contributed to the event and the website by your words-good or bad. You all have the right to say your piece. Hope you can make it and look forward to a beer and a chinwag.

John Shand

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