| 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
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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