The Isle of Man TT race celebrated its centenary in June. Motorcyclist memorialized the occasion with a long feature in its September issue, out this week. A couple of excerpts here:
“The phrase ‘doing the ton’ is typically associated with the Rockers movement, as cafe racers gathered at the Ace would drop a coin in the jukebox, then sprint down the motorway to the roundabout and back. If they returned before the Animals’ House of the Rising Sun was done playing, they’d averaged better than 100 mph.
“A more heroic feat was that achieved by Bob McIntyre during the 50th Anniversary Isle of Man TT in 1957. Riding a Gilera 500cc four, the hard-riding 28-year-old Scot became the first racer in history to ‘do the ton’ around the legendary 37.73 Mountain circuit. His best lap was at an average speed of 101.03… He was sadly killed in a short-circuit race at England’s Oulton Park in ’62. But as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the TT this year, we remember McIntyre as the manliest man at Man – the first racer to ‘do the ton’ at the island.”
Motorcyclist points out that no racing circuit has claimed more lives than the Isle of Man TT. They also explain how frightened many professional riders were to race there. Finally, in 1976, all of the top 500cc riders refused to compete, after several horrific accidents in the preceding years.
The safety concerns haven’t gone away and the racers haven’t stopped pushing the limits. This year’s TT saw the fastest lap ever, at an average speed of 130.35 mph, by John McGuinness on a Honda 1000.
So, why am I writing this, aside from having a love of both motorcycles and the expression ‘doing the ton’? Motorcyclist‘s long tribute to the TT touched off the remembrance of a Welsh friend who raced there many years ago. At the time I was too young and unaware to understand the significance of this accomplishment – the courage my friend must have possessed, along with a certain rashness and (he’d admit it) foolhardiness.
As best as I could make out, Derek had five loves in life: coffee, cigarettes, motorcycles, his Japanese wife, and cats. So many cats that his Japanese home did double-duty as an animal shelter. Tall and bone-thin, with a sardonic manner and a good heart, Derek spoke frankly and had little use for pretense. He never rattled. Plus he had a great sense of humor.
Derek is now deceased, a victim of illness, not of road-racing, so I can’t talk to him about what he felt as he traversed the 38 miles of the Isle of Man Mountain course at high speed. But the Motorcyclist article has helped me to imagine it. In doing so, it’s brought me a little closer to an old friend, and enabled me to perform my own brief tribute to him.