A Concise History of the Isle of Man TT: Stories of Legends and LeathersThe Isle of Man TT is a race like nothing else on earth. It is two weeks in spring where bikers and enthusiasts descend upon our small Island to feed their souls with the sweet smell of candy floss and petrol.
The Races have a rich (and tantalising) history with early riding titans carving the way for modern day legends like Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness. They are shaped by stories, lore and Yamahas. By leathers, dynasties and dreams.
We at Locate Isle of Man have compiled a brief timeline of the races- a history of racing giants and the stories that they wrote.
Sir Julian Orde (Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland) was on the hunt for a new place to hold the Gordon Bennet Car Trial as an act of Parliament banned racing in the UK and introduced a 20mph nationwide speed limit.
He travelled to the Isle of Man hoping that the Manx government would be more lenient than the UK’s in terms of road racing. He was right. The Highways Act of 1904 had recently been enacted, allowing the Island’s 52.2 miles Highlands course to be the backdrop for the Gordon Bennet Car Trial.
HOWEVER, this ‘highlands’ course was too hilly for motorbikes and as such, they were banned from the course.
The editor of Motorcycle Magazine files a formal proposal at the annual Automobile Club dinner for a motorcycle race on St John’s Short Course in the Isle of Man. This course is of level terrain and measured only 15 miles.
His request was granted and the first Motorcycle race on the Isle of Man commenced on May 28th, 1907.
The 1st Tourist Trophy race on the Isle of Man was held under the name ‘International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy’. The event featured two racing classes: Single-cylinder motorcycles averaging 90mpg and Twin-cylinder motorcycles averaging 75mpg.
Out of 18 competitors in the 1st Single-cylinder race, only 9 finished the 10 laps around St. John’s circuit. The winner of the single-cylinder race was Charlie Collier who averaged 38.2mph on his 3.5 horsepower Matchless motorcycle. His journey took him around 4 hours and 8 minutes- some 10 minutes faster than the second place finisher.
In the Twin-cylinder race, 9 competed with only 3 finishing. The winner was Rem Fowler on a Norton finishing in 4hours 21 min– the second place competitor finished over 30 minutes later!
Snaefell Mountain Course becomes home for the Isle of Man TT.
Oliver Godfrey wins the Senior TT after surviving the first ever fire during the first races in 1907.
Victor Surridge becomes the first fatality of the Isle of Man TT (and becomes the first person on the Isle of Man to die in an automobile accident).
Crash helmets were made compulsory.
The TT Start Line moves to the top of Bray Hill.
Races suspended for WWI
The ACU demanded that the races had at least 30 entries each to resume the TT Races post war. They also introduced a Lightweight class that was to be incorporated into the Junior TT.
The Mountain course was extended to its current 37¾ mile circuit it retains today with its start/stop point just a few yards away from the current Grand Stand.
Manxman, Conor Cummins
Stanley Woods’s TT debut. This first race was a series of unfortunate events for Woods who stopped at the starting line to pick up Spark Plugs that fell from his jacket. He finished the race in 5th place after clipping curbs, stopping to put out a fire in the grandstand, falling off his bike and pulling over to fix an exhaust belt. His breaks were rendered useless at the end of the race- but roared back onto the course in a time of 3:55:33.
Stanley Woods went on to win 10 TT races and was dubbed the ‘Irish Dasher’. He was also known as the ‘Candy Man’ of the TT- bringing boxes of toffee for fellow competitors and the scouts in charge of score boards.
Sidecar races were introduced into the TT and were an immediate fan favourite!
Following the tragic accident in 1927 wherein Archie Birkin was killed during practice after swerving to avoid a fish van and crashing, the roads would from hereon be closed for practices.
The bend where Archie Birkin’s accident occurred has since been named ‘Birkin’s Bend’ in memoriam .
BBC broadcasts parts of the TT races for the first time.
Jimmy Guthrie, ‘the flying Scotsman’ had his first win in the Lightweight division. He would go on to win 6 TT titles. After his death at the German Grand Prix in 1937, a memorial to Guthrie was placed on the Mountain Road and still stands as a testament to the honour and glory he brought to the sport.
The future king, HRH Prince George travels to the Island and takes in the races from the Grandstand at Creg-ny-Baa.
Jimmy Simpson wins his first ever Isle of Man TT- after a 15 year career and the announcement of his retirement. Jimmy’s luck was hit and miss with the mountain course and while he amassed eight new lap records, this was Jimmy’s first and only win.
The Isle of Man TT would later introduce the ‘Jimmy Simpson Trophy’ which was to be given to the rider who completed the fastest lap at the races.
First appearance of travelling marshals.
The Isle of Man TT was not immune to the tides of war as German machinery (BMW, NSU and DKW) and swastika clad riders took to the Island in a show of Nazi propaganda.
Races suspended for WWII- the TT would resume in 1947 and the Manx Grand Prix resumed in 1946.
The Isle of Man TT hosts the British round for the World Motor Cycle Road Racing Championships which were launched this year.
The Duke of Edinburgh started the Senior TT race.
Since its suspension in 1926, sidecar races were reintroduced into the TT along the new 10.70-mile Clypse Course, on which the Ultra-Lightweight races would also compete.
Geoffrey Duke wins his final TT race after a career of 6 wins (and narrowly missed the 100mph lap coming in at 99.97mph). His legacy lives on in Duke’s 32nd (a section of the course by Windy Corner).
Duke was also the rider to make famous 1-piece leathers that are now ubiquitous with road racing.
First 100mph lap is achieved by Scotsman, Bob McIntyre (who went on to win the race).
Pat Wise becomes the first woman to compete on the Mountain Course as a passenger in a side car.
Goodbye Clyspe Course! All races were switched to the Mountain Course this year.
Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood became the first racer to win 3 races in one week: 125, 250, 500cc racing for an up-and-coming Japanese factory named ‘Honda’. Mike the bike went on to win 14 TTs including the 1967 battle against Giacomo Agostini (often considered the greatest race ever).
Beryl Swain became the first woman to compete in a solo race. She raced in the Ultra Lightweight, finishing in a reputable 22nd place. Beryl was jazzed to race again but the International Federation of Motorcycling revoked her international racing license. Their excuse: the death of a female rider around the deadly Isle of Man TT circuit would make for bad press.
It wouldn’t be until 1978 that another female racer would compete on the Mountain Course.
Manx Radio begins broadcasting the TT Races.
The Isle of Man TT is postponed to September because of the Seamen’s Strike.
Mick Grant bested Mike Hailwood’s 8-year lap record clocking in at 109.82mph, beating Hailwood by nearly 10mph.
Joey Dunlop makes his TT debut (finishing 16th in Junior TT and 18th in Senior). The following year, Dunlop would win the first of his 26 TTs.
The FIM strips the TT of its World Championships status. In response, the Isle of Man TT in consort with the ACU introduced the Formula TT Championship that would go on to include circuits around the world.
Fans were over the moon when Mike Hailwood returned from an 11-year hiatus to win the TT Formula One race on his Ducati. He would race one more year in the Isle of Man TT before retiring.
Hilary Musson becomes the first woman to ride in the TT as a solo rider since Beryl Swain in 1962. The TT had changed with the times and offered Hilary a race licence based on her talent (NOT her gender). She would go on to race in every consecutive TT through 1985.
In 2006, Hilary and her family relocated to the Isle of Man and she continues to work with the TT.
Hillary’s daughter Gail carried on her mother’s legacy as an accomplished racer herself, breaking multiple lap records and becoming the first woman to average 100mph around the Mountain.
Joey Dunlop joined the Works Honda team on the promise of ‘bikes for life’ after finishing 1st in the 1980 classic race.
After being shipwrecked on his way to the Island, Joey Dunlop won three TT races in one week (like Hailwood in 1961).
Joey’s nephew, William Dunlop contesting the Isle of Man TT
The Production Class A and C races were cancelled this year, marking the first time in TT history that a scheduled programme was not completed.
Robert Dunlop set new lightweight record of 130.02mph winning the Ultra Lightweight TT and topped himself in 1990 at 104.09mph. Robert had 14 Podium finishes throughout his TT career.
Steve Hislop attains a second hat-trick, equalling those of Joey Dunlop and Mike Hailwood, by placing first over Dunlop and McCallen (making it a Honda 1,2,3) in the Senior TT.
Steve Hislop wins the Senior TT (again) on a Norton, making that the first Norton to win a Senior TT since 1961.
Joey Dunlop surpasses Hailwood in total TT wins with his 15th victory.
Rob Fisher broke his own lap record in the sidecar race at 107.67mph and finished at an average speed of 107.58 (the fastest ever sidecar race).
Joey Dunlop receives an OBE for his charitable work and humanitarian contributions to the world.
Phillip McCallen becomes the first ever rider to win four races in a single week.
John McGuinness and David Jeffries make their TT debuts.
Jim Moodie gives Honda its 100th TT win and became the 1st rider to top 120mph on a production machine.
In the year that would be the last for the great Joey Dunlop, he brought home his final three victories bringing his total TT wins to an astonishing 26- shattering any record held prior and still stands as of print time. 2000 marked Joey’s 25th Anniversary at the TT Races.
The Isle of Man TT Races were cancelled due to the Foot and Mouth Crisis in the UK. This was only the third time in history the races had been cancelled (the other times being for World Wars).
Milky Quayle became the first Manxman to win a solo TT since Neil Kelly in 1967.
Maria Costello MBE races in her first TT after contesting the Manx Grand Prix since 1996. She would go on to become the first woman to have a podium finish at the MGP leading the way for Carolynn Sells to become the first woman to win the Manx Grand Prix in 2009.
Name changes! Formula One became the Superbike, Production became the Superstock and the Junior became the Supersport.
John McGuinness at Creg-Ny-Baa
John McGuinness won 3 races this year for his second hat trick. He also set a new lap record of 17:42.53 and then broke that four times during the week.
William Dunlop and Manxmen Conor Cummins make their TT debuts.
The Isle of Man celebrates the Centenary TT Races!
John McGuinness breaks the 130mph barrier.
Ian Hutchinson wins his first TT in the PokerStars Supersport race.
Michael Dunlop makes his TT debut.
Manxman, Dave Molyneux and Rick Long partnered for the first time and claimed two wins for the week bringing Moly’s total TT victories to 13 and Long to 8- cementing their places as the most successful driver and passenger in the TT’s history. Moly would go on to claim victory in 17 TT races.
During her TT debut, Jenny Tinmouth becomes the fastest woman around the TT breaking the world record and clocking in at 116.483mph on her final lap, beating Maria Costello’s 2004 lap by 17.72 seconds. She would go on to smash her own record the following year with an average lap speed of 119.945mph.
Michael Dunlop has his 1st TT victory in the second Supersport Race.
Ian Hutchinson makes a ‘clean sweep’ of the solo events, winning 5 victories over the week, besting McCallen’s record of 4 victories.
The TT Zero race was introduced (replacing the TTXGP from 2009) and won by American, Mark Miller
These races were documented in the 2011 film “TT3D: Closer to the Edge” starring fan favourite, Guy Martin.
The Senior TT was cancelled for the first time in history. After a postponement for inclement weather, further problems the following day led to the ultimate decision to cancel.
After 75 years BMW took top spot at the 2014 Isle of Man TT when Michael Dunlop piloted a BMW S1000RR to TT victory in the opening Superbike race.
David Molyneux celebrates the 25th anniversary of his first TT win with another win the Sidecar TT Race 2.
Peter Hickman makes his TT debut and secures the title as the fastest newcomer ever.
Michael Dunlop wins a hat trick and brings is total TT wins to 18 (Third behind John McGuinness (23) and uncle, Joey Dunlop (26).
Michael Dunlop racing the TT
What will history remember about this year? Can the returning John McGuinness add to his 23 wins and possibly match or even surpass the great Joey Dunlop’s record? Will Peter Hickman’s 135.452 mph record stand or can Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison smash it? Will Manxman Conor Cummins bring home his first TT win?
Only time will tell.
2019 Isle of Man TT is coming… and we cannot wait!