USA 1999 Isle of Man TT Overview
happens to most racers; you come into a corner to hot, or
turn in to soon and the next thing you know your running wide
on the exit. At a purpose built race circuit you run off into
the gravel pit or grass, at the Isle of Man that can get you
killed. There are curbs, trees, and brick walls waiting to
eat you for lunch. Well this happened to me as I was lapping
the mountain course at over 104 mph on my new Kawasaki ZX-6R.
I clipped a curb, fortunately I walk away from the accident
without a scratch thanks to my Vanson leathers, and Alpinestar
protective gear, but my motorcycle was not as lucky. Some
other riders where not as fortunate this year. I suppose another
of my 9 lives are now gone. I often wonder how many I have
left, but this is the Isle of Man TT course.
an adrenaline junkie all great achievements start as a single
thought. For me it was no different. Last year I raced the
Isle of Man TT races for the first time. At the end of my
adventure I thought, why isnt there an American
team at the TT? There are a number of team awards to
be won also.
started Team USA with the intention of capturing an ACU International
Team Award in one of 8 different machine classes. This is
awarded is given to a 3 person team not affiliated with the
ACU who complete the total distance of the race in the shortest
aggregate time. Since US riders belong to the AMA we qualified
for this award. There were 792 entries from 20 countries at
this years TT. My dream was realized on Wednesday of
race week when we captured the award in the Junior / 600 Supersport
year has been very exciting. Kawasaki Team Green sponsors
me so Ill be riding a ZX-6R in the Junior class, and
a ZX-9R in the Formula 1 and Production classes. It was also
a challenge, and an exercise in race team management. A handful
of Americans have been regular attendees at the TT for several
years but this is the first organized USA team entry since
Indian won the TT over eighty years ago. The racers themselves,
individual parts sponsors, and donations from the Team USA
TT Supporters club funded this trip. This was a grass
roots effort, with 400 new members signing up for the supporters
club at various international motorcycle shows across the
country. Im glad we were able to bring home the trophy
for all our supporters. We were also given a mayoral reception,
visited an elementary school with our motorcycles, had a large
open house party, and were assisted in the pits by the great
Knobby Williams, Mike Hailwoods mechanic. He told us many
fantastic stories of Mike and past TT victories.
heres how it all went down. Newcomer Garett King and
I arrived on the Isle of Man on May 20 for 10 days of extra
practice and to get the bikes dialed in. I had taken many
notes last year and had given Garett a copy to study. Since
the race is held on ordinary roads, we were able to get up
early and ride the course daily. I had wanted newcomers Donnye
Vance, and Alex McLean to accompany us but they were unable
due to work commitments.
Motors in Douglas, a Rolls Royce, Jaguar, and Land Rover auto
dealership sponsored us with garage space this year. We had
excellent accommodations and set about reassembling our crated
motorcycles. After the completion of our bikes we went for
a few exploratory laps in the car. The TT course is not to
be taken lightly. It is a very diverse course with over 220
curves, elevation changes, mountains, cliffs, curbs, telephone
poles, and stone walls. By the time qualifications started
Garett and I had done over 60 practice laps. This training
method proved to be very effective for Garett because by the
start of race week he was lapping the course at 104 mph and
was the 4th fastest newcomer to the event.
rest of the riders and crew arrived by May 28th. Alex knew
Mike Hailwoods mechanic Knobby Williams and encouraged him
to come along from New York and work with the team in the
were given a mayoral reception during the first week of our
visit to the Isle of Man, and took our motorcycles to a local
elementary school for the children to see. Everyone was very
excited to see an organized US presence. We were in 4 newspapers
during the 3 weeks we were on the Isle. Well wishes were given,
and encouragements to keep returning was spoken by all.
The people at the Isle of Man are warm, wonderful, and very
helpful. Garett thinks its a cross between Daytona and
Mardi Gras with an emphasis on sport bikes and racing. 75,000
people and 12,000 sport bikes descend upon the Isle each year
for this event. It the oldest motorcycle race in the
world, and has been held every year since 1907.
are two practice/qualification sessions a day. One at 5:15am
and the other at 6:15pm. I decided not to go out in the first
session of the day but elected to help Garett, Donnye, and
Alex through tech inspection and the first session of the
week. Fog rolled in on the mountain section of the course
half way through the practice session. A number of riders
went off the track in the fog including Donnye, and Alex,
both at Windy Corner. Neither was seriously hurt and both
were able to make the evening practice session. I did however
go out in the afternoon session because I needed to get back
up to speed.
the most part I picked up where I left off last year. In my
first timed practice session my averaged speed was a little
over 100 mph for the 37.75 miles. This speed was enough to
qualify me for the Junior and Production race. I needed to
average 105 mph to qualify for the Formula One race. I knew
this would increase as the week went on so I set my mind to
the task of getting back into the flow of the course. At the
same time I was working with the three newcomers to make insure
there times/speed would allow them to qualify for the races.
None qualified on the first day and this was expected. Garett
was the fastest right from the start but this is because of
the extra time we had spent together. I knew I could get the
riders qualified by the end of the week so I was not worried.
Wednesday of qualification week I had the ZX-6R dialed and
was working on completing the ZX-9R. Engine changes were fairly
modest on my Kawasakis because the bikes arent
wimpy in stock trim. The Factory jet kit and Hindle exhaust
worked well with the Kawasaki motors, and the bikes were pulling
hard across the mountain section of the course. A good TT
bike needs to make lots of power for the long, flat-out stretches,
but also need to have useable power for the miles of flowing
Thursday the sun was shining and I was in a great mode, but
it was not to last. It will forever be remembered as the Isle
of Fright day for me. I had finally gotten the Race Tech forks,
and Penske shock working the way I wanted on the ZX-6R. The
relentless and fierce pounding the bike takes through practice
and race week must be minimized if I am to go fast, and maintain
control under hard braking and over the rippled roads on the
felt today was the day I would set my best time and qualify
for the Senior race. Only the 80 fastest riders qualify for
this race. I left the starting line in a blaze and was flat
out by the time I was going down Bray Hill, up over Agos
leap, and on to Quarter Bridge with no issues. My first lap
went fine; I was on my second lap or the flying lap and looking
to set my time when my accident happened. I was ripping through
the course taking turns much faster than normal when I came
into White Gate a little to hot. This is one turn before the
Ramsey hairpin and our approach up the mountain. I still thought
I could make the turn so I through it in anyway. Well I didnt.
At the exit to the turn I clipped the curb, was thrown over
the handlebars rolled once and stood up to watch my motorcycle
cart wheel and tumble down the street. I was fortunate to
have escaped injury, but the motorcycle was history. The frame
was bent in several places, but surprisingly enough the Sharkskinz
bodywork was still totally intact. I always knew they made
an excellent product but this was unbelievable. I waited for
the crash van and went back to the garage to assess the damage.
I was informed that Alex had crashed one corner before me
and was air lifted to the hospital. He was advised that he
had a concussion and would be put on medical suspension and
not allowed to race. This means we could not compete for the
team award in the Formula race.
next day I decided not to go out to practice. I had qualified
for all my races and had the Formula One race first thing
Saturday morning. Instead I set out looking for a ZX-6R for
Wednesdays race. You may substitute motorcycles but
it must be the same make and model that you qualified on.
I finally ended up leasing the motorcycle on Tuesday evening
the day before the races from Padgetts motorcycle shop.
Their rider had crashed on his 250cc during practice and broken
his arm, so the ZX-6R they had for him was for rent.
we had our open house / press party. We invited all USA tourists
and members of the press. We had a full house and every one
had a wonderful time.
raced three races in total, but due to accidents, a team member
not qualifying, and mechanical difficulties for still another,
we only entered the 600cc race for the team award. Wednesday
dawned and the sun was shining. Garett, Steve, and myself
were ready to race. I had spent the majority of the night
making changes to the ZX-6R. The bike had been set up for
a smaller person, so I changed the clip-on, rear-set, and
suspension settings. I had an issue with the fuel pump, so
I swamped mine for theres. I set up the bike as best
I could with the limited amount of time I had. I only hoped
this was good enough because I had no time test these changes.
I would just have to take it easy on the first lap and feel
the bike out. As it turned out the geometry of the bike was
very different than mine and it didnt turn in as easy.
I could lap at over 100 mph but it was a lot of work. Garett,
Steve, and I all did well. The most important thing was that
we finished the race. All team members must complete the race
in order to be eligible for the team award.
that night when we heard our names called as the recipient
of the ACU International Team award we were all so excited.
All our time and hard work had paid off. We went up as a team
to collect the award, which was silver replica trophy and
an engraved medal for each team member. We all said a few
words and called it a night. This night was one for celebrating.
next two days went quickly, and the next thing you know we
were re-crating the motorcycles and preparing to go home.
Emery Worldwide picked up the motorcycles Saturday morning,
and team members started leaving Sunday morning. We were all
excited and talking about next year and a larger effort.
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