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..... Isle of Man
..... Chronicles 1999
..... Isle of Man
..... Chronicles 1998

Racing Overseas - 1999

• Isle of Man 1999
Racing Archive Chronicles 1999

Team USA 1999 Isle of Man TT Overview

It 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.

For 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 isn’t there an American team at the TT?” There are a number of team awards to be won also.

I 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 year’s TT. My dream was realized on Wednesday of race week when we captured the award in the Junior / 600 Supersport race.

This year has been very exciting. Kawasaki Team Green sponsors me so I’ll 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 Supporter’s 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. I’m 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.

So here’s 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.

Mylchreests 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.

The 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 pits.

We 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 encouragement’s to keep returning was spoken by all. The people at the Isle of Man are warm, wonderful, and very helpful. Garett thinks it’s 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.

There 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.

For 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.

By 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 Kawasaki’s because the bikes aren’t 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 turns.

On 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 Island.

I 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 Ago’s 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 didn’t. 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.

Later 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.

The 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 Wednesday’s 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 Padgett’s 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.

Saturday 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.

I 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 there’s. 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 didn’t 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.

Later 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.

The 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 motorcycle’s 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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