November 2007: Special TT Centenary Issue

 

New Zealand and the Isle of Man TT: A History of Kiwi Involvement and Public Perceptions of an Iconic Event

Charles Lamb

Introduction

 

At first glance, New Zealand and The Isle of Man, countries on opposite sides of the world, appear to have little in common. However, there are many similarities between these two small nations that may go some way to explaining the unique relationship New Zealanders have with Ellan Vannin.[1] Whilst New Zealand has an indigenous Maori population, the New Zealand European settlers were mainly of Anglo/Gaelic descent, similar to the Manx population. New Zealand’s European population, however, is much younger, with migration beginning around the mid 1800s. Both Commonwealth member countries are small island nations, and, whilst New Zealand is more isolated and comprised of a number of islands extending as far south as 52°, the Isle of Man is located at the deeper latitude of 54° north.  It may be that the independent, innovative nature of relatively isolated islanders is what creates that bond in common, that unique indefinable characteristic that sparks curiosity and inspires determination, a characteristic certainly part of Alan Woodman’s personality, when in 1910 he became the first New Zealander to enter the Isle of Man (IOM) TT races. From that first unsuccessful attempt many New Zealanders have returned to the IOM TT with varying degrees of success and occasional tragedy.[2]

 

As a consequence of New Zealand involvement at the TT, the resident New Zealand population has a high level of awareness of the event, something that in recent years has culminated in increasing numbers of New Zealanders visiting the IOM TT, as individual travelers or as part of organized tours. The high level of awareness of the TT and the involvement of Kiwis successfully racing,[3]   with a consequent enthusiasm by a parochial home population, provides a unique marketing opportunity for leverage of the IOM TT brand, and the Isle of Man as a destination in itself, as part of an international marketing strategy.

 

The Isle of Man TT

 

The IOM TT is the oldest motorcycle race in the world, dating back to 1907 when the first official race took place.[4] The race is unique for a number of reasons, perhaps the most obvious being competitors are started at 10-second intervals in what is essentially a time trial race. The TT is also notorious, not only for the nature of the course (narrow country lanes, over hills and through villages with each lap covering almost 38 miles or 61 kms), but also because of the high number of fatalities at each meeting. (Figure One below highlights the increasing average competitor death rate per year and increasing average race lap speed.) The fatalities have not just been among those competing, but also spectators, officials, local residents and visitors riding on Mad Sunday.[5]  With the increasing power and speeds of motorcycles, and consequent fatalities, by 1977 the IOM TT had lost its 500cc Motorcycle World Championship status.  However, riders and spectators continue to flock to the island race from around the world.

 

Figure One

Average Competitor Death Rate Per Year and Highest Average Race Lap Speed

 Figure One

Source:  Motorsport Memorial (2007), Isle of Man Government, MNH Database (2007).
Note:     This graph refers to fatalities in both the TT and Manx GP races.

Racing at the Isle of Man could be considered the last form of gladiatorial challenge a road racing motorcyclist can attempt, as Hanna (2003) states, “In many aspects the TT resembled nothing so much as the ancient Celtic contests that had once determined the fate of every man on the island, contests where dishonour was not an option and the only possible outcomes were victory or death” (270).

 

New Zealanders at The Isle Of Man TT

 

New Zealand riders have been rising to the challenge of the TT and traveling to the Isle of Man since 1910. Although from a small, distant country, the Kiwi riders have acquitted themselves well, enjoying a relatively high level of success. One of the reasons for this was that, early on, New Zealand emulated the Isle of Man TT through development of road racing. As Jones (2002) explains, “It isn’t by accident that the first New Zealand TT races, in 1931, were held on Waiheke; the Hauraki Gulf island being chosen because of its similarity to the Isle of Man – a rural island lying a relatively short sea journey from a major population base” (30). Jones (2002) also points out that it was largely due to the fascination by resident New Zealander motorcyclists with the Isle of Man TT that road racing has became so popular with meetings at Wanganui, Cust, Mangere, Halswell, Greymouth, Hawksberry, Nelson Port, Paeroa, Te Aroha, Gracefield, and Taumarunui taking place over the past 76 years.  Enthusiasm for road racing grew and meetings were also held in the major centres of Auckland, Christchurch (Sydenham), and in Dunedin.  Today, New Zealand is one of the few countries outside Ireland and the Isle of Man that still actively supports road racing.  For over a century, the Isle of Man TT has most certainly attracted, and continues to attract, New Zealand riders.

 

A total of approximately 97 Kiwi riders have ventured to the Isle of Man with many returning to race over several years.[6] Table One provides an indication of the Number of New Zealand riders entering the IOM TT in each decade since 1910.

 

Table One 

New Zealanders Competing at Isle Of Man 1910 - 2006

Decade

NZ Riders

1910-19

3

1920-29

2

1930-39

9

1940-49

1

1950-59

29

1960-69

20

1970-79

9

1980-89

10

1990-99

25

2000-2006

14

Source:   Isle of Man Government, MNH Database (2007).

Notes:      1.         Riders who have ridden across decades have been counted as riding in both time periods.

                   2.         Numbers include New Zealanders riding in either, or both, the TT and Manx GP.

 

As a country, New Zealand provided quite large competitive contingents in the 1950s, ’60s and more recently, in 1990s. It is quite possible that the reason for these larger numbers was the provision for team entries, where riders could enter as a group, representing their home nation.  In the 1950s and ’60s riders could be chosen by Auto Cycle Union of New Zealand (ACU) to represent the country at the TT. From 1930 to 1949 only one rider per year was nominated, but from 1950 teams of up to three riders were nominated. It is thought this team representation may have finished in the late 1960s.  According to Rod Coleman, “the advantage of being nominated by the ACU [meant] that through donations from Motorcycle Clubs, each nominee had their return shipboard fare paid.  Plus, provided they qualified in practice and started in a TT race, the English ACU contributed another £100.  Certainly in the Fifties this was sufficient to cover at least three weeks accommodation in the IOM.  Each nominee had to provide his own race bikes which were usually purchased from the English factories as the idea of ‘Sponsorship’ was not alive in those days.  Although from 1952 to 1957, because I was earning good money as a Factory Rider, I provided loan race bikes to several of the New Zealand teams” (personal communication, 8 March 2007). In 1954, the New Zealand team led by Coleman, secured the Teams Prize with the highest race rankings ever, and in both 1957 and 1958 New Zealand won the Teams prize in three out of four events. It was also possible, however, to enter the TT as a privateer, providing the entry criteria set by the Manx officials were met.

 

The large New Zealand contingent in the 1990s was bolstered in 1994 by a team of nine riders led by Robert Holden, who had new, identical Yamaha YZX600 Thundercats organized for them.  The purpose of the team was to compete for the Maudes Trophy Team Award.

 

New Zealand riders who have either held world champion status, such as Hugh Anderson, or been runner up in a world championship, such as Graeme Crosby and Keith Turner, have all raced successfully at the IOM TT. However, of equal achievement have been those Kiwiriders who have survived long histories, returning year after year to pit their skills against the most unforgiving race circuit in the world.  Table Two highlights some of the achievements, and longer riding New Zealanders who returned to the IOM TT over successive years.[7]

 

Table Two

High Performing and Long Serving Riders

 

Rider

 

Years Attending

Number of Starts

Podium

 Finishes

Number of 1st Places

Average Position

Bruce Anstey

11 yrs (1996-    )

31

15

5

7.08

Graeme Crosby

3 yrs (1979-1981)

8

4

3

1.80

Hugh Anderson

7yrs (1960-1966)

16

6

2

4.00

Shaun Harris

14 yrs (1991-2004)

41

2

2

10.52

Dennis Ireland

14 yrs (1976-1989)

30

3

1

11.50

Robert Holden

9 years (1988-1996)

21

2

1

14.73

Rod Coleman

4 years (1951-1954)

8

2

1

4.01

Brett Richmond

3 years (1998-2000)

6

1

1

27.40

Paul Williams

6 years (1994-2000)

15

1

1

25.75

Dave Hiscock

3 years (1981-1983)

6

1

0

8.50

Glenn Williams

10 years (1985-1994)

16

0

0

9.58

Source: Isle of Man Government, MNH Database (2007).

Notes: 1. Bruce Anstey holds the highest measured speed at an IOM TT.  In 2006 he was timed at 206 mph (331.51 km/h).

2. Robert Holden set the fastest practice times during the 1996 practice sessions.

 

New Zealand’s involvement with the Isle of Man TT extends beyond antipodean born competitors. Mike Hailwood, “generally acknowledged as the greatest road racer of all time” (Jones, 2002, 34) was living in New Zealand, at the time when he decided to return to race in 1978, over a decade since his last appearance at the Island. [8] New Zealand IOM rider, Bob Haldane from the 1965-70 period, lent Mike Hailwood a TZ700 for practice at Pukekohe to prepare for his three-race build up in Australia. This was all in preparation for his return to the IOM TT where he won the 1978 Formula One TT, setting a lap record, and again, winning the 1979 Senior TT, riding a Suzuki RG 500cc Grand Prix machine.  However, perhaps the other New Zealand connection with the IOM TT better known to a parochial New Zealand public, was involvement at the IOM TT of the Britten motorcycles.[9]

Britten Motorcycles at The Isle of Man TT

Britten motorcycles competed at the IOM TT in 1993, 1994 and 1996, as well as being ridden by Hugh Anderson in the Parade of Champions in 2005. Although there were high hopes for the Brittens to perform well, they were plagued by mechanical problems.  At the first race outing in 1993, with minimal practice, Shaun Harris set the official Senior TT race speed record on the Britten at 165mph on the start-finish straight. It is believed that he attained speeds of 187 mph during the race and on the last lap was forced to retire with mechanical problems. A three bike campaign was mounted in 1994, with the riders being Nick Jefferies, Mark Farmer (Ireland) and Jason McEwen. [10] Nick Jefferies had performed well on the Britten at the 1994 North West 200 in Northern Ireland, just prior to the IOM TT, attaining seventh place.  However, the IOM TT campaign was marred with the death of Mark Farmer in practice when he crashed the Britten at Black Dub. The Britten campaign ended with only one bike, ridden by Jefferies, racing in both the Formula One and Senior TT, but failing to finish in either race due to mechanical problems.

In 1996, the very experienced IOM TT Kiwi rider, Shaun Harris returned to race a Britten competitively for the last time. Keeping the engine operating below 10,000 RPM to ensure finishing the race, the Britten attained 33rd place in the Senior TT, in a race where 48 of the 84 entrants retired with mechanical problems (Hanna, 2003, 444). The high level of mechanical failure in the TT races highlights the adverse effects of high speed, rough road surfaces and long distance races.  As John Woodley stated, “it [the IOM TT] was so hard on gear, that the usual rule was to build your bike for the TT, then afterwards rebuild it for the rest of the European season” (personal communication, April 2007). [11]

New Zealand Public Awareness of The Isle of Man TT

Public commentators have, on occasion, raised the issue of an apparent insecurity syndrome being part of a New Zealander’s psyche. One might presuppose that being of stoic Anglo-Saxon descent, with many settlers having lower class beginnings in the UK, and being very isolated, may all be reasons that could go some way to explaining such self-conscious timidity (Mitchell, pp11-32, 1972). Almost as an antithetical reaction to such insecurities, when New Zealand is performing well on the international stage, be it in sport, commerce, politics or even the design of motorcycles, the Kiwi public is very quick to adopt every achievement as their own.  The nation becomes fervently proud, and there are even often public displays of their patriotic, if not parochial support. [12]  The success of New Zealanders over the past century at the IOM TT, may be the reason for the general population being so informed about a fringe sporting event, in one of the smallest countries, located on the opposite side of the world.

To test the level of awareness and knowledge about the Isle of Man and the TT among New Zealanders, a survey of 1200 randomly selected households was undertaken in Christchurch, during April 2007. [13] Representation of the achieved sample was very close to the Christchurch population on the basis of age (15 years plus), and gender, and consequently the data was only slightly weighted to correct for this minor age-gender difference.

There was a high level of awareness (56%) of the Isle of Man—with disproportionately more of these individuals over 30 years of age (66%), particularly 50+ (68%).  Slightly more males and those who have had some involvement with motorcycling were more aware.  In terms of being able to locate The Isle of Man on a map, 73 percent of those aware of the IOM were able to do so.  Of the 526 respondents (43%of the total sample) able to provide one or more suggestion for the IOM’s fame, 93 percent mentioned the IOM TT either individually or in combination with other suggestions.  (See Table Three below.)

Table Three

Reason The Isle Of Man is Well Known

The Isle of Man is famous for….

Respondents

Percent

Cumulative Percent

Cats

26

4.9

4.9

Motorcycle TT race

472

89.7

94.6

First Parliament

1

0.2

94.8

Knitwear

2

0.4

95.2

Penny with legs

1

0.2

95.4

Tax haven

4

0.7

96.1

Yachting

1

0.1

96.2

No speed limits

4

0.7

96.9

Cats & Motorcycle TT race

13

2.4

99.3

Cats & First Parliament

1

0.2

99.5

Cats - Motorcycle TT & First Parliament

2

0.3

99.8

Cats - Motorcycle TT - First Parliament & Tax Haven

1

0.2

100.0

Total

526

100.0

 

Of the respondents (487 or 40% of the total sample) who suggested that the IOM TT was the reason that the country was so well known, 22 percent knew when the TT races were held. Table Four refers to the level of detailed knowledge held by those respondents aware of the TT.

Table Four

Level of Detailed Knowledge about IOM TT

Characteristic of the IOM TT

Respondents

Percent

Race run late May early June

106

21.7

IOM TT commenced in 1907

40

8.2

Joey Dunlop has achieved most wins at IOM TT

37

7.5

The IOM lap distance is 37.7 miles (61 kms)

48

9.9

 Note: Percentages in Table Four expressed as a percentage of the 487 respondents who knew the Isle of Man was famous because of the TT.

 

Respondents in the survey were also given the opportunity to provide the names of any New Zealanders who they were aware had raced at the IOM TT. Of the 487 (40% of the total sample) who knew of the Isle of Man because of the TT, approximately 14 percent (67 individuals) could name one or more New Zealander who had raced there. (See Table 5.)

 

Table Five

Knowledge of New Zealand Riders at IOM TT

Rider

Responses

Responses (%)

Cases (%)

Robert Holden

16

17.5

23.3

The Britten bikes

13

15.0

20.0

Rod Coleman

11

12.2

16.2

Andrew Stroud

8

9.5

12.7

Graeme Crosby

6

7.1

9.4

John Woodley

6

6.8

9.1

Bruce Anstey

6

6.5

8.6

Hugh Anderson

4

4.5

6.0

Tommy McLeary

3

3.9

5.1

Dennis Ireland

3

3.3

4.4

Colin Buckley

2

2.6

3.5

Len Perry

2

2.3

3.0

Hugh Reynolds

2

2.2

2.9

Shaun Harris

1

1.2

1.6

Jim Swarbrick

1

1.2

1.6

Mike Hailwood-(resided in NZ)

1

1.2

1.6

John Hepburn

1

1.2

1.6

Noel McCutcheon

1

1.1

1.5

Aaron Slight

1

0.7

1.0

Total

89

100

132.9

Note: Although most motorcycle awareNew Zealanders would never claim Mike Hailwood as a Kiwi, it was pointed out by a respondent in the survey that he resided in New Zealand in the 1970s during his return to the IOM TT racing in 1978-79. It should also be noted that whilst one respondent did suggest Aaron Slight as an IOM TT rider, he never raced at the TT.

 

Whilst it appears that the Isle of Man is more known in New Zealand because of the IOM TT than any other reason, visitors from other countries, such as Canada, also often refer to history of the Isle of Man in motorcycle terms (Booth, 2005, 46). 

Marketing Significance of The Isle of Man TT

Visitor characteristics to the Isle of Man have changed over the past 22 years. Figure Two below provides an indication of visitor numbers by quarter for the period 1985 to 2005. Quarter 2, the period May and June, contains the visitor numbers for the IOM TT.

 

Figure Two

Visitors to The Isle of Man by Quarter: 1985-2005

Figure 2

Note:     QTR 1 (red): January-April;  QTR 2 (solid black) : May-June;  QTR 3 (dotted black): July-September; QTR 4 (dash-dot black): October-December. Source: Hannay (2005).

In interpreting these figures Hannay points out, “over the period covered by the Survey, the nature of tourism has changed. The Island no longer attracts the same numbers of visitors who used to come for their main, two-week holiday. Total visitor numbers have held up because the fall in numbers of traditional holidaymakers has been balanced by an increase in numbers coming for short breaks, visitors visiting friends and relatives and business visitors. This, in turn, has led to the number of visitors being far more evenly spread throughout the year, rather than concentrated in the summer months. I would urge caution, therefore, in interpreting the figures for Q2 as necessarily indicative of a general decline in TT numbers over time. This may or may not be true. Just as plausible an alternative explanation would be that changes in the industry, in particular a reduction in capacity related to the changes outlined above, could mean that TT numbers are holding up whilst other types of visitors are being squeezed out to other quarters” (personal communication, 16 April 2007).

So whilst it would appear that the number of people visiting for the IOM TT may have remained reasonably constant since 1985, with the noticeable drop in 2001 due to the foot and mouth scare, it is also likely that numbers have declined since the halcyon days in the 1950s and ’60s. Also note that, although 95% of the visitors to the Island are from the UK or Ireland, the percentage coming from outside these areas is slowly increasing (Hannay, 2005).

The Isle of Man has become a popular destination for historic and cultural reasons, and has developed a very strong European heritage identity. As Harrison (2002) points out, the Isle of Man is considered a European leader in terms of cultural and heritage tourism, so much so, that in recent years representatives from over 14 European nations have visited the tiny island nation with a view to implementing its model for heritage promotion. There is no doubt that many people visiting for the IOM TT, have also become far more aware of the rich heritage of the Island in terms of its Viking and Gaelic history, the fact the Isle of Man has one of the oldest continuous parliaments in the world established in 979 AD, and its UK prominence as a film making location.

It is apparent that in earlier years (1950s-1970s), the IOM TT was a dominant factor in drawing visitors and whilst this has changed, the high levels of recognition of the TT outside the UK in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand poses a question about the TT’s significance as a worldwide promotional tool, not only of itself, but for the Isle of Man in general.

Conclusion

For the past 90 years New Zealand competitors have been traveling to the Isle of Man to compete in the World’s oldest and most challenging motorcycle race. Over that period, particularly in the 1950s, 1980s and since the mid 1990s, the Kiwi riders have enjoyed relatively high levels of success. As well as individual riders, the Britten motorcycle, developed in New Zealand, has also appeared on the Island in the 1990s.  Perhaps New Zealand involvement over the years is the reason why 40 percent of those interviewed in a recent survey in Christchurch, New Zealand identified the fact that the Isle of Man was well known because of the TT motorcycle race. Given the positive international image of the IOM TT, and the changing nature of visitors to the Isle of Man, the IOM TT offers a unique marketing opportunity for the Isle of Man.

Notes

 

1 Manx: Isle of Man

2 Woodman crashed in practice and had a leg amputated (MNZ, 2007). Six New Zealanders have been killed racing at the IOM TT: John Antrim was killed at Ramsey during practice in 1958; Colin Meehan was killed at Union Mills, 6 June1962, during the Junior TT; Ian Veitch was killed at Ballagarey, 10 June 1968, on the second lap of the Lightweight 250 TT;  Mike Adler was killed at Glen Helen, 9 June 1978, on the sixth and final lap of the Classic TT; Robert Holden was killed at Glen Helen, 31 May 1996, during practice; Stuart Murdoch was killed at Gorse Lea, 9 June 1999, on the third lap of the Junior TT (Motorsport Memorial, 2007).

3 Current IOM champion, Bruce Anstey has had 15 podium finishes, including five 1st places between 1999 and 2006. (See Table Two.) 

4 It is believed that the first unofficial races may have started as early as 1905.

5 By 2006, 225 competitors had been killed racing at the Isle of Man racing at either the TT or Manx GP. Mad Sunday is an event on the middle Sunday of the racing fortnight, where visitors to the Island can ride under the same conditions as the competitors in terms of not having a set speed limit.  In recent years this has been limited to the mountain section of the circuit. 

6 Data was obtained from the databases of Motorcycle New Zealand, the IOM TT, and Mr Rod Coleman. Whilst all attempts have been made to ensure its accuracy, some New Zealand riders may have been excluded due to not being identifiable by nationality, making these numbers likely to be underestimated.

7 It is also important when looking at the rider history, to remember that the Number of Starts refers only to the number of times that the respective riders have started in a race, and does not include the practice sessions that run the week ahead of race week. It is possible that the competitors could have actually started twice as many times when one considers the practice sessions.

8 From 40 race starts at the IOM TT, Mike Hailwood achieved fourteen 1st places, a 2nd and four 3rd places, as well as winning nine World Championships, and amassing 76 Grand Prix wins.
9 In a survey of 1214 households carried out in Christchurch, New Zealand in April 2007, when asked to name any well known New Zealanders involved with motorcycles, the largest single response, 27% named John Britten. In the same survey, of the 502 respondents (41.4%) aware of the IOM TT, 3% replied Britten Bikes when asked to name any New Zealanders who have raced at the IOM TT.
10 Nick Jefferies (Yorkshire) is one of the most experienced TT riders with 63 race starts and 11 podium finishes.
11 Woodley, five times New Zealand Grand Prix Champion, and two times Australian Grand Prix champion, rode in a single IOM TT race in 1978, attaining a credible 9th place in the Senior TT.
12 Since New Zealand’s first win of the Americas Cup yachting competition in 1995, there has been a Government member appointed as Minister of The Americas Cup.
13 Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand with a population of 348,000. It is considered to be very English, if not somewhat conservative, and is home of the Britten motorcycle.

 

 References

 

Booth, D. (2005). Toolin’ around the Isle of Man--More than a bit mad, Canadian Underwriter, Spring, 44 – 46.

 

Hanna T, (2003). John Britten. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing.

 

Hannay, P. (2005). Passenger Survey Annual Report 2005.  Economic Affairs Division, Isle of Man Treasury.

 

Harrison, S. (2002). Culture, tourism and local community: The heritage identity of the Isle of Man. The Journal of Brand Management, 9(4/5): 355-371.

 

Isle of Man Government, MNH Database (2007). http://www.gov.im/mnh/collections/tt

 

Jones, R. (2002). Taking to the road: Motorcycling in New Zealand.  Auckland, NZ: Random House.

 

Mitchell, A. (1972). The Half-Gallon Quarter-Acre Pavlova Paradise. Wellington, NZ: Whitcoulls.

 

MNZ (Motorcycle New Zealand). (1996). Official Newsletter, 1(9).

 

MNZ (Motorcycle New Zealand). (2007). International Honours Board. http://www.mnz.co.nz/rollofhonour.aspx.

 

Motorsport Memorial. (2007). http://www.motorsportmemorial.org.

 

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