As long as I’ve known Rich, he’s been obsessed with the Isle of Man, a tiny self-governed fiercely-proud democratic “Crown Dependency” in the middle of the Irish Sea between Ireland and Britain.
His fascination is not so much with the Isle itself, but with a racing event held there since 1907: The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorcycle race, aka “The TT“. This race, which runs on a 37.5 mile course through the narrow town streets and country roads on the island, has been characterized as the World’s Most Dangerous Race. Lest you think that’s hyperbole, this video will likely convince you otherwise (I recommend you view Full Screen):
His hero is Joey Dunlop, an icon at The TT for 15 years from 1996 until his untimely death in 2000 at the age of 48. For years, a mounted/matted map of the Isle of Man decorated our condo in Novato, along with a poster of Joey. When we moved to Petaluma, the posters moved to his shop in the side yard.
I’ve always known his bucket list included a trip to The TT, and in the summer of 2013, I decided to help him make it so. I posted this on Facebook on 6/7/13:
“One of the items on Rich’s bucket list is to attend the Isle of Man TT, and I want to help him realize this goal. He’s a serious fan – has a poster of Joey Dunlop in his shop! We have a friend who hails from the island and I’ve sent him a Linked In message. But I also want to reach out to my Facebook friends across the pond to see what other resources I might tap into. I’m looking for a full-service experience – bike rental (or loan), places to stay, local knowledge and experience, etc.”
I got all sorts of responses, including people who knew people who could help. But as it turned out, Rich managed to stumble into a different and even more incredible plan, from which the rest of this adventure stems.
Rich has always been a wheeler/dealer. He truly has a knack for it and though he doesn’t always come out profitably, he usually ends up happy with the result. One of his deals through a friendship with a couple of motorcycle racers in Colorado netted him two identical race bikes: one crashed and one with a blown motor. He took on the project of combining them into one serviceable semi-vintage race bike – a 1992 Suzuki GSXR750. He didn’t really have a plan for this bike, except maybe to find a local rider with a racing license to ride it in some track days at Sears Point (or Infineon or Sonoma Raceway or whatever it’s called today).
On a completely unrelated note, Rich rejoined the infamous Sunday Morning Ride on the Marin County coast a few years ago. He first encountered the ride in the late ’60s, and after taking a break to pursue car racing, he became a regular rider in the 80s and early 90s. He gave it up abruptly after Mothers Day in 1994 when 3 of his friends were killed in a single tragic accident. After a break of nearly 20 years, he rejoined the ride a couple of years ago and reconnected with several old friends from his earlier days on the ride. Among those friends was Wade Boyd, son of the late Bill Boyd. Bill was an accomplished motorcycle racer, a legend on the Sunday Morning Ride, and was one of Rich’s best friends from the earlier years. Here is a beautiful summary of Bill’s story. For more information (and historical perspective) on the Sunday Morning Ride, here are a couple of articles I stumbled on – one from 1971 and another from 2001.
But more importantly to this story, Wade has been a regular competitor on the Isle of Man since 1995. Here is a link to his Isle of Man Competitor Profile. Wade is a privateer (no corporate sponsorship), and every year his trip is managed on a shoestring budget. In spite of the financial constraints, he has been remarkably successful and is universally loved by the locals on the island. So when Rich and Wade connected on the Sunday Morning Ride last year, they rode, they ate breakfast, they talked, and then they talked some more. Rich mentioned he had built a race bike and Wade said he’d consider riding it.
The next thing I knew, Wade was hanging out in Rich’s shop and they were working together to get the Suzuki to the Isle of Man. Not for the TT, but for the Manx Grand Prix (MGP). What’s the difference? The TT is modern and pro and big bucks; the GP is vintage and amateur and collegial. Unbeknownst to me, Bill (Wade’s dad), who respected Rich as a talented and conscientious builder, once mentioned to Rich that if he ever found himself with a suitable race bike, how thrilled Bill would be if somehow Wade could ride it on the Isle of Man. Until Rich filled me in on the back story, I thought it was just serendipity. Now I know Rich was fulfilling a promise to a late friend.
What could possibly go wrong?
Find out in the next installment: Part 2 – Getting There
I love motorcycles, but you are keeping my orthopedic surgeon nephew busy.