SELECTED ARTICLES FROM THE 2003 WINTER ISSUE OF THE
TT SUPPORTERS CLUB MAGAZINE
DAN AND NIGEL TT REGULARS
Regulars? Well, what else do you call a sidecar pair when they're no longer newcomers? Dan Clark, a health and safety adviser and Nigel Mayers, a maintenance engineer, both from Halifax, began their T.T.career last year and have now chalked up 4 finishes from 4 starts and fully intend adding to this impressive record. The T.T. bug has bitten!
It's been a long haul to get to the T.T. but the Clark family have never rushed things. Dan's father, Les, didn't start sidecar racing until he was 55 with Dan's mother, Stella, then 49, in the chair. Dan began in 1991 when he was 44 and the family affair continued with son Scott as passenger in a race at Yorkshire track, Elvington - a race for which Les was the official starter!
Over the next few years experience was gained at most of the Northern tracks but the move to entering the T.T. must have been a big decision. Dan takes up the tale:
"I never thought I would ever race at the TT, too old, bike not up to it, too expensive, etc. However after chatting to Wal Saunders a few years ago I discovered that with the practice/start money, the costs were not too prohibitive, if you did not stay in hotels and were lucky enough not to crash or have too many engine failures. I decided I didn't want to be sitting in a rocking chair in years to come wishing that I had 'done the TT' so I sent off for an entry form in 2000. My passenger then was Dave Clark (no relation) and we were both up for it. Unfortunately, just before the closing date for entries, Dave got a job working abroad and was not available for the TT dates. I reluctantly decided that I would not enter that year as I did not want to go for the first time with a passenger I did not know well. Nigel joined the team that year but as he was a newcomer to racing he wasn't eligible to ride at the TT. In 2001 Nigel still wasn't eligible to ride so it was agreed that Dave, who was now back in this country, would passenger just for the TT. Everything was sorted until the foot & mouth problem caused the cancellation and that was that for another year.
In 2002 the dream finally became a reality and by this time Nigel was well qualified to compete on the Mountain Circuit. We had gelled together as a team from the word go and Nigel is a great passenger (don't tell him I said that, it wouldn't do for a driver to be heard praising a passenger) so there were no worries for us in that area, but there has to be some apprehension when competing for the first time - with the mileage covered it is like cramming a season's racing into less than 2 weeks. So, would the chassis be good enough? Joe Heys checked it out for us, did a bit of strengthening work and made sure it was set up correctly. Would the engine last? It had been raced for 4 years without having the head off or even the clutch out. Bill Ingham did some work on it to give us a bit more grunt but without, hopefully, compromising the reliability. Would we be quick enough to qualify?
Would we be fit enough to do 114 miles without stopping and would I be able to do 114 miles without stopping for a pee? That's more difficult than it sounds for men of a certain age!
By race day we were buzzing and really looking forward to actually racing the TT course as opposed to practising, not that we weren't going as fast as we could in practice. We finally got away from the line and by the time we had got to the end of the Grandstand the only thoughts left in our heads were those of getting through the next 114 miles as quick as we could and fulfilling that dream of being a TT rider with a Finishers' Award to prove it.
When looking back it is difficult to remember every bit of the 3 laps but certain things stick in the mind, such as passing another team, who we had never beaten on a short circuit, but not only passing them but leaving them in the distance (and their bike was running ok). I can also remember going up the Mountain on the last lap and willing the outfit on but wondering whether I should be easing up to make sure we finished or just carry on to try and get as good a time as possible. I think in the end I did a bit of both. The feelings as we passed the line to finish our first TT were indescribable. Our fears about whether or not we could cope with 3 laps non-stop were totally unfounded and we would have done a lap of honour if they would have let us! We were even more chuffed when we discovered we were the second best newcomers, behind the much faster machine of Simon Neary & Gary Partridge and in 36th place."
Four days later came the second race and another very assured performance resulted in 30th place with a fastest lap of over 97m.p.h., along with the title of best overall newcomers. Returning to the mainland there was only one item on the team agenda - plan for 2003! A new chassis was ordered from Joe Heys, but time became a crucial factor and the outfit only turned a wheel in anger just 4 days before they left for the Island. Dan admits:
"The TT is not the best place to get used to or sort out a new outfit, especially when you are still learning the course, but it had to be. The alternative of cancelling the entry just never entered into the equation. We eventually qualified reasonably easily but the weather wasn't kind and there were very few practice sessions left with good enough conditions that would allow us to push the outfit anywhere near its limits, especially with a few niggling doubts still left in the back of my mind. The last chance we had was Friday evening's practice before the first race on Saturday.
We decided to fuel up and go for two good laps and see what the outfit could do. We went down Bray Hill full of confidence and I managed to get it round Quarter Bridge without spinning. Off we went heading for Braddan Bridge only for Nigel to be thumping me on the back before we got there. I pulled off up the hill from the entry to Braddan Bridge and halted a reasonable way from the circuit. When I looked back I could see why Nigel had been worried, petrol was pouring from the bike and running down the hill like a river. If any of the spectators there wondered why two grown men were sitting on the kerb crying it was because we are both from Yorkshire and petrol on the Isle of Man is bloody expensive. The pipe had come off the petrol pump and although we managed to repair it (thanks to the lady spectator who loaned us a screwdriver) there was just too much petrol about to risk starting the engine. By the time practice had finished the petrol had evaporated enough to allow us to drive the couple of miles back to the paddock.
So, we started Saturday's race still with a few questions about the chassis and handling unanswered. Luckily the weather was good and we set off for our third ever TT race. Surprisingly we were very soon catching and passing some of the bikes who set off before us but nobody was passing us as I had thought might happen. I must say this did help me put some of the doubts out of my mind and we had passed about five or six outfits by the time we had completed the first lap. Towards the end of that lap though, I had got into a rut and 'gone to sleep' and it wasn't until Bill Crook/Ian Gemmel came past us that I woke up. I knew Bill had set off 20 seconds before us but he had been black flagged then allowed to continue. When he passed us it shook me out of my slumbers and I set off after with the thought that I would stay with him for as long as I could so that I could learn from his knowledge of the circuit. Surprisingly Bill and Ian didn't pull away and we spent the next two laps chasing each other and swapping positions as if it were a short circuit race. It really made it exciting for us and, I would imagine, gave the spectators something to watch instead of seeing single outfits passing them. Bill and Ian just got over the finish line before us after a kamikaze-passing manoeuvre (by Bill) at Signpost Corner. The other riders must have wondered what the hell was going on with Bill, Ian, Nigel and me hugging each other in parc ferme. The race had been so enjoyable that I have heard that Bill has put off his plans to retire from the TT to have another go next year. I'll be ready for him at Signpost next time though!
We finished in 27th place with a best lap of over 97 mph just marginally better than our best lap last year. Considering all the problems we had experienced in practice we were more than satisfied.
The second race was a bit of an anti climax, with the atrocious weather creating havoc. The conditions were so changeable around the circuit it was difficult to get into any sort of rhythm. And where it had been dry on one lap, water was running in streams across the road on the next lap. Some of the top riders had called for the race to be postponed and it did become a bit of a lottery. However it did allow us to try the new chassis in terrible conditions and, after a tentative first lap, I realised it was a good handler as we came home in 30th place.
We will certainly be back next year, we have a 100% record of 4 starts and 4 finishes to add to. By then we will be more used to the bike and hopefully should be able to improve on our lap times.
It would be nice to finish higher up the rankings but at the TT the finishing position depends on the bad luck of others just as much as on your own skills. It is your lap times that really show if you are improving, even though these can depend on weather conditions and whereabouts you come across slower outfits, as you can be held up waiting for an opportunity to overtake, especially when there is not too much difference in the speeds.
Having done laps at over 97 mph we have to be aiming for the magic 100 mph lap but those extra few mph can be very difficult to find and finishing has got to be the name of the game."
Behind every successful partnership is a host of willing helpers and Dan and Nigel are very appreciative of so many people but mention must be made of ace spanner man Tommy Gannon, Andrea Brearley, Dave and Kerri Hindley, the Kinghorn family and Kathy and Stuart Lambie who kindly provide 'chill out' facilities on the Island! All-important financial help comes from Stuart Mellor of Martek Fibreglass, Vital Signs, H.W.Whitely Engineering and main sponsors, Berry Precision Engineering
along with Specialised Coatings.
My thanks to Dan and Nigel for letting me into their T.T.'life' and I hope their enthusiasm is rewarded with two more finishes in 2004.
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