Adrian and Wally attracted numerous star names to the TT

Monday 31st January 2022 1:00 pm
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Adrian Earnshaw 2007 TT, Tourism Minister

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Adrian Earnshaw had a great passion for the TT, so he was extremely proud to be the island’s tourism chief at the time of the event’s centenary.

He spent most of his professional life with Isle of Man Bank until successfully winning a seat in the Keys at the 2001 General Election.

His interest in road racing began as a child when he first experienced the thrill of spectating in the mid-to-late 1950s.

Fortunately for Adrian, he was just about old enough to witness bike racing on the 10.79-mile Clypse Course that took in his home village of Onchan.

The course was used for a six-year period between 1954 and 1959, initially for 125cc solos and sidecars, but from 1955 also including 250cc solos.

The three-wheelers were returning to the TT for the first time in very nearly 30 years, having last been seen on the Mountain Course in 1925.

All three classes on the Clypse were full Grands Prix events, supplementing the Senior (500cc) and Junior (350cc) on the mountain the same week.

Although the Clypse utilised the same start and finish area on Glencrutchery Road, the course then turned right at St Ninian’s, heading along Ballanard Road, up past the soon-to-be-built housing estate at Willaston, continuing along Johnny Watterson’s Lane to Cronk-ny-Mona then backwards up the present ’TT Course’ to Creg-ny-Baa.

Taking a right turn at the most famous public house on the Mountain Course, it then wended its way along the twisty back roads to Begoade and Whitebridge, before swooping flat-out into Onchan, turning right at the Manx Arms Hotel and left at Signpost Corner prior to taking in the final mile of the Mountain Course, with the exception of Governor’s Dip.

Young master Earnshaw was fixated by the Continentla solo stars like Carlo Ubbiali, Tarquino Provini and Luigi Taveri, then a little while later by a certain Mike Hailwood.

In his latter years, Adrian gave several illustrated talks to residents of Onchan and others on the history of the Clypse Course.

His interest in the TT never waned, but when the event lost its GP status after the 1976 event, he and a few more similarly-minded locals decided to put all their efforts into attracting new blood to the event when it looked as though the Auto-Cycle Union had lost interest in the Isle of Man.

He and Wally Radcliffe of Ramsey, with the support of one or two more enthusiasts - not least a friend of Wally’s from Andreas by the name of Harry Butler - set up International TT Riders Fund. They wasted no time approaching top-line riders to visit the island for a look at the Mountain Course in the hope that they would return to race in the TT.

The list is almost a who’s who of GP stars from the 1970s, headed by the likes of Wil Hartog, Steve Baker, Jon Ekerold, Graeme Crosby, Rolf Biland, Keith Huewen, Boet van Dulmen, Dave Potter and Wayne Gardner, along withsidecar aces Jock Taylor and Egbert Streuer.

’It was all done on a shoestring,’ admitted Wally,’ like Adrian a lifelong fan of the TT.

’We were originally in the TT Supporters Club but we didn’t think enough was being done to attract new riders to the TT, so we started out on our own.

’We had a really generous group of people behind us and we managed to run the whole thing for a number of years on a minimal budget.

’It sounds incredible now, but we obtained cheap flights and boat trips, plus free accommodation with various guest houses and hotels around the island.

’They were exciting times. Above all we had a mutual desire to see the TT survive in a period when it came very close to going down the pan.

’The ACU appeared to lack interest in the event and when World GP status was lost in 1976 a lot of people feared the worst.’

Adrian and Wally agreed that without Mike Hailwood’s still much-talked about comeback in 1978 the TT may well have ended, but both said it would be nice to think that they played their part in encouraging further big names to the island to give it the lifeline it undoubtedly required.

The success stories most definitely included the likes of South African hard man Ekerold and fellow Southern Hemisphere GP stars of the likes of Crosby, Graeme McGregor, Kenny Blake, John Woodley, Dennis Ireland and Dave Hiscock.

Amongst the dozens of others were Sweden’s Lennart Backstrom, Peter Linden, Peter Skold, Anders Andersson and sidecar veteran Lars Schwartz who notched an incredible number of 30 finishes from 53 starts in 24 TTs from 1980 to 2005.

Swiss sidecar world champion Rolf Biland, Belgian Renee Delaby, German Walter Hoffman and Italian ace Davide Tardozzi were all on the list of top Europeans to race the TT thanks to the intervention and support of the International TT Riders Fund.

The Fund didn’t just cater for overseas competitors as many top-line British riders came across at the invitation of the hard-working instigators.

Most stuck with the TT for a number of years, such as Roger Marshall, Chris Guy, Keith Huewen, Steve Henshaw, Barry Woodland, Roger Burnett, Ian Bell and the aforementioned Jock Taylor.

John Newbold made a stunning debut in 1981 with two fourths and a third on the factory Suzukis, but sadly he lost his life in the following year’s North West 200 before he had the opportunity to really gun for the top spot at the TT.

In total, the International TT Riders Fund brought over almost 100 riders to view the Mountain Course from just about every corner of the road racing globe.

’We did quite well, I guess,’ added Wally modestly.

Without the efforts of Adrian, Wally and the fund’s loyal supporters, it is questionable whether the TT would have reached the centenary of its inauguration in 2007, never mind re-emerge from a two-year pandemic-induced break to limber up for its 101st actual edition in four months’ time.

’Adrian and I were good friends for a very long time,’ concluded Wally, now 81.

’I am very sorry to lose him, he was a real gentleman, and was just the same with everyone he met.’

l Onchan Methodist Hall and Church were packed to capacity yesterday for a service of celebration, where Eddie Teare, a long-time friend and former colleague at Isle of Man Bank and in the House of Keys, gave a fitting tribute.

Honouring Adrian’s wishes, the hearse then took him on a final lap of the Snaefell Mountain Course, passing family and friends gathered at the Creg-ny-Baa Hotel to wave him a last goodbye.

Adrian marshalled on the course virtually all of his adult life, for many years at the old Brandish Corner.

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