Hilary Musson, who made history 45 years ago when she became the second female to race a solo machine on the Mountain Course, has died.
She and her husband John, who made his TT debut alongside Hilary in 1978, relocated to the island in 2006 from Lincolnshire, following their daughter Gail’s lead (the latter having also raced in the Southern 100 and Manx Grand Prix).
Born during a snowstorm in Sheffield on February 11, 1947 to Tom and Beryl Atkin, Hilary’s first motorbike was a Triumph Tiger Cub, bought by her dad from none other than TT legend Freddie Frith.
She ventured to Cadwell Park in Lincolnshire with soon-to-be husband John to watch a day’s racing, and immediately became hooked on the racing scene. Daughter Gail was born when Hilary was only 18 years old, and so was part of the bike racing scene from birth.
She began racing in 1969, initially sharing her Triumph with John, but switched to a 250cc Japanese two-stroke.
In the mid-1970s she twice won the British Formula Racing Club’s 250cc Production Championship.
By 1977 she had visited the Isle of Man several times to watch the TT, and it became her firm ambition to compete in the event. This needed an international licence, so she set about gaining it by competing in national events at circuits such as Cadwell, Croft and Scarborough.
The problem was that since Beryl Swain had become the first woman to compete in a solo TT race in 1962 there had been a ban on women competing. However, the TT, having moved with the times, accepted Hilary on merit for the 1978 races, her gender no longer an issue. She finished 15th in her debut race, one place behind John.
Following her TT debut in 1978 Hilary received words of praise from none other than the great Mike Hailwood, who famously made his comeback that year. Speaking on a BBC radio phone-in, Mike the Bike was asked what he thought of women racing at the TT. He responded by saying that he had seen Hilary on the Mountain section and was very impressed.
Hilary competed in eight consecutive TTs from 1978 to 1985 and saw many changes in that time. For one thing, the sport became more expensive, making it harder for smaller race outfits to compete. She commented: ‘When we started, you would do a practice and a race on the same tyres, now it can be a tyre change every other lap.’
Hilary was proud of the fact that she achieved what she did at the TT without any formal sponsorship, other than a few visors from Bob Heath, and free accommodation in Peel from John Bullivant and his wife Diana, and friend Penny.
The Manx Grand Prix was slower to move with the times. The fear of bad publicity if a female rider was to be involved in a serious accident persisted, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Hilary was allowed to enter, along with her good friends Gloria Perrin and Liz Skinner.
She continued to race into the 1990s at the Southern 100, her last race being in 1993. Having raced in the same meeting as Mike Hailwood at the TT she was also proud to have raced alongside another great legend Joey Dunlop at Billown.
Another great hero of Hilary’s was the American Scott Russell, known as Mr Daytona for his domination of the famous event in Florida. Hilary, John and Gail had several holidays to the States in which they watched him race and visited Scott and his family’s homes in Georgia.
Hilary was immensely proud when Gail followed in her wheel-tracks racing two-strokes, and in 2004 she became the first and only female rider to lap the Mountain Course at over 100mph on a 125cc machine.
After moving to the island from their home in the village of Brinkhill in Lincolnshire, Hilary quickly became involved in racing again, this time as a marshal at the MGP.
The following year, 2007, Hilary was marshalling the Centenary TT at the 26th Milestone when a serious incident occurred, claiming the life of a rider and two spectators. Hilary was severely injured in the accident and as a result of her injuries her left leg was amputated. It was a cruel irony that after so many years of racing it was when working for the safety of others as a marshal that Hilary was seriously hurt.
Despite her handicap she continued to be involved, assisting under the tower at the Grandstand in giving updates to crew on course incidents, a role she treasured as it enabled her to still be a part of the races. She carried out this role for the last time at the 2022 TT.
During the final year of her life Hilary had been battling a brain tumour with her usual strength and determination, but sadly this was one battle she was unable to win. Having been born during a Sheffield snowstorm 76 years ago, she passed away in the early hours of last Friday morning in the Isle of Man Hospice, during a snowstorm.
She will be dearly missed by her family and many friends, but she left a strong legacy behind, both in the world of motorsport and in life.
l Hilary’s funeral service took place this morning (Thursday) 10am at the Borough Crematorium. Donations if so desired to Naseem’s Manx Brain Tumour charity or IoM Ambulance Service.