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Frank Whiteway



South Cumbria, UK



Senior Lecturer  (Retired)



Golf,  Motorcycles & Model Engineering.



Football, Rugby & Cricket




Single-figure golf handicap


Conquering my Mountain


My family were farmers and as a result I spent most of my childhood on a somewhat isolated hill farm on the top of Cartmel Fell overlooking the beautiful Lythe Valley.  Neither of my parents had any interest or involvement in motorcycles whatsoever - in fact they both expressed a genuine dislike for them - my mother often referred to motorbikes as "Inventions of the Devil".  Probably due to my small stature, father used to proudly tell everyone he met that one day I would become a famous jockey but completely failed to see that I couldn't stand the sight of horses!  One Thursday he arrived home from Ulverston Auction with a tiny Shetland pony for me to gain some experience on.  I only ever went on it once - it accelerated like a missile, suffered from very vague steering and poor suspension and didn't appear to have any brakes at all - without doubt the scariest ride I ever had in my life - what a nightmare!  As events turned out though, he was fairly close with his prophesy - just that my chosen steed had two wheels rather than four legs!

My pride and joy in those early years was a little grey TE Ferguson tractor which I learned to drive at a very tender age.  I would spend every available hour bombing up and down the lane on this much to everyone's annoyance. One day when I was about 7or 8 my Uncle Jim, who lived with us at that time, bought a brand new Ex WD BSA M20 from Pride and Clarke - I think it was about £7 including delivery.  It arrive on a railway delivery truck wrapped up in sackcloth and cardboard and Jim soon had some Red tractor petrol – fuel was rationed in those days just after the war - in the tank and had it fired it up. A blast down the lane on the pillion had me completely hooked and I soon developed a passion for motor bikes -and in particular - motorcycle road racing.

During my early school years I became close friends with a young lad called John Lishman.  He lived a couple of miles down the road at a little hamlet called Bryan Beck and we both travelled to school on the same bus every day.  His dad once told us that a famous TT rider called Percy (Tim) Hunt had owned a cottage close by and it was probably this single factor that created the fascination and interest we both developed for the Isle-of-Man TT races.  The only mode of transport we had in those days was by bicycle and the narrow and very hilly roads were used as our race track.  The plunging drop from the top of Gummers How to Bowland Bridge was our TT course and we would make regular runs from the top down to Bowland Bridge on summer evenings - always trying to better the fastest time.  Without crash helmets or any safety wear - not to mention meeting the odd car or tractor - it's amazing that we both survived these hazardous activities virtually unscathed. In the mid-50's my parents retired from farming and we moved to the beautiful little market town of Ulverston. I left school about 18 months later and immediately started work as an apprentice engineer.  A day trip to the Isle-of-Man TT in 1960 with John and his father galvanized the hopes and dreams that one day we would both ride in these historic and unique races.

In the early sixties I got to know a young man called Brian Richards who lived on the outskirt of Ulverston and who had ridden in the Manx Grand Prix in 1961 & '62.  Held in early September, the Manx Grand Prix races have always been accepted as the natural stepping stone for a rider wishing to take part in TT. I soon became a regular visitor to his small workshop where he fettled his bikes.  Brian had acquired the use of a pair of Bultaco’s for the 1963 TT and I was extremely excited when he asked me to go to the Island with him as one of his mechanics.  Unfortunately, Brian had a poor week, retiring very early on in both races.  In spite of this I was total overwhelmed with the whole TT experience and vowed that one day soon I would be back.

Upon my return from the 1963 TT, I heard on the grapevine that Barrow motorcycle dealer, Eddie Crooks, was looking for a workshop mechanic.  Eddie was quite well known, having won the Senior MGP in 1959 and had also ridden in the TT in 1960.  I felt that working with a chap with his background might be the ideal way to further my Isle-of-Man racing ambitions.  I went to Barrow to see him and find out what he had to offer and managed to convince him that I was the man he was looking for.  Within a few weeks I was working in his Crellin Street workshop and I even managed to squeeze a pay rise of £1 per/wk out of him– a fortune to me in those days!


During the years since leaving the Farm I had still remained close friends with John and the ambitions we had for the Isle-of-Man were just as intense as ever.  We both had motorbikes now – I had started competing in local trials on a 197cc F.W.S. I had built. John had bought a 500cc Vincent which he planned to convert to Grey Flash specification to enable him to take part in the 1963 Manx Grand Prix. However, John then decided to trade the Comet for a really nice 350cc Manx Norton which he felt would be much more suitable than the Vincent. He took this over for the 1963 Manx Grand Prix finishing 54th in the Junior.  Having only recently started my new job with Eddie, I was unable to get time off work to go to the Manx with John and I was extremely frustrated and just a tad jealous that he had managed to achieved his ambition of racing on the Mountain course and I hadn't. 

During the winter of '63, Eddie took delivery of a brand new Triumph Tiger Cub scrambler and then persuaded me to buy his old one and have a bash in the local events.  We both raced the Cubs regularly and the experience gained on those little bikes led me to the conclusion that a suitably tuned version would make a useful racer for the re-introduced Lightweight Manx Grand Prix in the Autumn of 1964. During the spring an ex Carl Ward Tiger Cub racer came into our possession. The engine from my own scrambler replaced the original motor - a very early version of the little 200cc Triumph Cub unit - and the head was modified to take the big Amal GP carburetor from the Ward machine.  A full rebuild with many improvements to the original machine and the bike was ready for the Island. I was overjoyed when I received notification that my entry for the 1964 Manx had been accepted - my road-racing experience at that time was virtually nil - so I have to admit to telling a few little porkies on my application form!  When I arrived on the Island one of my main concerns was the thought of not qualifying for the race but in fact the bike exceeded my wildest expectations and performed really well in practice. I was devastated when the Alpha big-end let go at the end of the Cronk-y-Voddy straight on the third lap of the race causing my retirement. This mechanical failure was somewhat ironic when we had always used the standard Triumph big-ends up till then with no problems but had decided to 'play safe' and fit an Alpha unit for the Manx.


A second attempt in 1965 on an Eddie Crooks sponsored Greeves Silverstone - possibly the worst machine I ever rode - also met with failure when the end of the crankshaft - the bit supporting the little Femsa magneto - snapped off as I climbed the mountain on the very first lap.  

After a great deal of consideration I decided to have one final try in 1966.  Once again, the 250cc Manx was the goal, but this time on a Suzuki - in fact the first Suzuki ever to take part in this event.  The bike was in fact one of three pre-production six-speed T20's which Suzuki GB boss Alan Kimber imported from Suzuki USA.  The bikes were then modified by Suzuki GB for the 1965 ISDT which was  to be held in the Isle of Man. Eddie rode one but it was fairly obvious that this high performance twin was never really suitable as a trials bike and I believe that he was quite relieved when his went on to one cylinder due to a minor ignition fault. He decided to hang on to it after the Trial and brought it back to the Crellin St workshop, still covered in Manx mud and proudly displaying his ISDT number.

After about 3 months of effort which included removing about eight pounds of surplus metal from the frame, converting the gear-change to RH, manufacturing exhaust boxes, seat, footrests controls etc and designing the six-gallon alloy tank which my old pal Jim Lee manufactured in his workshop over at Birstall, the Suzy was beginning to look the part.  Some initial testing was done on Walney airfield then the machine was taken over to Croft Autodrome for a test day.  Robin Miller, MCN Paddock Gossip, rode the bike and gave it a good write-up despite some minor ignition problems towards the end of the test.


When we got over to the Manx Grand Prix the bike ran sweetly. No major problems came to light although there was always that fear that something might break which would end the fun as we had absolutely no spares at all.  The T20 was obviously lacking top speed due to a bog standard motor and I was reluctant to attempt any radical changes which might jeopardize reliability. However, the one vital element in the equation was the advice from Eddie's mum, Vera - she ran the Ascot Hotel where we stayed. I had to make time to go and speak to the Manx Fairies at the little bridge near Castletown.  Without any doubt this did the trick - and an 11th place finish saw me gain my first Manx replica!  


To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee in 1967,the TT organisers introduced a Production Machine race for three classes - 250, 500 and 750cc machines.  After much deliberation the ACU and the MMCC finally agreed that a rider taking part in the Production Machine races would still be eligible to ride in the Manx Grand Prix. Eddie entered three Crooks-Suzuki Super-Six's in the 250 class. I rode one and was delighted to finish in 4th place after a hard battle with Barry Smith on a similar Harry Thompson machine. The other two Crooks bikes were ridden by Chris Vincent and Eddie himself and finished 8th and 9th respectively.  


It was during the '67 TT that I saw the prototype Suzuki TR 250 racer for the first time. This was to be Suzuki's over-the-counter racing machine to challenge the Yamaha TD series.  I was very excited when I got the opportunity to sit on one and couldn't wait to have a ride on this most beautiful machine. To my great delight Eddie managed to get his hands on one of them after the TT and once it had arrived at Crellin St, I wasted little time in getting it prepared for the 1967 Manx Grand Prix.


After a couple of sighting laps on last year's T20 racer during the first morning practice, I nervously climbed aboard the new TR racer and set off down Bray for my first blast in the evening practice session.  My God - this bike was so quick - I found it very frisky on the bumps and I quickly discovered that it wanted to wheelie at every opportunity - I spent a lot of time with the front wheel high in the air during that lap, I also made the startling discovery that adrenalin is brown!  Nevertheless, I managed to whistle it round in under 25 minutes - the first over 90mph lap by a 250 in the Manx.  Sadly, practice laps are unofficial and don't make the record books but I wasn't too bothered having shattered the lap record with average lap speed of 90.90mph I was absolutely floating and enjoying every minute.
Race day arrived with winds of up to force 10 sweeping the mountain circuit, accompanied by heavy rain and poor visibility on the top causing the organisers to delay the start for two hours. As the weather gradually eased they then decided cut the race down to three laps instead of four. The fuel tank I had planned to use was too small to go three laps. Despite vigourous protest to the Clerk of the Course, the MMCC flatly refused to allow me to change to my larger fuel tank and I was consequently forced to make a pit stop.  Brian Ball, however, was able to complete the 3 lap race without stopping and beat me to the line by 1 min - roughly the duration of my pit stop.  Most people would be happy with second place - I was totally gutted and
felt that I had probably missed the best opportunity I had of gaining the victory I so desperately longed for. However, with unfailing support and help from my boss, sponsor and great friend, Eddie Crooks, I was thrilled to win the 1968 250cc Manx at record speed - one of the greatest moments in my life.

Once a rider wins the Manx, he is, to all intents and purposes, barred from ever taking part in the September races again.  However, the International TT Races held in June and part of the F.I.M. World Championship in those days - was my ultimate ambition and Eddie was keen to enter me for the 1969 event.  Riding a similar Suzuki TR 250 I had a good steady ride until I rounded Governors Bridge hairpin bend at the 5th lap when I lost the front end on the soft tar and fell off!  Embarrassed but unhurt, I swiftly picked the bike up - thankfully it fired up first time - and I was away before the track Marshals had time to check if the bike was OK.  I was more than surprised to learn later that my time for that particular lap was as quick as the previous ones.  My Pit crew were totally unaware of the misfortune that I had suffered and I was extremely relieved to complete the final circuit without further problems and finish in 5th place in my very first TT.  For this I was awarded the magnificent R.B.Westover Trophy for the best newcomer overall in the 1969 TT.  A second place finish in the 250cc Production Machine race made the week very memorable for me.


The following year, riding the Eddie Crooks Suzuki T500, I finally realised my lifelong ambition by cruising to a relatively easy win in the 500cc Production Machine Race.  I managed to slip past Bill Smith on the short run to Braddan Bridge and then got my head down on the 7-mile blast to Ballacraine.  I was astonished to find the road behind completely empty when I took a quick glance over my shoulder as I approached the right-hander.  For one awful moment I thought there must have been a big pile-up behind me and I was expecting to see a red flag any minute!  Thankfully all was well and I had a trouble-free 5 laps and took my TT win by just over 1 minute.  However, my joy at winning was sadly clouded by the deaths of several good friends during the 1970 TT and I decided, after much soul searching, that this might be an appropriate time to retire from this very risky game.  I had ridden my last race around this dangerous and extremely demanding circuit. 


The Suzuki T500 on which I won the 1970 Production race is still in existence - beautifully restored to its original 1970 condition and ready to race again - and is owned by Martin Crooks, son of my sponsor those many years ago. The machine is now on permanent display in Manx Motorcycle Museum on the Isle-of-Man. I had the enormous pleasure of cruising this splendid machine round the TT course once again in the year 2000 when I took part in the Suzuki Lap-of-Honour.  It was 30 year since I last rode this amazing machine and the excitement and exhilaration I experience during that lap were truly amazing.  The past 30 years had simply faded away and it felt like it was yesterday - the whole lap was simply wonderful.


Although the Island has figured prominently in my racing career, there were a few other events at which I tasted the champagne.  One of my proudest moments was in 1967 when, having recently acquired the first TR 250 from Suzuki GB, I took it to Barbon National Hill Climb.  Barbon is almost a local event for me being situated only a few miles from the now very popular Bikers meeting place at Devils Bridge near Kirkby Lonsdale.  On the very rapid TR 250 I managed to set the Fastest Time of the Day against bikes of 1000cc. I also established a 250cc Class record which stood for approximately 10 years.  

It is not widely known that in August 1968, Suzuki GB took two teams to Monza in order to try to establish a number of endurance World Records around the old banked oval circuit. The plan was to take a pair of T20 Production machines and using two teams of four riders run them flat out round the oval non stop for 24 hours.  Suzuki GB were aiming to establish a number of 250cc endurance records with their bike whilst the Crellin St team using my 1968 250cc Production TT bike - suitably bored out to 252cc - tried to set the 24 hour record for 350cc machines.  Sadly, the Suzuki GB bike blew up after about 18 hours due to an oil pump cable failure although it did set a number of distance world records before expiring.  The Eddie Crooks machine ridden by Eddie, Myself, Brian Ball & George Anscheit ran for the duration.  We literally thrashed the little two-stroke twin on the red line for the entire 24 hours.  The bike never missed a beat and successfully established a 24hr Standing-Start World record in the 350cc Class at 145.688 Km/Hr - a record which proudly stands to this day.

In 1969 Suzuki GB let me have the use of one of the very rare and, up till then, relatively unsuccessful TR50 Racers to campaign the British Championship for 50cc machines. During the following two seasons I thrashed this tiny bike unmercifully and either won or finished 2nd in every race except one - the 1969 Ulster Grand Prix - where I finished in 3rd place behind Angel Nieto and Van-de-Vries.  Disappointingly, I only manage the runner-up prize in the 1969 Championship behind George Ashton's Garelli. However, the following year, after a season-long battle with Arthur Lawn on his Honda, I was delighted to add an ACU Gold Star to my Trophy chest by winning the last 50cc British Championship. I might add that during both seasons this wonderful little bike needed only 4 sets of piston rings and 2 small-end needle bearings - making this the most reliable and successful racing machine I have ever ridden.


Having retired from road-racing, in 1973 I returned to my first love - trials riding - and regularly took part all Northern Centre events for many years - on a Suzuki of course!  As I grew older I started to find that many of the rock steps were getting higher and falling off them became more painful.  I finally decided to hang up my boots and helmet and I sold the faithful RL325 and cleared out the garage. For the last 15 or so years I have devoted my competitive energies to Golf.  I love the game passionately and usually play two or three time each week in the summer months - a bit less in winter.  My wife Dot is also a very keen and extremely competitive golfer and we often take part in mixed competitions together.


In 1994 I took early retirement - after nearly 25 years - from my Post as a Senior Lecture in Engineering at Furness College and devoted most of my time to playing Golf.  I was chosen as Club Captain for Barrow Golf Club for 1995 and thoroughly enjoyed my year in office.  However, I soon became very restless with all the spare time retirement gave me - Golf can only fill some of the time -  and there are no Fridays, Weekends or paid holidays in retirement! When a locally based multi-national paper manufacturing Company offered me the position of Manager in their Engineering Training Department, I was very happy to accept although this decision came as a surprise to my wife and some of my close friends.  My current hobby, apart from my Golf, is designing and building working model Stirling Hot-Air engines.  I have also encouraged several of my young Apprentices to have crack at building these fascinating but tricky little machines as part of their skills assessments. You will find pictures of some of them on my Engineering page

About a year ago, I bought a 1979 Beamish-Suzuki RL325 Twin-Shock trials bike - the same model that I used to ride - as a basket case and have spent the last 12 months giving this wonderful machine a full restoration - there's a picture of the finished bike on my album page.  I enjoyed the task so much that I recently bought a 250 version and work is well advanced with this.  I really have no idea what I will do with these machines once there finished - wonder if I can create some interest and start an over-65 class and start riding again!

The Devitt sponsored Crooks-Suzuki T500 which won the 1970 Production race was re-commissioned into action for the 2007 TT Centenary Lap of Honour.  The owner, Martin Crooks, collected it from the Manx Museum earlier this year and delivered it to my workshop where I gave the bike a complete make-over prior to the TT.  On the 5th of June I was both thrilled and very privileged to be able to give this wonderful old machine another taste of the Manx mountain air.  The bike went like a train and never missed a beat during the Lap although I have to say that my poor old ticker was skipping a few as I stood on the line waiting for the signal to go!  However, all went really well and although I may have re-invented a few new racing lines on some parts of the circuit I had a truly memorable ride. It was really fantastic to see so many spectators all around the course which made the experience even more enjoyable.  My sincere thanks must go to everyone who helped me during the week and in particular to Andy & Heidi, my pit crew, who also provided a garage for the bike during the week.  I would also like to offer a very special thanks to the TT organisers, Martin & Lynn Crooks, Devitt Insurance Ltd and Tudor Car Services, the sponsors who made it possible for me to take part in the 2007 Centenary Lap of Honour.


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