Tom Loughbridge’s Race Days

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Hi Murray, as promised the story of my experience of a great sporting relationship with Eddie Crooks, Frank Whiteway, Stan Woods, Les Trotter, the late Danny Shimmin and many others who rode Crooks’ Suzuki’s during the classic 60s and 70s. when we all raced for the love of the sport, particularly in the greatest true public road race in the world. the Isle of Man TT, with particular references to the superb T500 in the TT, Northwest 200 and Thruxton 500 mile endurance races.

I first rode a Crooks Suzuki T20 production bike prepared for me by Frank Whiteway in 1969 to third place in the 250 class at the Thruxton 500 mile race partnered by Pat Walsh who was 55 years old. I then used the bike in the TT with an 8th place in the production race and a lowly 24th in the international 250. but the bike went like a train and I was glad that I had left the much faster but unreliable 250 Bultaco in the garage.

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In 1970 Ken Armstrong and myself again rode the T20 at Thruxton and finished fifth in the 250 class. Frank Whiteway and Stan Woods pulled off their tasty win on Eddie’s T500 in the 500 class. Ex Suzuki works rider Stuart Graham had earlier won the 500 production class at the Ulster, Northwest 200 road race on the same bike. The TT produced a 7th place in the 250 production race on the T20. Charles Mortimer won on the Ducati and Stan Woods managed 3rd on Eddies, Crooks Suzuki T250, while Frank pulled of his superb win on the T500. My T20 cruised to another lowly finish in the international 250. As always it ran like a dream but was just not fast enough against pukka racers.

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The T20 was just unbreakable; but I was never impressed with its handing and never really got on with it over the TT mountain course. Having witnessed the superior handling of Eddie Crooks’ T500 for 500 miles at Thruxton I decided I was having it and swiftly did a deal with Eddie to swop the T20 in part exchange. So started my long and happy seven year very low cost relationship with the Crooks Suzuki T500 production racer.

This was the Crooks Suzuki T500 history in my ownership:

  • 1971 TT
    500 Production 5th silver replica.
    Formula 750 13th silver.
    Senior 500 26th silver.
  • 1972 TT
    500 production 8th silver rep. Fastest through speed trap 121mph. Stan Woods was first on the Crooks Suzuki T500R.
    Formula 750 retired. (loose alternator wire)
    500 senior 30th bronze replica.
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    • 1973 TT:
      Production – fastest through speed trap – 127mph. Race described by Fred Hanks in the TT special – “suddenly an exciting and dramatic event was being turned into a rugged hailstone-invaded race which had london Policeman Graham Bailey retiring at the pits shaking his head in disgust”.  Retired with swamped electrics.
      Formula 750 32nd.
      500 senior 22nd bronze replica.
    • 1974 TT:
      Production – fastest through speed trap – 132mph – 6th place. silver replica.
      I had changed machines to a 350 Yamaha for the classic 1000 and 500 senior races. Loaned to me by that great Grand Prix rider John Williams because he was a non starter through injury. Sadly John who later became Barry Sheene’s works Suzuki team mate succumbed to heart failure after a minor injury at the 1979 Ulster Grand Prix. John Woodley from New Zealand had travelled over to Northern Ireland with John, Charlie Williams, Stan Woods and myself.  John as I recall fell off in the same 500 race as John Williams and went to Belfast hospital at the same time.scan30s.jpg (27712 bytes)The Crooks Suzuki T500 at scrutineering 1974.  Finished in 6th place 500 production race.

      • 1975 TT:
        10 lap two rider production race fastest through speed trap -138mph. Partnered by Ian Richards 5th with a new lap record of 95.45 mph set up by Ian. A misfire caused by a loose condensor wire dropped us back from leading to 5th placed 500 at the finish.
      • 1976 TT:
        Production – another 10 lap two rider race again partnered by Ian Richards who retired at the bottom of Bray Hill with a split petrol tank.
        Senior 500 – retired (repaired petrol tank weeping).
        1000cc classic – non starter (no fuel tank no race).
      • 1977 TT:
        The production race was discontinued.
        Formula 1000cc retired.
        500 senior 35th.
        1000cc classic 30th
        1000cc Schweppes Jubilee retired.
        scan3s.jpg (44724 bytes)By this time I was wasting my time trying to compete with a near standard 500 production bike against RG500s. TZ350s/750s, 900 Ducatis and the like, with average race speeds of 110mph, even the last of the Bronze Replica winners was averaging over 100 mph down in 19th place. I then sold the bike.

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        The 1970 T500 Crooks production Suzuki. In its last race at the 1978 Isle of Man Southern 100.

        In addition to the TT I raced the T500 at Oulton Park Internationals, the Isle of Man Southern 100 and 100’s of other races. The engine, gearbox and clutch never once failed.Martin Crooks then found the bike in 1992 as a café racer road bike and restored it to the original condition and spec as Stuart Graham, Frank Whiteway, Stan Woods and myself had raced it in 1970/71. It is now in Murray’s motor cycle museum in the Isle of Man.

        I never won a TT but lived to race there. but having only sight in one eye since birth, I did have a bit of a handicap and my own forged doctors stamp for my international licence medical form. That’s my excuse anyway.

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        1972 TR 500 Suzuki

        Does it not really look the business at the bottom of Bray Hill in the 1972 TT Formula 750 race? Don’t kid yourself. I retired this bike at the pits in sheer terror. I had built this bike during the winter having aquired a motor with all the best goodies off Eddie Crooks. George Ratcliffe (former development engineer at Villiers) did the motor and made the pipes. It was a very fast bike timed at 147mph Creg n Baa to Brandish. But!!! – Glen Helen, Kirk Micheal, Alpine Cottage, you name it, was uncontrollable. The first lap was slower than I could do on the T500. I persevered for a few laps and called it a day at Ramsey and toured it back to the pits to retire in one piece. I prudently raced the T500 production bike in the following 500 senior. This TR500 was so bad to ride I had forgotten I had owned it when I told you that the records showed a speed trap figure of nearly 150mph on the T500. It was this bike that did that not the T500. It was then swiftly disposed of and forgotten about.

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        Suzuki/Bultaco TR250 special a cracking tool and a dream to ride.

        Having seen how quick Eddie Crooks’ TR250s were in the winter of 1971 I bought a TR250 motor and remote float carbs off Eddie. I had been racing a Bultaco TSS250. They handled superbly but were a nightmare to ride, unreliable and prone to seizing without warning. Broken primary chains and gearboxes and the gas pipe frames broke to pieces in the Isle of Man. Most Japanese bikes of the time were iffy in the steering department and TR250s were no exception. Rod Gould had put a Yamaha engine in a Bultaco so I had Jack machine build me an exact copy of the Bultaco frame in Reynolds 531 and had a copy of the large fibreglass tank made in aluminium. George Ratcliffe again did the motor and pipes.

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        It was dream, an instant starter, fast in its day, brilliant in the steering department and dead reliable and won me my first 250 International class Silver Replica in the TT and the highest placed non Yamaha machine. The only other Suzuki in the race was Alberto Pagani on Eddie’s TR250 who only come within one minute of my lap times. But twice I came within a whisker of getting seriously hurt or worse on it. The first time in early morning practice I waited until Frank Whiteway lined up on Eddie’s TR250, and slotted in behind him. I wanted to compare speeds and see if I could keep up with Frank who was a far superior rider to me.

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         I tailed and slipstreamed Frank all the way to the bottom of Barregarow. I was on fire, my special was definitely steering better than Frank’s bike. The genuine TR250s had a twin brake plate with a single cable leading from the lever two a junction box that bridged the front fender and two cables that went each side of the wheel to the brake plates.

        As Frank bottomed the forks the junction box jammed on to the bottom yoke and locked the front wheel on solid. We would probably have been doing around 120mph, I was about 6 feet from his back wheel which came about eighteen inches off the road. I shot past him by inches, how I did not ram into the back of him I don’t know.

        I sat up slowed and looked back to see Frank hit the kerb and career down the road, feet off the pegs like aeroplane wings he brought the thing to a safe stop. Seeing he was okay I carried on I did not want to stop. Firstly I was having a cracking first practice lap on the 250 and secondly he probably “stunk like hell.”

        The second miracle was in the 250 race. I had fitted a steel Suzuki mudguard to the Bultaco forks, as is seen in the photo. I was flat out round the veranda on the mountain when the stays broke. The guard went around the front wheel and under the tyre it must have jammed under the tyre for a split second, because the bike slid sideways in a shower of sparks towards the sheep fencing and concrete posts, I heard the guard bang against fairing and saw it fly sideways. The front tyre found grip and the superb handling of this bike righted everything.

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        I had some cracking rides on this bike and it never failed; but Yamahas were getting faster and more reliable. For 1972 George did some mods to give me more revs. He modified the motor to take it over 250 so that I could use it in the 350 junior TT. It was quicker but the rods were not up to the extra revs. It broke a rod in the 350 race within a few miles of the start at Braddan Bridge. I rebuilt it for the 250 race, it got a few miles further on to Union Mills and it did the same again. At this time I was the only one still running a Suzuki in the 250 TT race other than Roger Sutcliffe on Eddie’s TR250.

        I succumbed to buying John Williams TD3 350 Yamaha for 1973 and put the TR250 back to standard; however, its days were numbered – Yamahas were putting in 100mph race averages. and records show that the fastest Crooks Suzuki TR250 TT race averages were in 1969 Frank Perris in 3rd at 93mph and Frank Whiteway a brilliant 5th place at 90mph.

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        Dear Murray,

        This is a record of what happened to Frank Whiteway’s 1970 Isle of Man Production T.T. winning T500 Crooks Suzuki after 1970. I came by the machine by knowing Frank and Eddie Crooks having owned and raced a Crooks Suzuki T20 250 prepared by Frank in the 1969 and 70 Production & 250 T.Ts. the 250 finished every race and did achieve 3rd in 69 partnered by 55 year old Pat Walsh and 5th partnered by Ken Armstrong in the Thruxton 500 mile endurance race and a Production T.T. 7th & 8th. Handling was the big problem compared Ducati’s & Bultaco’s.

        It should be said that in the 1970 race Frank’s T500 machine was timed at only 116mph at the Highlander speed trap. Yet he finished the race just 6 seconds under 90 mph. After The T.T. I bought the machine from Eddie, apart from having the standard baffles removed and a short tail pipe inserted in the silencers the machine was bog standard. Other than seat, tank, fairing rear sets and ace handlebars.

        Between 1971 and 1978 I raced the bike in 20 T.T. races Production, 500 Senior 500, Formula 750, Formula 1. 1000 Classic and the 1000 Jubilee including practice laps I covered over 13,000 racing miles in the Isle of Man on top of that it ran in the Thruxton 500 5 times plus hundreds of other races.

        scan6.JPG (38717 bytes)The 1971 T.T. was remarkable the T 500 did 28 laps of practice and I rode it in the 1st ever 750 T.T. finishing 13th. The Production 5th and the 500 Senior 13th it won three silver replicas. A total of 1,800 racing miles, all that was done to it between practise sessions and races was fill it with oil and petrol, change tyres, chain and race numbers and clean the flies off the screen.

        The best ride of the week was the production, after having a two minute penalty at the massed Le Mans start for failing to start by mechanical means I had to wait two minutes after everyone had gone before I was allowed a pusher. I was convinced I was going to finish last. After refuelling I started to catch up, on the last lap I got a signal board from someone saying I was 9th. At the 33rd milestone there were five 500s in a line, Martin Ashwood, the late Danny Shimmin. P, Jones all on Suzuki’s, and Bill Milne on a Kawasaki Mach 3 and myself. P. Jones was remarkably on are rare T350

        Going down to Creg ny Baa I somehow outbraked all four in one go. At the finish it was Martin and myself side by side and we were both credited with a race time of 85.54, I was 4/5ths of a second in front by a wheel. See Martins account, “MCM at the 71 T.T”. on this website. To cap the week off I won another silver replica in the 250 on a Crooks Suzuki TR 250 and retired with a broken crank while 3rd on the last lap of the 125, but that was on my old Honda CR93.

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        On a number of occasions I experienced total front brake failure and went straight down the slip road at signpost after cooking the front brake at Creg ny Baa and Brandish. The front drum brake had been described in various road tests, as between poor and adequate for use on the standard road bike with a top speed of 105 mph. The truth was it was lethal and useless, particularly in a 226-mile high-speed road race like the Isle of Man at speeds of over 120mph

        The big breakthrough in 1972 was when in the interests of safety the ACU allowed the homologation of Dunstall twin discs to be fitted to T500 Suzuki’s for production racing. Prior to that the T500 was positively dangerous to race in a 6-lap 226-mile race on a public road circuit, particularly considering the speeds obtained descending the mountain in the Isle of Man.

        George Ratcliffe, previously a development engineer at Norton-Villiers who had prepared Peter Inchleys works Starmaker did a lot of work on the cylinders. I also fitted works sand-cast central plug TR heads and straight cut primary gears provided by Eddie Crooks. This increased the Isle of Man Highlander speed trap time to 130 mph.

        For 1972 I also built a TR500. with all of the proper works bits supplied by Eddie Crooks. George Ratcliffe again prepared the motor, and also designed and made the expansion chambers. Jack Machin of Lincoln built the frame seat and petrol 6-gallon tank. We took it to the T.T. untried. Fast it was. But with 5 different machines to get qualified I did not do more than the minimum three laps to get it qualified. The Formula 750 saw the TR 500 flying on the straights, but putting me in big trouble at places like Glen Helen and Alpine cottage to name a few places, being more attracted to the walls and pavements than the road.

        I persevered into the second lap hoping the reduction in fuel weight would help the terrifying handling, it only went quicker and handled worse. At Ramsey with an urgent need to visit the little boys room and another five races to go I called it a day toured back over the mountain to the Grandstand and dumped it in the finishers enclosure.

        The TR 500 stayed in the garage for the 500 Senior and I wheeled out Old Faithful the T500 production bike, again it churned out a nice steady 86mph-race average picking up another bronze replica. I took it to the Southern 100 in the Isle of Man, but with a philosophy of racing for pleasure not pain again I raced the T500 proddie bike

        Stan Woods, the Works Heron-Suzuki rider churned out another cracking production T.T. win for a T500R Crooks-Suzuki at 92-20mph and a new record lap of 93-61. increased my own race speed by exactly the same margin that Stan did over Franks. Me, I had my thumb up my bum and only managed 8thbut the T500 ran like a train and won me another Silver Replica.

        1972 also put the writing on the wall for my TR250 Suzuki. This had also been a cracking reliable bike to ride. It was in fact a TR250 motor supplied by Eddie Crooks in a TS 250 Bultaco. Having followed Frank Whiteway in early morning practice on his TR 250 and seen how fast it was and how badly it handled in comparison with my own Bultaco, particularly through the top and bottom of Baggarow I decided to combine the two,

        I had a copy of a 250 Bultaco frame made in Reynolds 531 and an Aluminium copy of the 5 gallon Fibre Glass tank I then scrapped the Bultaco and fitted all the cycle parts and Oldani front brake. It was a cracking bike to ride, particularly on true road circuits like the T.T it handled like a dream Unfortunately by 1972 TR250s were getting a little long in the tooth and could not live with the speed of TD Yamaha’s.

        George did his best with the motor and we got revving harder and going quicker, but in the 250 T.T. it only got Union Mills a few miles from the Start and broke a conrod. We rebuilt the motor and put over bored 252cc barrels on it for the 350 Junior race, this time it got a little bit further to Glen Vine and did the same again. The only other TR250 raced was by Roger Sutcliffe riding Eddie Crook’s bike. It was the only none Yamaha to finish in replica time.

        1973 saw what was probably the worst condition’s for a T.T. Production race it was bitterly cold on the 3rd lap lashing rain, and sleet, snow and hailstones on the mountain section. Described by Fred Hanks in the T.T. Special as a “rugged hailstone invaded race and the riders must have suffered a dreadful last 50 miles”. The road was like a river. Even the 1st and 2nd home stopped with water trouble and Stan w

        Over many years the T500 was consistently faster than many pukka racers, G50s, Manx Nortons and 650/750 BSAs, Nortons and Triumphs and even the odd Suzuki GS1000. The T500 had always been the fastest 500 production bike through the highlander speed trap. Its best time being 138 mph, and it set a new lap record in the ten lap 1975 production race, 95-45 mph. I was credited with this record in the press. But in fact it was Ian Richards my co rider who did it.

        The only drawback with the bike was it’s weight and handling left much to desired the faster we got it going, after six laps and 226 miles of the island it left you with aching limbs, but then the machine was never designed for speeds over 110 mph. I am convinced that if it had handled better with the right jockey it would have done a 100mph lap.

        In 1972 at the Oulton Park Easter Monday International 500 race, the bike was faster than, and I beat Stan Woods on the works TR500 Heron Suzuki. Rex White Heron Suzuki G.Bs team manager was mortified. I probably had an advantage because it lashed down with rain and I was running Dunlop TT 100 tyres, which all production bikes used in those days.

        Having raced everything from 125s to 750s in the T.T. including some of the best Ron Williams Maxton Yamaha’s. In 1977 I had two 250’s and two 350’s one of each for myself and Charlie Williams who I sponsored and won the 77 250 for me, and 2nd in the 1000 classic, and 2nd in the 250 in 78. The T500 was probably the most reliable T.T. machine I owned. T.T. retirements were down to silly things, such as in the 1975 ten lap production race when a loose condensor wire dropped us from 1st on the last lap to 5th and again in 76 when again after changing riders and re-fuelling on the 6th lap Ian had a split petrol tank at the bottom of Bray Hill.

        The only reason I sold the bike in 1978 was because with the T.T. dropping production racing and super fast Yamaha TZ 350s and 750s and RG500s in the open classes and no hope of getting better than a 95mph lap out of the bike I had switched to Maxton Yamaha’s.

        The T500 was a great bike with a great history.

         Tom Loughridge

         

        Tom Loughridge’s Race Days – Photo Gallery

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        Tom Herron’s last race – 1979 Northwest 200 – RG500

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        The late Tom Herron – one of Ulster’s great road racers

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        Joey Dunlop, Connor McGinn, Tom Loughridge, 1978

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        The late John Williams

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        Tom Loughridge – 1979 – 350 Maxton Yamaha

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        Tom Loughridge Racing- 1977 –  Maxton Yamahas – Charlie Williams

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        Tom Loughridge – 1968 –  TSS125  Bultaco – IOM

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        Travelling Marshalls – 1968 –  Jack Harding and ALbert Moule – IOM

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        Tom’s first race – Snetterton 

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        Tom’s TSS125 Bultaco – 1968 IOM 

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        Tom Herron, Charlie Wlliams, Ian Richards  – 1977 IOM

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        Tom and 125 MV Agusta 

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        Bob Heath, Pat Walsh – 1967 IOM

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        Tom’s Velocette KTT MkVIII

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        John Williams – 1975 – 354 Yamaha – Brno

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        Stan Woods – 1975 – Suzuki TR750

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        Charlie Williams, John Williams, Tom Loughridge – 1977

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        Tom Loughridge – 1967 – 250 Aermacchi

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        Start of the Southern 100 – 1974 – 250

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        Charlie Williams – 1977 – 250 Maxton Yamaha

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        Tom – 1978 – 250 Maxton Yamaha – IOM

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        Tom – 1981 – 250 Maxton Yamaha – IOM

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        Tom – 1980 – 250 Maxton Yamaha – IOM

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        Tom – the gentleman horseman

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        Charlie Williams – 7 times IOM TT winner

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        John Williams

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        Charlie Williams

        All pictures and text are copyright and are the property of Tom Loughridge
        Source code and page design copyright Murray Barnard Perth Western Australia 2001

        No part of this site may be copied and duplicated without express permission of the copyright owners.

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