THE EYE-WIT­NESS AT THE CEN­TRE OF THE STORM

Classic Bike (UK) - - Best Tt Ever? -

Robin Miller was a 27-year-old local news­pa­per re­porter who scored a dream job in the late 1960s – he be­came Grand Prix re­porter for Mo­tor Cy­cle News dur­ing the era of the first Ja­panese tech­ni­cal wars. He worked among and so­cialised with the great fig­ures of the pe­riod, in­clud­ing Hail­wood, Agos­tini, Bill Ivy and Phil Read.

“It was an amaz­ing time, be­cause the en­gines of the fac­tory bikes were very so­phis­ti­cated, and ahead of For­mula One at that time in terms of bhp per litre (Denny Hulme won the 1967 F1 ti­tle in a three-litre Repco Brab­ham V8).

“There were five-cylin­der 125s and twin-cylin­der 50s. For­mula One wasn’t there. The TT was still a world cham­pi­onship race, and every rider had to be there. I re­mem­ber af­ter one early morn­ing prac­tice com­ing back into the Cas­tle Mona ho­tel in Dou­glas and see­ing Mike there at 8am play­ing the pi­ano – he loved mu­sic. He was ob­vi­ously re­cov­er­ing as he’d had a nar­row es­cape that morn­ing. He was say­ing: ‘F*** me, that was near’.

“The morn­ing prac­tice ses­sions then started at about 6am, so the rid­ers would be out of bed by 5.30am. There might be mist on the course, and the prob­lem of the sun right in their faces ap­proach­ing Sulby Bridge and other places, where they could barely see. Evening prac­tice started at 5 or 6pm. Rid­ers would get to bed at 11pm and get up at about five. Six hours sleep is quite enough for most peo­ple.

“Wrestling that big Honda around was phys­i­cally ex­traor­di­nar­ily de­mand­ing for Mike. It was a no­to­ri­ously bad han­dler. They went through all sorts of it­er­a­tions with frames by Ken Sprayson and Colin Lys­ter, but they never did get it right.

“It had so much power that it was a wrestling match that en­tire sea­son, and Mike was very un­happy with the bike at many of the cir­cuits. At the Bel­gian Grand Prix at Spa, which was an­other highly danger­ous track, he al­most threw the bike at the pit wall and said: ‘F***ing use­less thing.’

“It was es­pe­cially bad in the rain. They didn’t have wet and dry tyres then – they rode with the same tyre com­pound in wet or dry con­di­tions, and at the TT the tyres had to last for six laps be­cause there were no changes at pit stops.

“Did the rid­ers love the TT? In some ways they did. But I re­mem­ber Mike in his low mo­ments say­ing: ‘I wish they’d pull the plug on this place and let it sink into the Ir­ish Sea’. It was so danger­ous and so dif­fi­cult. But he loved it re­ally.

“He and Ago were the great­est of friends, but it was also a very con­fronta­tional sit­u­a­tion. It was al­ways Hail­wood v Agos­tini in the big race. No one else would get near them – there was a race for the mul­tis be­tween those two, and an­other one for the sin­gles.

“I’d take copies of MCN out to the Grands Prix, and when I knocked on Mike’s car­a­van he’d say: ‘Oh Miller, have you got a copy?’ I’d put the paper through the win­dow and go and talk to him. I en­joyed go­ing to the af­ter-race par­ties and get­ting drunk with the rest of them.

“I’m afraid I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly what we did on the night of the 1967 Se­nior TT. I think I drove out to some­one’s party that was be­ing held at a house some­where out­side Dou­glas with Mike and some oth­ers in a hire car. There was plenty of booz­ing go­ing on. Then they flew to Mal­lory Park on the Satur­day for the Posttt races on the Sun­day.”

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