It is worth pointing out at this stage that none of the riders was suggesting that the TT should be banned because of its dangers. That was and still is an emotive subject, and one which is still discussed to this day whenever riders die on the Island – which they still do and, given the very nature of the Mountain course, probably always will. But in 1972, no-one was demanding the banning of the entire event. The riders doing the complaining at that time were simply asking the FIM to remove the race from the World Championship calendar. Their point was, that the need for professional GP riders to spend two weeks practicing and racing around the world’s longest (at 37.75 miles) and most dangerous course in order to pursue valuable Championship points was a situation that needed to be taken out of their career equation. This was a point that had actually been raised two years previously. The rider who did so was none other than the forthright Australian, Kel Carruthers, the 1969 World 250 Champion and the winner of the 250 TT in both 1969 and 1970. During the course of his Grand Prix career, Kel rode in 19 TT races between 1966 and 1970. Of those races he failed to finish seven times but his TT credit balance was massively weighted in his favour thanks to those two wins in 1969 and 70, plus a second, a third and three other top six places. In the dozen TT races that he did finish, he never placed lower than 12th. It was a TT record of which anyone could justifiably be proud and Kel certainly is. When I interviewed him for a Yamaha documentary film at the Classic TT in 2013, he had no hesitation in naming his TT wins as the race successes of which he is most proud. “You win a TT and it really is something special,” he said. Nevertheless, the Australian has never been afraid to speak his mind and in 1970 had been the first star rider to speak out against the TT and question whether it should be part of the World Championship. That was the year in which Kel and his fellow Yamaha rider, Rod Gould had been engaged in a three-way battle for the World 250cc Championship along with Spanish star, Santiago Herrero on the unfeasibly fast single-cylinder OSSA. It was a battle that came to a tragic end when Herrero crashed to his death in the TT after unexpectedly encountering a patch of molten tar in the challenging left-hand corner at the 13th milestone on the sixth and final lap of the race, while in third place behind Carruthers and Gould. Six riders were tragically killed during practicing and racing in 1970 – an horrendous death toll which led to Carruthers very publicly and courageously speaking out at the prize-giving ceremony and stating his opinion that the TT should no longer have a place in World Championship racing. He backed his opinion with his actions and never competed in the TT again. In fact, after narrowly losing his world title to Rod Gould in 1970 he left the GP circus, moved to Southern California and established another equally successful – and probably more lucrative – career as both a rider and eventually team manager with Yamaha USA.
“IT WAS A BATTLE THAT CAME TO A TRAGIC END WHEN HERRERO CRASHED TO HIS DEATH IN THE TT AFTER UNEXPECTEDLY ENCOUNTERING A PATCH OF MOLTEN TAR.”