Radar Part 2: On the roads
The other part of his professional life saw Dave ‘Radar’ Cullen get out on the roads working for the likes of Crosby under the watchful eye (literally) of Pops Yoshimura.
Dave ‘Radar’ Cullen was a new arrival at Suzuki GB in the spring of 1979. While building an engine in their Croydon shops, he was told that the engine he was currently working on was for Mike Hailwood. “I didn’t realize what they were on about when it sort of dawned on me that Mike must be riding a Suzuki at the Isle of Man. So, I did the Isle of Man with Hailwood.”
Racing on the roads was an incredibly dangerous occupation, as at the previous year’s TT in 1978, Pat Hennen had his career ending accident on the Suzuki GB machine. Radar’s big opportunity had also come in the immediate wake of Tom Herron’s death riding a Texaco Heron Suzuki GB bike at the NW 200. Radar: “The Suzuki highlight was probably Hailwood’s win in the Senior TT. Mike was a really great guy – there was no superstar stuff and he would call and see us on his way out in the evening. He’d drop in just to see how things were going and we really did enjoy working with him. “Practice went pretty good and we put in the good race engine but it smoked. It had pushed the spring off the main oil seal beyond the drive gear, and it’s one of those things where once you press the gear on you can’t see. We had to pull it out, strip down the engine and put some other cranks in. We worked through the night, went straight to the race and he won, so that was pretty good. It was all a bit surreal, like being intoxicated when all you really wanted was a bit of sleep.
“Ray Battersby was doing a really good story called ‘Suzuki Sayonara’ about Hailwood and he was in the garage with us covering the trials and tribulations. He wrote how there was ‘Rex and Martyn and a mechanic… I’m not sure his name but they call him Radar.’” That same year, Graeme Crosby had his debut at the Isle of Man on the Moriwaki Kawasaki and he brought a certain Kiwi flair to the proceedings. “It was a bit hard getting up at six in the morning and tearing off into the fog and mist. But that’s what it was like in those days. It would be pissing with rain, pushing off and away I’d go, and coming over the mountain go back on instruments. But that was the TT and I had such a ball, it was just party time the whole time. There’s also a serious side to it, and I wouldn’t for one moment say that there wasn’t, but I would say I was more on the party side of it. That’s how I dealt with it and it was good.” Crosby left a distinct impression from the moment TT week started. In the F1 TT, he finished fourth behind the Honda trio of Alex George, Charlie Williams, and Ron Haslam. Behind Croz in fifth place was Mike Hailwood on the Ducati. As ever, Crosby was quickly up to pace on even this most challenging of circuits. For 1980, Graeme Crosby signed for Suzuki GB and Radar was now his mechanic. At the TT in 1980, Crosby was riding the 500 for the Senior TT and in practice the oversize tank came down onto the spark plugs and started shocking Graeme to where he couldn’t hang on. Radar: “We had a 42l or 43l tank to get three laps out of them. It was 90-100lbs of weight and when he came down to the bottom of Bray Hill the tank mounts flattened out and lit him up a bit. He had to let go of the bars apparently, which must have been interesting at the bottom of Bray Hill. But he had just come out of the pits, so he wouldn’t have been going flat out, nah… there was a little bit of leeway (laughs).” Perhaps less ‘shocking’, Joey Dunlop similarly had an eight-gallon tank on his Yamaha and had his tank straps break in the race, which must have
been fun trying to hold 70lbs worth of tank and fuel in place with his knees around the TT course. Graeme: “He did a good job to hold onto that.” For 1980 the Hondas were planning on running their bikes in the F1 TT on a single stop, versus the two stops the Suzuki required. Croz: “We thought that maybe there was something in it as they had carburettors that are maybe a little more fuel efficient, but not to the extent that they should be able to do three laps.” As it turned out, fuel capacity was a big challenge in the 1980 F1 TT Honda. Radar: “In the F1 TT, it appeared that the Honda was struggling to make it, judging by the evidence of ping pong balls and whatever else ended up inside their fuel tank somehow. To be honest, we [mechanics] weren’t all that involved in the politics of it, helping out with the TT and mostly looking after the chassis. Rex and Oggy would have handled any protests, but it was a war with Honda. Pops (Yoshimura) turned up there with his wife and one of his daughters. He was very enthusiastic about it, and he got a lot of team spirit going with his cursing at Honda.”
Barry Symmons was managing the Honda Team and they weren’t averse to trying creative solutions to fuel capacity problems. Barry: “A couple of years later at the 250 Production race, we stored our fuel in a deep freeze. We put it into the bike on the start line. You know how when you fill up an oxygen tank the lines get frost on the outside? Well, this happened to the tank and Roger Burnett was riding and by the time he got to the bottom of Bray Hill, not only were his bollocks frozen, but there was petrol coming out the breather pipe, as the fuel was heating up and starting to expand. “To confirm the inadequacy of the ACU fuel test, in 1992, when I took the Nortons to the TT for Steve Hislop (winner) and Robert Dunlop, we took the two fuel tanks to the IOM Trading standards offices in Douglas. They measured both tanks and we paid for test certificates. Both tanks were just under 24l and after the Senior race win by Hislop the ACU measured Steve’s tank. Their result was 21l! That firmly convinced me, if convincing was necessary, that they could not measure a pint in a brewery.” After crossing the finish line, winning the Formula 1 TT, Mick Grant was banging furiously on the tank of his Honda to reduce the capacity after crossing the finish line. Croz: “After you cross the start line at the end of the race, of course you pull off to the left into this little back road and pull in. Well, there in that little back road is Mick Grant, who is bashing away at his fuel tank. It didn’t actually dawn on me what that was about.” At the end of the day, the protest filed by Gordon Pantall (privateer and former Crosby Moriwaki patron from 1979) was disallowed and Honda kept their victory in the 1980 F1 TT, Grant winning by about 11sec over Crosby, with Mcclements a further two seconds back on his Honda. Although Suzuki had lost their fuel capacity protest against Honda, they rebounded to win the Senior TT by almost a minute, making Radar’s bike two for two in winning that most prestigious of races. Suzuki had finished one, two, three, four, ahead of Tony Rutter’s Yamaha in fifth. It had been a big year for Crosby and Radar. The Formula 1 TT championship was decided based upon the IOM TT and the Ulster GP. Joey Dunlop was now on the Suzuki team and with Dunlop and Crosby running one-two ahead of Mick Grant, Joey slowed, allowing Croz into first, securing the F1 TT Championship for Graeme Crosby and Suzuki GB. Radar recounts a few of the highlights: “Graeme won the 500 British Championship, the TT Championship for F1 and a few other things.” At the 1981 Formula 1 TT, things reached boiling point between Suzuki and Honda. Martyn Ogborne: “For 1981, Crosby’s team-mate was Mick Grant. There were Crosby’s spare wheel spares and Grant’s spare wheels. Dunlop was trying a new tyre. They were a little scared, as the TTF1 bikes were big and they had brought out tubeless tyres for the Isle of Man, where we had always run tubes. They’d done tubeless tires for the bikes at Daytona, but not at the Isle of Man. We had both the bikes there in park fermé on their stands, and when the first bike was pushed off the paddock stand, the tyre had lost all its air and it popped off the rim. There was 15min to go, so they got a huge oxygen bottle to try and get the tyre to ride up the well of the rim and seal. They failed… They could not get the tyre to seat on the rim. One of the mechanics said to change the wheel, and in the panic they picked up the
other rider’s spare wheel. It was Grant’s spare wheel, and Mick was running completely different gearing. So, it was me on the grid and I looked down without 20sec to go, and saw the chain almost literally dragging on the floor.” Dave (Junior) Collins was struggling with the sprocket swap, including the panic when the rear wheel nut rolled off and went missing. In the end, the bike wasn’t ready for the grid slot for #18, as assigned to Crosby. Martyn Ogborne found there was a gap in the grid and wanted to put the bike into the available slot. Martyn: “It was something like 29/30 and the grid was empty. So, up we came and again the start line official put his hand on the front nose cone of the bike and said, ‘you’re not going’. Graeme Crosby confirms the sprocket problem and tyre choices created the chaos: “There were inclement weather conditions and we were ready to go dry, intermediate, or full wet and made the decision but we had the wrong sprocket on one of the wheels. So, we said to the officials, ‘is it okay if we’re not going to start here, and if we could actually start a little farther back, whenever a spot becomes available?’ … as someone had vacated position 22 or something like that. And that was approved. Somewhere along the line my allocated spot went, and another official came along and told me… ‘No, you have to start in the back.” Barry Symmons: “They tried to push the bike into a few different places, but they were told by Colin Armes that they weren’t allowed to do that and had to start at the back of the grid, which he then did.” Martyn Ogborne: “I was s**ting bricks that he would go down Bray Hill and clean himself out, as there was steam coming out of his ear holes as he could not understand why he was not being allowed to start.” Radar: “I missed all that action, it was probably the only race where I went out signalling to the other side of the island somewhere along Sulby Straight (to keep Croz updated with his position). I never heard too much because the other guys don’t tell you too much about how they f**ked up. Nobody knew exactly who was where and that was the confusing part. We were connected by radio listening to the broadcast as well and no one on the radio knew exactly who was where either. “After a couple of laps I just stood out there and held my arms out saying ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’ Croz went by and looked back with his left hand off the bar kind of saying ‘Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on either!’ After the race there was so much crap going on, that what happened at the start never got brought up to me. As far as I could see, if you started later you could finish later, as it was all based upon time.” If one just looked at the time on course, Crosby was two minutes faster than Ron Haslam, who was initially credited with the victory. Steve Parrish: “Bear in mind that Crosby had to pass lots of slow riders. Most of the top guys don’t want to be lower than 10th, or 12th. If you catch someone through the Glen Helen section, you will be behind them for three miles. Generally, that’s how the TT would work, the organisers know who the fast guys are and who the slow guys are.” In this case they put the fastest guy behind every single rider, which is a deadly business regardless of what the rulebook says. Croz blew through all the backmarkers but the question came down to what the time penalty would be, if any. Honda was telling leader Ron Haslam that he had a big lead, so of course Ron started taking fewer chances and was focused upon just bringing it home. Ron Haslam: “Find the rulebook and you’ll see. I was upset at the time, but I believe in my mind that I won that race. The organisers… how can they do that, when all the other teams think he’s lost this time?” Even Leon Haslam (who hadn’t been born yet) can’t resist chiming in: “He was just cruising around…” Graeme: “So, I won the TT F1 race after the podium ceremony. When they adjusted the penalty time it put me ahead of Haslam.” Steve Parrish: “Barry Symmons at Honda didn’t have him (Crosby) in the equation at all. I don’t think he was getting any updates. Almost certainly it would have confused the timekeepers under the circumstances. They sorted it out in the end, but I know Symmons was cross because he had ruled Crosby out.” The reality was that the protest was over the incorrect time penalty assigned to Crosby as the time penalty, if any was given, certainly should not have been six minutes, as Croz did not start on the front row. With the rows flagged away at 10sec intervals, where Graeme had started was in position #60, which was not six minutes behind starting spot #18 (90sec after the front row departed). Ogborne: “To get Crosby to win that race had nothing to do with Honda, and said nothing about Honda. The protest said: ‘The time penalty given to Graeme Crosby is incorrect,’ as I wrote it.” Tensions quickly escalated after Crosby was declared the winner and the next confrontation was the prize-giving in Douglas. As if all the Honda v Suzuki venom wasn’t enough, the fans started to get into the act as well. Croz: “They created this huge divisional Suzuki v Honda thing, same as the year before.” Martyn Ogborne: “There were some guys who had way too much to drink that were Ron Haslam fanatics.” The prize-giving for the F1 TT was threatening to become a Manx version of an English soccer riot. Was the situation less obvious to the Honda team, not being the target of the venom? Symmons: “Quite possibly, and these things do get a bit heated at times, so we left fairly quickly. What happened afterwards is everyone would go on drinking because there was nothing to do. At the TT we suggested they have a band or something after the prize presentation was over… at least the music would have drowned out the punching.
“A similar thing happened at the Ulster Grand Prix when Roger Marshall overtook Joey on the back side of the circuit and scared himself silly. He came into the pits and from 100 yards down the road and said he was going to put in a protest against Joey. It was all very public there and a number of people had heard what was going on. Both were riding for my same team then and I walked up to Roger and said ‘can we talk about this in the truck’. I told Roger there was no way we were going to file a protest against his team-mate. Joey and Roger gave their versions. I went outside and bunches of Roger fans and Joey fans were squaring up to each other, and one had another by the throat. The next morning, at the hotel in Belfast, somebody cut all the lines to the trailer because they thought we would favour one over the other.” Graeme had an incredible week, despite all the distractions. Honda’s subsequent black protest may have garnered much of the attention, but otherwise TT81 was a Suzuki year. In the Classic TT, Crosby led home team-mate Mick Grant by 30sec for a Suzuki one-two. The Senior TT was more of the same, as Mick Grant won by 21/2 minutes over Donny Robinson’s Yamaha, followed by the Suzukis of John Newbold, Alex George and Billy Guthrie. In the end, despite the team’s stunning success, Crosby had had enough of the contentious nonsense going on, and it was sucking the joy out of the racing for him. Looking back upon the short Crosby era at the TT (1979-81), one has to say that in the pantheon of quick learners and rapid riders, Graeme Crosby would be near the top of both lists. For the last time, the 1981 Formula TT championship was decided by only two events (in future years it was decided by as many as eight races), and again those races were the TT and the Ulster GP. Crosby won the F1 TT championship in 1981 for Suzuki GB. The following five seasons saw a sweep of the championship by Joey Dunlop on the factory Hondas, not beaten until Virginio Ferrari and Bimota did their best David v Goliath impression, beating Joey Dunlop and the might of Rothmans Honda with an advanced factory Bimota YB4-R Yamaha designed by the brilliant Federico Martini. Although Heron Suzuki continued to contend in F1 TT during those seasons, they were without Graeme Crosby and Radar Cullen, and although showing great speed at times, Suzuki never won another F1 TT championship. For 1982, Crosby and Radar were off to ride Yamaha for Agostini, it was the end of another legendary era for the TT. In 1998, Radar was back in Australia with Radar Team Yamaha, which was racing and developing the Yamaha R1. There were further connections to the Isle of Man TT that bore fruit when, in 1999, a heavily modified R1 defeated the might of the Honda factory and their armada of RC45S in the F1 TT. The headlines screamed how a production-based Yamaha R1 had defeated the million pound efforts of Honda’s factory specials. It was a shocking result when David Jeffries won the F1 TT to start off the week, and showing it was no fluke, his team-mate Iain Duffus finished third on his V&M R1, with Joey Dunlop second on the RC45. There were mitigating circumstances and it should be said that 1999 marked the end of the RC-45 era, the last year the factory ran these bikes in anger. Sadly, the Honda team had also suffered the loss of Simon Beck at the 33rd milestone in practice. Although RC45 mounted Jim Moodie shattered Carl Fogarty’s all-time lap record (from a standing start!) in the Senior TT, there was clearly a special combination at work between big Dave and his V&M R1. When Moodie used up the RC45’S rear tyre on lap two, from that point on it was all Jeffries, leading the way to a V&M R1 one-two finish. Radar: “I’ve had a suspension business, distributing Penske racing shocks until the internet killed that off. We developed the Penske shocks pretty early on, and they were sent back to the US for evaluation and then on to England. V&M (David Jeffries) was running our set-ups at the Isle of Man and it was a bit of a breakthrough at the time.” Jeffries had certainly benefitted from the efforts of Radar team Yamaha down under, with their Penske suspension developments. Although Radar’s days at the Isle of Man have been over for 18 years, his influence has continued to play a part in the results. Perhaps there may be yet another ‘Radar on the Roads’ era to play out someday in the future. One thing is certain. His influence will be felt at the front of the pack.
Far right: Graeme Crosby made his mark right from the start on the island
Left: Mick Grant in the TT mode.
Below: Crosby with Pops. Radar watches on from the mechanics’ place.
Above: Crosby at Waterworks on the Moriwaki.
Above: Radar and the team pull an all nighter in 1981. Not easy with Pops overseeing every spanner turn.