The 1980s

Classic Racer - - CLASSIC RACER MARKING TIME -

Or­gan­is­ers re­sponded by re­mov­ing the Shell Hill Bridge sec­tion, an iconic part of the orig­i­nal course, with a new link road from Univer­sity Cor­ner to Ballysally Round­about be­ing in­tro­duced for 1980.That brought the cir­cuit length down to 8.9 miles but tragedy con­tin­ued to dog the event though, Mervyn Robin­son suc­cumb­ing to in­juries sus­tained at Mathers Cross that year which al­most re­sulted in close friend Joey Dun­lop quit­ting the sport.

How­ever, the meet­ing con­tin­ued to at­tract the best Bri­tain had to of­fer and although only Kawasaki had at­tended in the 1970s the Honda and Suzuki fac­tory teams turned up in the 1980s, although pri­va­teers still had their mo­ments with 1980 see­ing a ti­tanic Su­per­bike race go the way of new­comer Keith Huewen by the width of the tyre af­ter a race-long bat­tle with fel­low 750ccyamah­a rider John New­bold.

The 1980s and 90s saw nu­mer­ous short cir­cuit rac­ers, like Huewen, sam­ple road rac­ing for the first time. In spite of it be­ing a public road race with un­be­liev­able speeds be­ing at­tained along the coun­try roads, its rel­a­tively short length and lay­out meant it was more straight­for­ward to learn and rid­ers could be on the pace al­most im­me­di­ately with­out hav­ing to do the much recog­nised three-year ‘ap­pren­tice­ship’ of thett. Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship teams also found the lo­gis­tics to be more in their favour.

Huewen, Niall Macken­zie, Gra­ham Wood, Andy Watts and Kevin Mitchell all hit great heights, es­pe­cially Wood, around the ‘Tri­an­gle’ in the 1980s, even though they rarely raced on any other road cir­cuit.

Fu­ture world 500cc cham­pion Wayne Gard­ner also com­peted in 1982, tak­ing fifth in the open­ing Su­per­bike race be­fore Honda Bri­tain pulled out of the rest of the meet­ing af­ter a tragic crash in­volv­ing New­bold which hap­pened just yards from where Her­ron had crashed three years ear­lier.

The two crashes prompted or­gan­is­ers to make a change to the course and a chi­cane was in­tro­duced the fol­low­ing year, just be­fore the ap­proach to the Ju­niper Hill cor­ner. Now a fully-fledged mem­ber of the works Honda team, Dun­lop took two vic­to­ries that year with Wood tak­ing the first of his two Su­per­bike vic­to­ries as well.

Rid­ing the Dtr/fowler Yama­has, the Scun­thorpe rider had taken a podium in his de­but year in 1982 and in the 10 races that he com­peted in from then un­til 1985, he chalked up a su­perb record – two wins, two sec­onds, three thirds and two fourths, only a re­tire­ment in the 1985 fea­ture NW200 Su­per­bike race blot­ting his oth­er­wise ex­em­plary copy­book.

Watts was an­other to en­joy good times around the­tri­an­gle, tak­ing two wins and two sec­ond place fin­ishes be­tween 1984 and 1986, whilst Macken­zie was on the podium in both 1984 and 85.

Roger Mar­shall fi­nally claimed his first NW200 vic­tory in 1985, but by 1988 Dun­lop led the wins ta­ble with a to­tal of 13. He had to play sec­ond fid­dle that year to Steve Cull who took a hat-trick of wins, in­clud­ing both Su­per­bike races. The sec­ond of those was noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous as Cull slid off aty­ork Cor­ner on the fi­nal lap only to reel in and over­haul Dun­lop in the clos­ing stages.

1988 also saw a sec­ond chi­cane added, this time at the start/fin­ish in order to re­duce speeds fur­ther around Prim­rose Hill as well as al­low­ing safer ac­cess to the pit­lane.

Keith Huewen.

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