Over the Moon
by Gary Charpentier
Tourist Trophy, or TT racing as it is more commonly known, has been my favorite form of motorsport for as long as I have been aware of it. This is the stuff which inspired the Rockers of the UK to invent Cafe Racing back in the early 1950s, and is universally acknowledged as the most dangerous sport in the entire world. This is real motorcycle roadracing, taking place on public roads, often no more than a few feet from obstacles like stone walls and brick buildings on the narrow-gauge roads of European towns. It has claimed the lives of many men over the years; most notably the quiet man from Balymoney, Ireland, Joey Dunlop. It’s most recent victim was another champion named David Jeffries.
Born on September 18th, 1972, David Jeffries came from a family steeped in TT history. His father, Tony, raced on the Isle of Man between 1969 and 1973, winning three TTs: the 1971 Formula 750 and Junior, and the 1973 Production 750cc Race. His uncle, Nick Jeffries, won the Manx Two-Day Trial in 1976, the Senior Manx Grand Prix, and the Formula One TT in 1993. Nick raced works bikes for Loctite Yamaha, Silkolene Honda, Castrol Honda, and Honda Britain to amass no less than 40 silver and 2 bronze TT Replicas during his legendary career. Finally, David’s grandfather, Allan, raced the TTs from 1947 to 1949, placing 2nd twice. But David eclipsed them all with 9 TT wins in three years, and other records as listed below:
*1st Senior TT
* 1st Formula 1 TT
* 1st Production1000 TT
* First rider to complete race laps at 125, 126 and 127 mph
* First rider to complete a sub 18 minute lap
* Only rider in the history of the TT to complete three consecutive Triple wins
* New Formula 1 lap record
* New Formula 1 race record
* New Production1000 lap record
* New Production 1000 race record
* New Senior and outright lap record
* New Senior race record
* 1st Winner of the Joey Dunlop Trophy, fastest aggregate time in Formula 1 & Senior TT
* 1st Rider to win the Formula 1 TT on a Suzuki since 1982
* 1st Rider to win the Senior TT on a Suzuki since 1983
* Outright Lap record holder at 127.29 mph
Mind boggling when you truly understand what sort of challenge this 37.73 mile course presents.
My first exposure to this young dynamo from Yorkshire was on a Duke Video recording of the 1999 Isle of Man TT Long Review, in which I saw David win his first Formula One TT race on a V&M Yamaha R1. He simply outclassed a talented field which included TT Hero, the late Joey Dunlop, on a works Honda RC45. He rode the mountain course with conspicuous abandon, pulling wheelies and catching air over the slightest pavement irregularities and setting a pace which nobody else could match, especially after King Joey had to change a tire in the pits.
After the race, a reporter asked him how he felt at that moment, and with a boyish grin he replied, “Oh, I’m just over the moon!”. Team owner Jack Valentine nearly broke into tears on-camera during his part of the post-victory interview. You could tell that these folks were like family and it was a truly heartwarming scene. David also won the Senior and Production TTs that year on V&M Yamahas, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
In 2000, he continued his winning ways with the V&M team, scoring wins in the Production, Senior, and Junior TTs. The TT was canceled in 2001 due to the foot-and-mouth disease scare, but 2002 saw David riding for the TAS Suzuki team on the new GSXR1000, and scoring his best TT results ever with wins in the Formula One, Senior, and Production TTs on the scary-fast Gixxers. Coming into 2003, he seemed unstoppable and certain to add to his Herculean list of accomplishments. But on Thursday’s practice, something went horribly wrong as he flashed through the little village of Crosby…
The investigation has not concluded as of this writing, so I can only report what I have read. David Jeffries, on his second lap of practice, crashed into a “telegraph pole” near Crosby at a speed believed to be over 150 mph. Longtime TT rival, Jim Moodie was following close enough behind that he became entangled in the telephone wire and suffered injuries to his neck which prevented him from competing in some of the early races on the schedule. There has been no published speculation as to the cause of the crash, but TT fans are fearing another round of “Ban the TT” debate by Island residents who oppose these events. It seems that every running of these historic races takes it’s toll in dead or maimed racers, as the speeds increase and the margin of error narrows every year. TT racing is more dangerous than it’s closed-course counterpart by its very nature, taking place on public roads with very little in the way of run-off room or impact protection. Spectators line the course, in some places only a few feet away from the bikes flashing past at speeds approaching 190 mph. But that’s a large part of it’s appeal.
In this age of mandated safety for political purposes, the demise of TT racing is a very real possibility, and that would be a shame. The racers know better than anyone the risks involved, yet they keep coming back year after year. Perhaps it was David Jeffries himself who best put it in perspective in a recent interview with “Roving Reporter”, Larry Carter…
David Jeffries: “No one is forcing me to go, I’m doing it completely off my own back. I enjoy doing it, the people around me know I enjoy doing it, and it’s something I want to do. There are so many things in life that you aren’t allowed to do for some pathetic reason that some bloke in a suit has decided because it’s dangerous or some other reason. Road racing is dangerous, no two ways about it, but I would like to think I ride within my limits. I do everything I can to eliminate many of the risks and make myself as safe as possible.” …and later, “There will probably come a point when some Eurocratic person in Parliament or wherever says that it’s too dangerous and then it will be banned, but until then we have to promote it responsibly, make it as safe as we can and if you don’t want to do it then don’t. But leave those who do to enjoy it as best they can. It pisses me off when people start slagging it off when there’s no need. Just walk away and return to watching people cross the street or doing traffic surveys or whatever they do. You’ve got to realize that this is more than a passion or a job, people mortgage their houses to enable themselves to compete, and I believe if you’re passionate enough to make sacrifices, you should be allowed to do it.”
Well said, David. My sincere condolences go out to your family, friends, and thousands of fans worldwide. I hope you are sitting in some ethereal pub, somewhere “over the moon”, chatting with Joey Dunlop, Barry Sheene, and Mike Hailwood, just waiting for your pit crew to ready the bike for your first run at the “Valhalla TT”. Godspeed, David Jeffries.