An ex-War Department BSA and a boyhood trip to the Isle of Man fired the ambitions of this year's Manx Motor Cycle Club Guest of Honour, 1968 Lightweight Race winner Frank Whiteway.
For a boy who grew up on a farm in Cumbria, with parents who thought motorcycles were the devil's creation, bikes, racing and the Isle of Man were all an extremely distant prospect. But after his uncle acquired the ancient 350cc side-valve BSA in the 1950s, his imagination was fired.
“I remember going with him to pick it up when it was delivered to the local station, all wrapped up in canvas sheeting,”
he said. “I think it just triggered a little spark in my mind that motorcycles could be fun. We lived on top of a hill and my friends and I used to take our bicycles to the top and ride down at full pelt to see what time we could do it in - no helmets or protective gear. It's unbelievable we never hurt ourselves”
Later, he remembers going with a schoolfriend's family to the Isle of Man and seeing Bob McIntyre racing. They both watched and said, "we've just got to do that one day", and from that day on, everything was aimed at going back to ride in the Manx.
In fact, his friend made it to the Island first to compete on a Norton in 1963, but the following year was Frank's turn. “I was working for Eddie Crooks' shop in Barrow at the time. Eddie had won the Manx in 1959 so he was supportive. I was his workshop manager and really keen to have a go.”
In 1964, he competed on a Tiger Cub - fast enough to learn the course but not quick enough to get into trouble, he said. He remembers doing endless laps, until the engine packed up. Eddie agreed to support him the next year with a Greeves Silverstone production racer.
'It had brilliant speed and power but a weak gearbox. In fact the crank broke on the first lap of the race on the Mountain Mile” he said. “All that work, time and effort, all for nothing. I was on the point of giving up.”
Then in 1966 along came an imported Suzuki T250 Super Six.
“That was a beautiful bike. Not super fast, but capable of about 90mph. It never missed a beat and I won 11th replica. In the early days it was just fun, but of course by 1967 things had become a bit more serious,”
"We got the first of the Suzuki TR250 production racers and I got the fastest practice lap on one at over 90mph.”
Victory eluded him that year as he had to make a fuel stop on the three-lap race whereas the winner did not. Victory did finally come in 1968.
After his Manx win, 1969 and 1970 were TT years where he scored a second place in the 1969 Production race and he was also named "best newcomer" that year. “They got a message to us just as we were putting the van on the boat and I had to rush back to the Villa Marina to collect the trophy,” he remarked.
In 1970, the win came in the five-lap 500cc Production race. “I just romped home, it turned out to be quite an easy win” he said. The 1970 event claimed several riders' lives, including those of some of his friends, so Frank decided to retire. “I had won a Manx and a TT so I thought it was time to give up,” he said.
Frank remains good friends with Eddie Crookes' son Martin, who still runs the same shop in Barrow. He's a keen golfer and is also involved with the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club. At 77, he still has several bikes, including a Suzuki Beamish 325 trials bike, a ZX750R Kawasaki and a 1968 T250 Suzuki. For 25 years he lectured engineering before taking early retirement.
Of his years competing in the Island he has mainly fond memories and just a few terrifying ones. “I did fall off at Governor's Bridge one year but I remounted quickly and carried on finishing fifth. I thought I had got away without being noticed then a photograph appeared in one of the magazines of me landing on my head.” commented Frank.
Frank still comes over to the Isle of Man from time to time with his wife Dorothy and enjoys an occasional ride around the course. “The Manx Grand Prix is just a marvellous event and long may it continue,” he remarked.