THE TOMMY CLUB
It was in 1989 when the first 120mph lap of the Mountain Course was set, the late, great Steve Hislop achieving the landmark speed unofficially during practice for that year’s Isle of Man TT Races and then officially in the opening World Championship Formula One race.
His best lap that day was 121.34mph which, at the time, was just over 7mph quicker than the lap record at the sister Manx Grand Prix, local rider Phil Hogg lapping at 114.02mph during the 1988 Senior race.
History shows that a six mph increase in lap speed around the 37.73-mile circuit takes, on average, eight years to occur so, in theory, after Hislop’s record-breaking feats we were looking at the 120mph barrier being broken at the Manx towards the end of the 1990s.
However, although the lap record at the September event steadily crept up during that decade, with Tom Knight, Nigel Davies, Adrian Archibald and Colin Breeze all taking turns as the lap record holder, the wait turned out to be longer than anticipated
With the new millennium fully underway, Mick Skene and Paul Duckett both lapped at more than 119mph in 2002 and 2003 respectively and in 2004 the magical 120mph mark was finally broken at the Manx, some 15 years after Hislop’s similar achievement at the TT.
Former Isle of Man footballer Tommy Clucas was a late starter on two wheels, not making his race debut until the age of 32 in 2000 but when he had his first competitive outing at Jurby that year, it was all done with one thing in mind – to race at the Manx Grand Prix.
The Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 delayed it for a year, but Tommy’s ambition was finally realised in 2002 when he finished in an excellent second place in the Newcomer’s race, behind Raymond Porter, and seventh in the Junior.
His fastest lap that year was an impressive 113.96mph, which he increased to 117.96mph in 2003 but there was disappointment that year as he was forced to retire from both the Senior and Junior races after mechanical issues with the ex-V&M R6 Yamaha.
Two bronze replicas were won though in the two Production Races at the TT and in an extremely short space of time, the Peel rider was making huge strides forward and after a successful partnership with Chris Preston at PC Racing, Tommy struck a deal with Martin Bullock Motorsport for 2004.
Riding the team’s CBR600RR Honda, Tommy was running as high as seventh at one stage in the Production 600cc TT before finishing an excellent 11th – ahead of the previous year’s winner Shaun Harris, Richard Britton and Martin Finnegan – to win a silver replica and then took third places finishes at both the Steam Packet Races and Southern 100, both times finishing behind Guy Martin and Ryan Farquhar.
The year was going to plan and, with hopes high, Tommy came into the Manx Grand Prix favourite for honours in both the Junior and Senior races. He lived up to that billing in practice too, setting the fastest lap of the week at 119.19mph.
Conditions for the four-lap race on Wednesday 1st September 2004 were ideal and Clucas immediately grabbed the lead. It was clear he was on a rapid lap and indeed, he was.
Just as Hislop had made history 15 years earlier from a standing start, Tommy did the same too and went into the Manx GP history books, flashing across the line at the end of the first lap at 18m49.2s, 120.28mph. The landmark speed had finally been broken.
To put the record-breaking lap into perspective, the Supersport lap record at the time was 122.98mph and his speeds would have seen him finish in the top ten at that year’s TT.
Wearing his distinctive Three Legs of Mann helmet, it gave Tommy an 11 second lead and, number one on the road, his rapid pace continued second time around. Just for good measure, he exceeded 120mph again on lap two and, amazingly, it was an almost identical time and speed to his opening lap, 18m49.3s, 120.27mph.
His lead extended to 18.5s with Dean Silvester now in second and at the end of lap three, he’d added another second to his advantage. With one lap to go, the race win looked a formality. However, what should have been a fairy tale win with scenes of elation afterwards turned out to be the opposite with the race having a tragic ending.
With a comfortable lead, Clucas was halfway round his final lap when his Honda struck mechanical trouble and as he approached Ballaugh Bridge, smoke could be seen coming from the rear of the bike. Tommy was thrown off the ailing machine and hit the bales protecting the bridge with the bike striking him immediately afterwards.
Airlifted to hospital, he was listed as critical with serious injuries to his right leg and pelvis, and despite the best efforts of everyone at Noble’s Hospital, he succumbed to his injuries at 9.23pm that evening surrounded by his closest family and friends.
Tommy achieved an awful lot in his short career and he left his mark on many, not least with his ‘World Famous Diary’ which gave a poignant but always funny account of his racing activities. He was subsequently remembered in many ways, his family asking people to donate a pint of blood in his memory in recognition of the many pints that were used in trying to save his life.
Another was an idea that came from a combination of his family, friends and sponsor, Martin Bullock and continues to have an important place at the Manx Grand Prix today - ‘The Tommy Club’.
‘The Tommy Club’ was set up to recognise riders achieving a 120mph lap at the Manx Grand Prix, and to commemorate Tommy's historic achievement of becoming the first rider ever in the history of the Manx to lap at over 120mph.
The Manx Motor Cycle Club agreed to incorporate the award into the Senior Prize Giving Presentation each year and as and when there are new members, a member of Tommy's family presents the awards at the annual ceremony.
Each member receives one of the ‘factory’ Tommy baseball hats together with a Commemorative Certificate and special badge. The most recent ceremony, in 2019, saw Tommy’s niece Amy present the awards.
It was also decided that the Club would be extremely exclusive and there will only ever be a final total of 36 members, each member representing one year of Tommy's life.
With Tommy rightly taking the number one spot, the next places were taken by riders in the same 2004 meeting with Alan Jackson, Ian Pattinson and Davy Morgan engaged in a thrilling Senior race, lapping at 120.55mph, 120.42mph and 120.68mph respectively, the recently passed Morgan taking the outright lap record as he claimed victory by just 2.8s.
Since then, the following 22 riders have joined the exclusive club:
5. Seamus Greene (2005 Senior – 121.584)
6. Simon Fulton (2010 Senior – 120.119)
7. Malachi Mitchell-Thomas (2015 Senior – 122.221)
8. Billy Redmayne (2015 Senior – 121.021)
9. Andrew Dudgeon (2016 Junior – 120.212)
10. Tom Weeden (2016 Senior – 121.109)
11. Darren Cooper (2017 Junior – 120.018)
12. Michael Evans (2017 Junior – 120.619)
13. Glenn Harrison (2017 Junior – 120.129)
14. Barry Lee Evans (2017 Senior – 121.980)
15. Dean Osborne (2017 Senior – 120.709)
16. David Lumsden (2017 Senior – 120.956)
17. Matt Stevenson (2018 Senior – 120.264)
18. Steven Procter (2018 Senior – 120.579)
19. Andrew Farrell (2018 Senior – 120.247)
20. James Hind (2019 Junior – 121.773)
21. Nathan Harrison (2019 Junior – 120.556)
22. Stephen Smith (2019 Junior – 120.892)
23. Stephen Parsons (2019 Senior – 121.120)
24. Darryl Tweed (2019 Senior – 120.124)
25. Daniel Ingham (2019 Senior – 120.469)
26. Brad Vicars (2019 Senior – 121.193)
Over the last twenty years, the sport has changed considerably and the gulf in speeds between the TT and Manx has widened; what once saw a 5.06mph difference in the outright lap record now stands at 12.586mph.
And since Hislop set the first 120mph lap at the TT, the outright lap record at the June event has increased by 14.112mph compared to just 2.586mph at the Manx since Clucas’ memorable achievement.
For that reason, the 120mph lap is seen as the gauge for success at the Manx, just as the 130mph lap is now the benchmark at the TT. The respective speeds have only been achieved at the respective events by a select few and those riders are rightly revered for what they’ve achieved. And that’s why ‘The Tommy Club’ will forever have a special place at the Manx Grand Prix.