Forty years ago this week Lancashire speed king Alan Jackson won the first of three TT crowns. Tom Preece reports
Back in 1907 the Isle of Man TT was staged for the first time on the island.
It was the start of a truly revolutionary time for British motorsport as technology developed and
vehicles became more advanced and powerful.
One man who knows all about machine power is Longton’s Alan Jackson who, at the age of 30, won the Isle of Man TT 40 years ago this week.
Jackson only started racing 10 years prior to his maiden TT win.
In a 1977 interview with the Lancashire Evening Post he explained: “I began riding ordinary bikes in racing trim and I used to go to race meetings. Eventually, I just started racing. Oulton Park in Cheshire was my first attempt.”
It took another four years for Jackson to build on his 15th place finish in Cheshire when he won the Manx Grand Prix on the Isle of Man in 1975. This meant that he was no longer eligible to race in the MGP again, as previous champions must progress to the full TT race.
A move upwards to Formula Two was the outcome and an offer from Bill Head, a renowned Preston motorcycle dealer, was put on the table and Jackson accepted. The new team aimed to compete for the title in the 600cc class of the 1977 Isle of Man TT.
As they prepared for the gruelling race, team member John Carr underlined the hard graft they endured to ensure Jackson had a machine
worthy of the world’s greatest motor event. He recalled: “One late evening, early morning, probably in mid-May 1977, and bearing in mind the TT practice race began in late May, the team were assembled in the workshop.
“Those present consisted of Bill Head, Jim Kenyon sales, mechanic David Baxter and myself and all we had was a bench full of parts, a frame with some wheels and nowt else.
“I remember saying, ‘I think it will be ready!’”
After securing one of six Honda-modified engines available in the country, Bill Head Honda began to look like a formidable outfit with chances of winning the trophy.
Bill Head was spurred on by the arrival of the Honda engine, believing it would give Jackson the chance he deserved on a top motorcycle.
Although, former international TT racer Jim Kenyon, who was brought in as the team manager, revealed the team didn’t even know the speed of the bike before the practice sessions.
“We don’t know what speed the bike is capable of as we hadn’t calculated the revs,” he said. “The first test of potential will be when the engine is shipped to the Isle of Man for the practice.”
After completing the race scot-free, Jackson set a new record lap, as he soared to speeds of 101mph on his Honda, setting a lap time of one hour and 31 minutes.
Alan described the torturous race, which has claimed many lives along the years, as “exhilarating”.
“One of the most thrilling moments is coming over Bray Hill at 140mph and landing on your back wheel halfway down the road,” he said.
Mental strength is a composite part of the race says Jackson, who told the LEP in 1977 that the biggest challenge is “with yourself” as racers are staggered 10 seconds apart, meaning the majority of the race is spent alone to one’s thoughts.
He came out of the race the eventual winner and even swooped in to capture the overall Formula Two championship, an accolade that may not have been possible for some time had Bill Head not stepped in with investment.
Original plans had set the team up for the 1976 race but the entry was rejected and the reasons were never disclosed, but that did not deter the daring duo as they were granted entry in 1977 and then stormed to a further two titles in the following years.
The second title win was foreshadowed a year beforehand as the victorious Jackson declared: “If dedication and will to win count for anything then Preston will be piling praise on a double world champion in 1978.”
In addition to the 600cc race, Jackson also entered the 500cc and 250cc categories but failed to reproduce his earlier form, finishing outside the top 10 in both outings.
The team also entered a 400cc Honda from their team depot in Longridge, prepared by their team manager, John Carr.
As Jackson went on to win at the Isle of Man four times in three years, the victories were celebrated by the team and the local biking community which Bill Head described as “a very tight-knit fraternity”.
It set a precedent for motorcyclists in Preston, and the community of motorcycle enthusiasts grew amid the increasing popularity for the sport.
Upon the retirement of Alan Jackson, the racing dynasty continued, as both of his sons raced in both the Manx and TT series. Andy and Alan Jackson Jr. both competed at the Isle of Man TT, with Alan Jr. winning the 750cc production race in 2003. He then smashed the outright lap record at the Manx Grand Prix in 2005 hitting speeds of 122mph, a record which stood for 10 years.
After finishing racing because of injuries, Alan Jr. focused on the Jackson Racing team that was made famous by his father in the 1970s.
Under Jackson Jr. the team went from strength-to-strength, working with world-class riders like Morecambe’s John McGuinness who has picked up a string of wins at the Isle of Man TT.
Alongside road racing, the team have also been competing in the FIM Endurance World Championships in partnership with Honda Motor Europe.
The partnership has been long standing between Honda and the team. Bill Head
secured the first Honda agency all the way back in 1959 and worked with them right up until his retirement due to ill health in 2006.
The Lancashire motorcycle businessman was instrumental in the team’s success and, without him, the lucrative Honda partnership that led to the Jackson legacy may not have gained momentum.
Team manager, Jim Kenyon, underlined the importance of the motorcycle magnate describing him as “the main man”.
He described how they would work on the bike day and night until it was complete and when Alan was on board as the rider, he would help too.
“When Alan came on board he would always help out, he was a great welder, so he did all that, I fitted the engine into the frame,” he added.