Over the years, when you associate one Celtic land with pure road racing and the Isle of Man TT, it’s normally the island of Ireland, with its rich and storied history of cultivating talent at places like Skerries, Dundrod, Kells and Portrush.
However, that means that we often tend to overlook the equally important contribution made by their near neighbours, with some of the greatest riders in TT history hailing not from the island of Ireland, but from a short hop across the Irish Sea in Scotland.
It’s a history that dates back to almost the earliest days of the TT, too, with brothers Jimmy and Alfie Alexander lining up for the fourth running of the event in 1910. They finished 13th and 22nd in a race won by Londoner Charlie Collier. Scottish interest in the TT would continue throughout the early years, but it wasn’t until 1923 that the first Scottish ‘great’ arrived on the Isle of Man.
That was the year a 26-year-old World War One veteran from Hawick in the Scottish Borders named Jimmy Guthrie first turned up for a crack at motorcycle racing’s ultimate challenge, kicking off what would become an incredible career.
Failing to finish the Junior TT on his Matchless machine, he then took a few years off from the Island, instead competing in and winning at Scottish championship level before returning for his first race finish in 1927, when he took his New Hudson to a magnificent second place in the Senior TT.
However, despite such a strong result at only the second time of asking, it didn’t see a reversal in Guthrie’s fortunes right away, with a string of DNFs marking the following years. Once again failing to finish the Junior TT in ‘27, he didn’t make it to the chequered flag in either race in 1928 or 1929 thanks to first engine problems and a pit stop fire and then the following year due to injuries suffered at Greeba Bridge in practice.
1930 got off to a bad start too after a mechanical problem in the opening race of the week - but it was soon rectified in the Lightweight TT, when he went one better than second in only his second TT finish at an average speed of 64.71mph.
That set the pattern for the remainder of Guthrie’s stellar career, with all but two of his next sixteen TT races ending either on the podium or not reaching the flag. Bad luck and mechanicals aside, though, he soon started to rack up the victories as well, with the highlight of his career undoubtedly coming in 1934 when he achieved an at-the-time unprecedented Junior and Senior TT double.
Tragically, though, Guthrie’s career was cut short in 1937, when he crashed while trying to avoid a collision with another rider at the German Grand Prix. Leading the race by nearly two minutes to spare and on the last lap of the Sachsenring, he fell heavily. Seriously injured, it took the ambulance nearly two hours to reach nearby Chemnitz as the 250,000 spectators left the track, and Guthrie was pronounced dead shortly after arriving there.
It would take twenty years for Scotland’s next big name to emerge, with disruption caused by World War Two delaying the arrival of Robert McGregor McIntyre until 1953. Bob Mac, as he quickly became known, suffered a similar fate the first time out to Guthrie, breaking down in the Junior race - but doing enough to impress the AJS team and finding a way into their factory ranks.
14th on his second attempt in 1954, he was forced to switch to a dustbin-faired Norton machinery for 1955 after AJS’s withdrawal from racing - and immediately stuck it on the podium with second in the Junior TT, before worse luck in 1956 saw him retire from both races with mechanical problems.
However, it was 1957 when Bob Mac achieved his greatest ever achievement, becoming the TT’s very own Roger Bannister by setting the first ever 100mph lap of the Mountain Circuit en route to beating John Surtees to the Senior TT.
Also winning the Junior TT in 1957 to make it two from two, he added another win in 1959 and podiums in 1960 and 1961 - but his life too was cut tragically short in 1962, when he crashed in heavy rain during a non-championship race at Oulton Park. Suffering severe head injuries after hitting trackside hoardings, he died nine days later in hospital.
Again, it took another twenty years for the next Scottish great to come along - and this time, it wasn’t on two wheels but three, with the emergence of Jock Taylor as the dominant force in sidecar racing from his debut year in 1978.
A double podium finisher in his opening year, he took a step backwards the following year with a DNF and a 16th. However, he got down to winning ways in 1980, adding first and second at the TT to his world championship title. Winning a double in 1981 and upping the lap record to 108.29mph in 1982 en-route to win number four, his career also ended tragically short later that year when he crashed at the Finnish Grand Prix and was struck by another machine.
Thankfully for proud Scottish fans, it didn’t take as long for the next great to emerge - and this one was arguably the greatest of them all. Steve Hislop made his TT debut in 1985 and made solid progress in his first two years, learning his craft on the TT Mountain Course before bursting into life in 1987 with a debut win in the Formula 2 race.
That opened the floodgates, with wins coming consistently after that. A three-in-a-week winner in ‘89 and ‘90, he made the blue riband Senior TT, in particular, his own, winning four times in six years against the likes of Dunlop, Fogarty and McCallen. By the time he rode his last TT race in 1994 - a year when he won both big bike races - he had become the first man to lap at 120mph, had won 11 races, and had visited the podium 19 times.
Every great rider needs a great rival, however, and it was Hizzy’s famous on-track rivalry with World Superbike ace, Carl Fogarty, that helped cement his place as a TT legend. The pair’s epic duel in the 1992 Senior TT is widely regarded as one of the greatest races in TT history, as Hislop piloted his white Norton to a five-second win over the Yamaha rider.
Such was Steve Hislop’s impact on the TT, it is all too easy to overlook some of the other Scottish riders who’ve stamped their own mark on the famous event. Brian Morrison is perhaps one such talent, and is someone that Fogarty, in particular, was always quick to pay respect to. The intervening years have also given us Ian Simpson, Jim Moodie, Iain Duffus and Keith Amor, with the latter two - racing in their Scottish Saltire helmets – kindly reminding us that all TT riders are indeed, brave at heart.