As everyone knows, the Isle of Man TT Mountain course is without doubt the toughest and most demanding race circuit in the world where man and machine are pushed to their absolute limits. Well can you imagine doing four laps under race conditions with very little practice on your road bike with the lights taken off and some race fairings bolted on, well that’s what Dilligaf Racer Steve Moody did. Old Moods, as Steve is known in the paddock, not only defied the odds stacked against him to finish, but also brought home two replicas and a finishers medal for his and the team’s heroic efforts.
Following on last year’s excitement and disappointment where Steve narrowly missed out on a podium in the second ultra-lightweight race due to the size of his fuel tank which meant he had to pit stop causing him to drop from 2nd to 5th as a result, the team began planning for the Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT 2019. Their plans including building a classic superbike as well as entering both MGP ultra-lightweight races on Steve’s 25-year-old Honda CBR400 NC29 lovingly known as Erin after the beautiful Port Erin that had become island racing HQ and home to the team for 6 years.
With hopes high and pockets low, the team, rider Steve Moody, spanner man Mr Steve Gilkes, Gas (fuel) man Andy Hoare of Meala Racing Developments, works cloth man and team sponsor Ray Stephens, and the self-appointed team manager and Steve’s ‘one who must be obeyed’ Elaine Moody set to work. First there was the Classic Superbike to build. With a limited budget and endless imagination and enthusiasm, the team found an old 1991 Honda VFR 750 unloved and unkept in a garden and for the bargain price of £350 and brought it home to convert into a Classic Superbike. Andy, keen to start up his own racing development business (Meala Racing Developments), was the brain child behind what seemed a crazy idea to make this rusty old lifeless beast into an Isle of Man Classic TT Superbike finisher. With his wife Hazel and support from Mr Gilkes and Steve, on a cold Sunday in May, they stripped the bike into pieces to rebuild in what was to become one of the most talked about bikes in the MGP and Classic TT paddock.
With a budget of just over a £1000, Andy set to work to rebuild the Honda VFR 750 in his Gloucestershire garage while Old Moods and Mr Gilkes set to work to rebuild the Honda NC29 after a crash at Mallory Park whilst racing for the lightweight championship in the EMRA Club championship in early June destroyed his pride and joy completely. Time and money were against the trio but spirits and hopes remained high.
While at TT in May, the team had pleasure of meeting a wonderful woman named Fiona Barker who had set up a charity to support young people on the island with chronic and long-term illnesses and conditions. The charity BRIDGE THE GAP based at Nobles Hospital, was set up in memory of Fiona’s son who lost his battle with leukaemia but courage and determination inspired so many. Her story and work of the charity touched our hearts and as such it was decided that they would race to raise funds and awareness for BRIDGE THE GAP IOM.
With less than a week to go before the team set sail for the Isle of Man, the VFR750 was finally back together and ready to test at Mallory Park in round 5 of the EMRA championships. As with any race bike, the old Honda needed several adjustments before Steve successfully finished 4th in class in the Marine Fabrication Pre-injection Championship. The team were over joyed with their initial results but there was still more work and testing to be done before the old boy would be ready to take on Bray Hill and the TT Mountain Course. The Honda NC29, Erin, was all good to go after her rebuild. So, with van rammed to the rafters, the team set sail to the island of dreams where legends are made and heroes born, the Isle of Man.
First practice was cancelled due to inclement weather which gave the team time to make further adjustments and carry out some testing at Jurby. With a spanner to the left and a screwdriver to the right, old Merv the 1991 Honda VFR750 in his BRIDGE THE GAP livery and named after Andy’s father who dreamed of racing on the island himself, turned from a top-heavy touring bike that didn’t want to turn into something resembling a race bike! Following Merv’s unveiling at the BRIDGE THE GAP pod at Nobles Hospital with travelling marshal Jim Hunter and the team, the old Honda made its first intrepid expedition around the TT mountain course. All could only watch with baited breath as Steve on old Merv got a tap on the shoulder and headed off down Bray Hill on their maiden voyage together. With eyes peeled to the live timing they could see the VFR with Steve as the helm go through Glen Helen, over the bridge at Ballaugh, round the hairpin at Ramsey, past the Bungalow, through the Cronk and to the astonishment of all, past the grandstand to complete a lap of the isle of Man TT course in 22 minutes and 57 seconds with an average lap speed of 98.63 mph.
Despite the first night success, mechanical hiccups continued to plague the VFR as problems with the clutch and gear box caused the team continued headaches alongside late nights and early doors in the paddock, but the team continued to remedy each problem as it arose and Andy was able to adjust the stock suspension to get the bike to handle for Steve. Testing had to be carried out at Jurby as practice was cancelled night after night. On Saturday during qualifying broke the 100mph lap as Steve completed his first two back to back laps on Merv with a fastest average lap speed of 103.82 mph lap. They had qualified for the race and although at the back of the grid and last man on the road, the dream would be become the reality on Monday race day as Steve now in his 50th year and Merv a 28-year-old essentially standard VFR750 road bike would take to the road for the 4 lap, 150 mile, Classic Superbike TT race against the likes of Michael Dunlop, Davo Johnson and James Hillier!
Things were not as fortunate for the Honda CBR 400 NC29 which Steve had done so well on the previous year. It was Friday evening before little Erin even turned a wheel and it was clear right from the start the bike was low on power. Steve nursed his beloved race bike back home but it was evident the old gal was not well and her engine was in need of a complete overhaul to be able to race again. The guys hoped and prayed the new race engine they had been patiently waiting for would arrive on the island soon but they needed a back-up plan just in case and to ensure Steve would and could qualify.
With head in hands and hopes of even finishing a race on the 400 drifting out to sea with the Ben My Chree, Mr Gilkes had a cunning plan. If Andy could covert a rusty old 28-year old VFR from road to race bike in his garage that had qualified for the Classic TT Superbike race, then why couldn’t they do the same with his very own NC29 road bike that had been brought over as the pit bike. With many in the paddock saying they were mad, Steve, Steve and Andy transformed the Little Hairy Growler, Steve Gilkes Honda CBR400rr NC29 road bike into a race bike in just one day, stripping parts from Erin to make what would become an astonishing achievement in anyone’s eyes! On Sunday, the three worked tirelessly and pulled a miracle out the bag and built a bike for Olds Moods to race in the ultra-lightweight race with only one more practice session left to qualify!
Bank holiday Monday was Classic Superbike TT day. Short of marshals, Elaine and Julie put on their orange bibs and joined the DSM Jane Marret and the Barregarrow babes at the crossroads. The girls would not only ensure race proceedings were carried out to the letter on their post but also would have crowds at Barregarrow cheering Moods and Merv on as they passed. Racing as always was delayed but the wait was worth it!
80 bikes had entered the Classic Superbike TT but only 50 had made it to the start line. Steve was last man on the road with Michael Dunlop the first man to set off down Bray Hill. Again, all eyes were glued the live timings as pit crew Andy, Steve and Ray sat starring waiting for the red light to come on to tell them Steve was at Cronk Ny Mona. One by one riders retired as their bikes gave up the racing ghost but not old Merv, he kept on going! Team nerves were almost in tatters as Michael Dunlop was due to lap Steve on the final lap. This would have meant Steve would have been flagged at the end of lap three and would not be counted as a race finish. With hearts in mouths they watched live timings as Dunlop and Moods went through Bungalow together. But what was extreme bad luck for Michael proved to be the teams saving grace.
Dunlop sadly retired at Hillberry which meant Steve on the VFR managed to reach the grandstand for their final lap seconds before race winner Davo Johnstone crossed the finish line. Now all could do is wait for Steve and Merv, the last man on the road, to bring the VFR home, which he did! Only 50 of the 80 riders and bikes that entered the race managed to line up on the grid and only 32 actually finished the 4-lap race. Steve completed the 150-mile race on Merv the 1991 VFR 750 in 1 hour 27 minutes and 50 seconds with a fastest lap speed of 105:71 mph to earn himself a so well-deserved finishers medal!
With one finish under their belt, the team turned its attentions to the 400. Could they match this achievement on Wednesday but first they had to get bike round for one complete lap to qualify but with delays and practice sessions being cancelled again, the outlook once again looked grim as the weather. When Steve did eventually get out, a seal on the engine began to leak forcing Steve to retire at Churchtown. The leak was an easy enough fix but they weren’t sure if Steve had done enough to qualify and again the waiting game began.
Wednesday morning came and all were pleased and relieved to say Steve had made it onto the grid albeit once again the last man on the road. With a tap on the shoulder Steve headed off down Bray Hill on the Little Hairy Growler, Dilligaf chief mechanic Steve Gilkes road bike they had converted into a race bike together on a Sunday afternoon in the paddock, like you do! Again, hearts pounded as they followed Steve’s progress around the TT Mountain course.
All were astounded and pleased to see Steve go through the speed trap at the grandstand and head off down Bray Hill on lap two, riding the wheels off the little 400! Because of compulsory pit stops enforced by race control at the end of lap two, Steve had to pit at the end of lap two but didn’t need to take on fuel as he and the team had come armed with a large fuel tank bespoke built by Dan Harris of Atherton Creative Engineering who designed the tank to complete three laps without stopping. Moody was on a mission, a mission to prove to himself and his team, the impossible was possible. Gradually Steve moved himself up from last place overtaking other ultra-lightweight riders on the road and in timing sectors to cross the line in 12th from a starting grid of 23 in a 3-lap race with in 1 hour 8 minutes and 36 seconds with a fastest lap time of 99.8 mph to bring home a much prized silver lady, a replica trophy. The impossible had been made possible by Steve, Steve, Andy and the team.
With infused energy the team hoped for the same success on Thursday race day and sure enough, despite high winds and further mechanical issues, Steve did indeed do the double in the second ultra-lightweight race on the 1994 Honda CBR400rr NC29 they had transformed from a road bike to race bike overnight to earn themselves a second silver replica for a 13th place finish on the Little Hairy Growler. Steve, Steve and Andy had pulled the rabbit out of hat and to celebrate the team went for a well-earned milk shake in Douglas, exhausted and overwhelmed by what they had achieved together.
In addition to their on-track success, team supporters including Steve’s wife Elaine, pit crew Ray Stephens and our very own Mary Poppins, Julie Jackson-Stephens, joined the orange army to marshal trackside; in total 7 team members and supporters signed up to marshal throughout the fortnight. To make the eventful week even more memorable, the team were able to raise some much-appreciated funds and considerable awareness for the BRIDGE THE GAP IOM charity; the team were featured in a local newspaper article on the Isle of Man. They may not have won races, but their determination not to give up despite the hurdles and mechanical issues they had to overcome, but they won the hearts of so many in the paddock and truly demonstrated the true SPIRIT OF THE MANX!
There are so many to thank for getting Steve there and through this year’s Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT, especially Mr Steve Gilkes, Andy & Hazel Hoare of Meala Racing Developments and Ray Stephens, but also all those many who have supported Steve for so many years behind the scenes including Erica Gassor and Julie Jackson-Stephens who are always there to make sure everyone is well fed and watered in the paddock. Both bikes were kindly supplied and fitted with Venhill Engineering high precision brake lines and cables, Skidmarx double bubble TT screens, Continental RaceAttack tyres, used Motul oils and fitted with race bodywork prepared by KC Auto Colours of Witney. Steve proudly wore his made to measure UK made Scott Leathers race suit and HJC RAPHA-11 helmet kindly supplied by local company Oxford Products.
Written by Elaine Moody (AKA Gob on a stick)
Race photos and Bridge the Gap publicity photographs published with kind permission from Martyn Parnell of Martyn’s Fotos IOM
Barregarrow Hill photo published with kind permission from Phil Boothby IOM
Paddock pictures are published with kind permission from Mark Thompson of MT Photography UK