Conrad Harrison lives in the Bradford suburb of Idle, which seems somewhat ironic when you consider he is consistently lapping at over 100mph around the TT Mountain Circuit on his three-wheeled Honda-engined outfit. Conrad’s TT experience began in 1993, and with the exception of last year, has returned most creditable and satisfying results……”my best year was 1999 when I finished 10th and 12th. My passenger was Mick Harvey’s son-in-law, Mark Birdsall, a brilliant ballast who, sadly, packed up after the TT, a great shame as we all got on well, both in and out of the paddock; maybe I put him off for life!”
So, what of TT 2004? “It was a nightmare as the bike was running like a pig. I think I did more laps of Jurby than around the TT Course; I changed that many things my head was spinning. I knew my carbs were well worn, but funds were short, so I managed to borrow a set that were in bits and tried to make a good set out of two, but the bike was just not the same. It was pretty dangerous, cutting out then coming back in whenever it felt like it, pulling the outfit all over the track! Some people say I’m a bit mad, but I do have limit, you know! It’s ok at Cadwell Park, but not the TT. So, I took my bat home, and, as some would say, ‘Conrad’s spat his dummy out!’, but I certainly did leave with my tail between my legs”. Well, was the problem finally diagnosed? “I eventually found it stemmed from a wiring harness I had made myself; when I put the HRC one back on the bike, it was more or less perfect, especially with the new set of carbs as well. I could have bloody well kicked myself…but that’s racing for you”.
Conrad’s racing career, like many of the sidecar fraternity, began with the ‘family experience’ by passengering his father, Mick in 1988, and, then, helping out John Hartell on his 350. Conrad, quickly developing the desire to take on the controls of the outfit himself, was in a position to enter the 1993 TT… “I finished 44th; it was my passenger, Lee Patterson’s Island debut as well and apart from a few laps round in a car, we went out more or less blind on a home made chassis, bog standard engine and a set of standard carbs! I remember returning from one practice session with the back wheel spindle three quarters out because I hadn’t lock-wired it in!” Although Conrad failed to finish in Race “B”, 44th place at an average speed of 85.29mph in Race “A” gave him the encouragement and impetus to return the following year where he improved his race time by nearly eight and a half minutes, increasing his average speed to 95.25mph.
A Class One driver for the Royal Mail for the twenty-six years since leaving school, Conrad has the 2005 season well mapped out, “my preparations started just after Christmas; at the moment I’m in the process of making a new exhaust system and I have a new set of carbs as well as a new fairing. The TT is one of my favourite tracks, but I intend taking part in all the FSRA rounds as the series is so competitive and you race against a great bunch of people. Scarborough is also on the agenda – I usually go ok there if the bike’s running well; you also receive decent prize money, which is a bonus as it’s hard to come by these days and so it’s nice to get something back”.
Sidecar racing is very much a team sport with driver and passenger working together to adopt the fastest, safest line around the track, so what of Conrad’s partners over the years? “I’ve had quite a few and, believe me, they’re like rocking-horse shit! My first was Lee Patterson, who did a couple of years before going on to passenger Bill Crook. However, Les is now my main sponsor and is making a bit of comeback as my sidekick for a few meetings this year. My longest serving passenger was Carl Kirwin, who was with me for a few years until, after a nasty crash at Pembrey, he was advised not to participate again, but, having ‘balls of steel’, he’s now back moto-crossing with his son. I’ve had a few one-off passengers for the TT, but it’s not the same as having a ‘regular’ because you need to ‘gel’ and anticipate what each other is going to do. It’s all about teamwork.”
As Conrad says he’s got a good lad working with him now in Dan Toone, who passengered all last season, even putting up with him at the TT. Conrad takes up the story “this will be his third Island event and so far, I’ve had no complaints, he’s always been there, taking and listening to advice. However, he did complain on one occasion, saying that he was out of breath, his arms ached and he was only twenty-four; continuing, he pointed to an older bloke across the paddock, saying ‘look at him – he hasn’t even got a sweat on’. When I looked over I had to point out that the bloke he was looking at was none other then Dave Wells! No complaints since”.
A family man in the true sense of the word, with wife, Samantha and two sons, Adrian and Dean all supporting him in his three-wheeled exploits, Conrad is also a fully fledged member of the sidecar family in the paddock behind the Glencrutchery Road Grandstand…”I stay in the paddock every year; even though we’ve complained in the past we wouldn’t stay anywhere else. Everything is on hand with everybody helping each other out, sharing a few beers, exaggerating their lap times and close shaves – but that’s part of the TT”.
With preparations now well in hand for his regular Island visit, what are Conrad’s aspirations? “This year, I would like to finish in the top ten. I think I’m quite capable, the bike certainly is, but you need a bit of lady luck as it’s such a long, tiring race, but you never know until you try it. Look at Roy Hanks and Dave Wells, they never seem to give up, one year finishing last and the next, first. True dedication and determination”.
The sidecar stars are well established, but what of the future in Conrad’s mind? “Steve Norbury has been knocking on the door for the past couple of years and a dark horse has to be Gary Bryan, who had a brilliant finish last year, but, no matter who stands on the podium, it should be a marvellous meeting for the three-wheelers.” By the time you read this, Conrad will have overcome any early season teething problems, have the right set-up for tackling the Mountain Course and will be well on the way to improving his lap speeds to secure two top ten finishes at the TT. We wish him well and thank him for his assistance in writing this article.