“I think I can win”

A request from Graham Bean for a contribution to the magazine regarding the activities of the “International TT Riders Fund” brought back many happy memories from when our activities first started in the mid 1970s.

Despite its grand sounding title, the fund was run on an ounce of cash and a ton of enthusiasm by three dyed in the wool TT fans, Walter Radcliffe, Paddy Butler and myself. The fund came to life in response to the ACUs perceived lack of effort to bring talented young newcomers to the Isle of Man in sufficient numbers to underpin its future as an International event. This, no doubt, still has a familiar ring and when I look back at just what we achieved from our tiny financial resources, I can hardly believe we did it.

For sidecar “nutters”, this story is about one of our major successes, the great Rolf Biland,

Biland arrived in his van on the Steam Packet boat that evening having driven direct from a continental race meeting. He had never set foot on the Isle of Man prior to that time and his knowledge of the TT course was therefore confined to what he had read in books and magazines in those far off, pre video days. This is an important part of the story.

“What do you want to do?” we asked Rolf. “Go round the circuit now” was the reply.  Off we set in Geoff`s Austin 1100, Geoff drove with Rolf in the front passenger seat and Kenny and I sat in the back.

 Kenny chatted and smoked constantly. Passengering Rolf Biland must have been a nerve-wracking business. Rolf meanwhile sat motionless and silent for the entire lap, continually staring at the nearside section of the road. Rather anti-social I thought, but, as it turned out, totally lost in concentration.

Now comes the reason I shall never ever forget that night. On returning to the Grandstand, Geoff stopped the car and said to Rolf, “what do you think of it?” The reply was breathtaking. I could hardly believe my ears. Rolf replied, “I think I can win.”

Although still relatively young, I knew just how hard it is to win a TT race. After all it took Mike Hailwood four years to crack it. So my opinion of Mr Biland at that moment was “you cocky so and so!”

Cocky or not, two weeks later, Rolf Biland had proved just what a class act he was. No he didn’t win it, but he wasn’t far off, ending his first TT as runner up and clocking a 100mph lap in the first year the chairs reached this milestone, Greasley, O`Dell and Hobson being the others (I think).

This performance launched Rolf`s career and he returned a year later in his controversial “Beo” outfit to win a race filled with tragedy.

Rolf was one of the greatest riders we were able to spot and introduce to the Isle of Man before they became famous. Certainly he was the rider with the best ever “opening line”. He wasn’t our only success however. The first was South African hard man Jon Ekerold who could chew planks and spit sawdust! Others followed including Grahame McGregor, Graeme Crosby, Denis Ireland and Jock Taylor to name but a few.

Next time (if Graham will allow me) I`ll tell you about another great sportsman with an iron will, sidecar racer Pete Campbell-“the flying Aussie”.


Adrian Earnshaw