The Boro motorbike hero who triumphed in killer TT race despite being almost frozen to his bike

Joanne Welford

A motorbike racer and dealer, he became a local hero and revered by many for his bravery and skill after triumphing in appalling conditions at one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous motorcycle races.

Described as a ‘torture race’ by the press, the 1961 Isle of Man TT was one of the coldest on record and claimed the life of a fellow rider but Frank, almost frozen to his bike, did not know that until he crossed the finishing line to victory and had to be lifted from his machine.
Frank’s son Graham got in touch with Teesside Live to tell us more about his dad’s story.

“Unfortunately my father passed away 20 years ago but 60 years ago he was a local hero in Middlesbrough where he lived and ran a motorbike business in the town.
“Between the late 1950s and early 1960s he travelled to the Isle of Man once a year to race the TT, having a nearly fatal crash in 1957 to winning the 350cc race in 1961.

“What was unique was my father was not professional only practising a few times a year at Scarborough, a lot of the riders he raced against were professionals including big stars at the time, a couple of examples being Mike Hailwood and Gary Hocking.
“When he won it was one of the coldest TT races recorded, almost frozen to his bike he had to be lifted off at the finish.
“He was surprised to see the chequered flag because he knew he was not in the lead and had a rider in front of him – Fred Neville. Unknown to my father, he had fatally crashed 31 miles from the finish line.”

Frank lived at Suffolk Road in Linthorpe and has four sisters and two brothers – his youngest brother Danny used to go to the Isle of Man with him. He was in to motorbikes from his teens and his inspiration to race came from when he was a mechanic in the army – in Aden in the 1950s he would courier parts from one camp to the other and he and his colleagues wouold race across the desert roads.
When he came out of the army, Frank set up a motorbike shop with a business partner Mr Adamson – it was the first to introduce financing bikes in the area.

Graham, almost 52, remembers going to the shop with him as a small child in the 1970s. He moved to new premises on his own on Yew Street in the town centre, near the bus station, repairing bikes until he retired in the late 1990s.
Before joining the army, said Graham, his dad worked on a farm at Great Broughton and would keep fit by running up to the Wainstones and back.

He has kept newspaper clippings of his dad’s racing career which describe how harsh the 1961 TT race was. ‘Frozen riders drama’ and ‘death ride’ said the headlines in the Daily Mirror in September 1961.
Frank completed six laps of a mountainous course through rain and mist which forced some riders to drop out because their arms and legs were so affected by the cold.

He was riding at an average speed of 81.28 miles per hour and at the end of the race, reporters described the ‘cruel weather’ and how Frank had to be helped off his motorbike because he was numb with cold and hardly able to speak.