TT Career Summary
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The magic of the Isle of Man has been enhanced by many of motorcycling's wizards but few riders have built its reputation more significantly than Stanley Woods. He was once voted the greatest TT rider of all time, and not without good reason. His bravery, especially in difficult conditions, and mastery of tactical racing brought him ten TT victories and eleven fastest laps.
Above all he was a motorcycle enthusiast. It hardly mattered whether it was a trials bike, scrambler, grass track machine, speedway bike or road racer, he loved them all equally and was outstandingly good on each. The prime of his era was the early to mid-1930s.
He was born in Dublin in 1905 and once old enough to ride road machines convinced himself that he was good enough to race. Always a lively character, his confidence was never lacking. When he was seventeen and had experienced some racing in Ireland, he wrote to the Cotton company telling them that he was good enough to be trusted with one of their bikes to race on the island. He made out that he had already been promised a Senior machine, which was pure blarney. Surprisingly Mr F.W. Cotton agreed but in Woods’ first TT, the Junior in 1922, the engine was ailing when he finished. In spite of that he was fifth and had managed to get round after all manner of problems including a broken exhaust pipe and a moment in his pit when fuel caught fire and briefly set him and his machine ablaze.
In the following year he rewarded Cotton for their confidence by winning the Junior event even after crashing into a doorway in Parliament Square and spending valuable time restoring the front forks to their original shape. From then on his career was to stretch over twenty years.
For the next two years he raced various machines but also spent a lot of time trials riding. In the 1925 Junior TT he rode a Royal Enfield but the handlebars snapped. Not daunted, he steered on with what was left of the bar but the throttle was gone and he had to adjust his speed with the air lever. Not surprisingly, he was ordered to stop.
All the time he badly wanted to get factory support from Norton. The company had been watching his progress with interest and in 1926 they offered him a works machine for the Senior race which he duly won at a record speed of 67.54mph. At the time he combined being a professional rider with his work as a traveller for the sweet makers Mackintosh’s
The 1927 saw him improve Jimmie Simpson’s Senior TT lap record to 70.99mph before being forced to abandon with mechanical trouble. During the race he was aware that he had no idea what his lead had been over the second placed rider until he came in to take fuel. Having been told to continue with the pace he had already been setting, which was hardly necessary since he had a five-minute lead, on the fifth lap he ruined the clutch. His frustrating experience, together with his complaints about a lack of information being provided to the riders, brought about the system of lap signalling.
On the Continent he was highly impressive. On the Norton machines he won four of the 1927 grands prix and two more in 1928 but then he went back to Ireland to join his father in a toffee making business. Not that he gave up racing. In 1929, however, he retired from both Senior and Junior races and in 1930 the Rudge machines were far quicker than the Nortons. Although Norton recovered in 1931 he had mechanical problems in both races
The Nortons made few advances technically until Joe Craig arrived to guide their development. As a result in 1932 and 1933 Woods won both Junior and Senior races. But towards the end of 1933 he fell out with Norton. The problem was that their machines were so dominant that the factory began to decide in advance which rider should win. The matter came to a head at the Manx Grand Prix. He was told that it was not his turn to finish first, but since several of the other team members dropped out, he could hardly avoid winning. The situation led to his decision to leave Norton. Although he rode in the 1934 Senior TT for Husqvarna (recording the fastest lap), the Italian company Moto Guzzi had won his attention.
In 1935 he gave Moto Guzzi victories in the Senior and Lightweight races, including record laps. In the Lightweight race he rode a wide-angled twin with extraordinary skill. However, the Senior race was much more memorable. Indeed, it was one of the classic events in the island’s history.
The Scott Jimmy Guthrie, on a Norton, had led from the start and with a lap to go had a twenty-six second lead over Woods. Guthrie, was a master of the course, but Woods had gradually been closing in on him from the third lap when he was behind by the best part of a minute. By the fifth lap Guthrie was still racing at record speed and looked certain to win. However, Woods increased the pace and began to eat into Guthrie’s lead. In the end he closed the gap and won. In order to do so he had to improve the lap record by four miles per hour and he won by four seconds.
The 1936 season saw him appear in the Lightweight on a German DKW, which blew up when he was leading on the fifth lap, but by then he was hankering to return to British made machines. He signed for Velocette and gave them and second place in the 1937 Senior but he was unhappy about their road holding. Because of his influence Velocette developed the swinging arm rear suspension. By 1938 the machines were far more competitive and he won the Junior race and was second after a tough duel with Harold Daniell in the Senior. His speed in the Junior, 84.08mph, was a record as was the 85.30mph in the Senior.
In the last TT before the war (1939) he again won the Junior TT and was fourth in the Senior, riding for Velocette in both races. His career record of ten TT victories remained until the era of Mike Hailwood. Such was his standing in the history of the TT that in 1968 a panel of experts named him the greatest of all the island’s competitors. And in 1957 he had gone back to the island to help celebrate the Golden Jubilee by riding a 350cc Moto Guzzi round the course at just over 82mph.
©Norman Fox. (2002)
Link: A Chat With Stanley Video.
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