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Road Racing Hero - Trevor Nation

Pic : Dave Collister - PhotoCycles.Com

Trevor made his TT debut in 1980 and performed very creditably, finishing 14th in the Formula 1 race on a Kawasaki and 21st in the Senior on a Suzuki. These were promising performances, especially as he had chosen to go straight to the TT rather than starting with the MGP.

His results in 1981 were a little disappointing after this encouraging start, but in 1982 Trevor gave the first sign of his future talents with a fine 6th place in the Senior 350 race. (This was the year in which the somewhat bizarre decision was taken to split the Senior race into two categories, 350cc and 500cc).

In 1983 Trevor really announced himself as one of the leading young road racers of the era with more excellent performances at the TT including 5th place in the Formula 1, and his first podium place after finishing 2nd to Phil Mellor in the Junior 350. Trevor also produced a fine performance in the Formula 1 race at the Ulster GP, challenging Roger Marshall for 4th place before sliding off at the Hairpin in tricky conditions.

It was in 1984 that Trevor arrived in the 'big time' with a vengeance with his first TT win, and several other magnificent performances. He retired in the Classic TT race, but finished a good 5th (for the second year in a row) in the Formula 1 race on a Ducati. He followed this with a 3rd place in the Formula 2 race on a Ducati-Cagiva (how strange it is to think of Trevor racing anything other than a Superbike!) before the highlight of his week - the Production 750 race. This was a thrilling battle between Honda-mounted Trevor and West German legend Helmut Dahne, which Trevor won by just 2.2 seconds after three hectic laps to give him a richly deserved maiden TT win. This wasn't the end of his week either, as he was back on the rostrum after finishing 3rd in the Senior race behind Rob McElnea and Roger Marshall. Trevor also recorded top-six finishes at the Ulster GP in the Formula 2 and 500cc races.

By comparison, 1985 proved to be a leaner year during which he campaigned a variety of machinery. At the TT he finished 11th in the Formula 1 and 13th in the 750 Production, his other races ending in retirement. He also failed to shine in Ireland that year.

In 1986, however, Trevor again confirmed himself as one of the leading road racers with outstanding performances at both the North West 200 and the TT. He was a winner at 'the Triangle' for the first time, powering his Suzuki to victory in the Superstock race by just 0.1 of a second from Kenny Irons - one of the closest finishes in the history of the event after early leader Phil Mellor had broken down. He also achieved a solid 5th place in the NW200 race itself.

It was then onto the Isle of Man with his collection of Suzukis, where a 6th place in the shortened Formula 1 race was followed by 4th in the Production B class. These races were just the warm-up, though. Trevor started as favourite for the 'big' Proddy race and led from the start from Canadian Kevin Wilson, being especially spectacular at Ago's Leap. He continued to pull away throughout the first 2 laps, but following the pit stops Wilson began to claw back Trevor's advantage and closed to within 2 seconds at the end of lap 3. On the final circuit Trevor upped the pace again on his Skoal Bandit GSXR Suzuki to record his second TT win by a margin of 8 seconds from Wilson, setting lap and race records in the process.

The Senior Race was even more exciting, and so nearly provided the highlight of Trevor's racing career. He took the RG500 Suzuki into the lead by Ballaugh on the first lap after early leader Steve Cull retired, and soon overtook Joey Dunlop on the road on his way to a cracking lap of 116.55mph. Joey emerged from the lap 2 pit stops just ahead on the road, but Trevor soon passed him again to lead Roger Marshall by a slender 2 seconds in the race. A great dice on the roads between Trevor and Joey then followed during laps 3 and 4, but as Trevor pulled away he appeared to be in command, leading the race by 13 seconds, when disaster struck. At the 32nd Milestone on lap 4 the bike suddenly expired, apparently out of fuel, and Trevor could only look on in despair as Roger Burnett took advantage of problems for Marshall and Dunlop to take the win.

He switched to Loctite Yamaha for the 1987 season, and was quickly back in the groove with another victory at the North West 200, this time in the 1300 Production event. This was a sensational race involving Trevor, Dave Leach, Brian Morrison and Geoff Johnson. Trevor and Geoff were almost touching fairings throughout the last lap, with Trevor just getting his nose in front to win by 0.1 of a second - his second victory by such a margin in consecutive years.

The battle with Geoff Johnson continued at the TT in a dramatic Production B race. Trevor led from the flag from Phil Mellor and was once again in high-flying form at Ballaugh Bridge. He went even faster on lap 2, setting a new lap record of over 111mph before coming in for a 'splash and dash' pit stop before the third and final lap. Phil Mellor began to claw back some of Trevor's advantage on the last lap but then broke down, leaving Trevor with a clear advantage. Agonizingly, the machine began to splutter on the approach to Hillberry and it became clear that the fuel stop had been just a bit too hurried. As Trevor coaxed the big Yamaha to the finish, Loctite teammate Geoff Johnson roared past to take the victory by 4 seconds from Brian Morrison with Trevor just 4 seconds further down in 3rd place.

The Formula 1 race proved to be somewhat problematic, but after a slow start Trevor was really flying until a loose chain forced a longer-than-planned pit stop after lap 4. Considering this he did well to finish 5th.

He briefly led the Senior Race, which had been shortened to 4 laps in dreadful weather conditions, and was 3rd at the end of lap 1. He sensibly backed off a little after this and finished in a creditable 6th place.

1988 was to mark a significant change of direction in Trevor's career. He was signed up by the newly formed JPS Norton squad to ride the experimental Rotary engine machine, albeit with limited expectations in that first year. That was how it was to prove, as Trevor's only success on the roads that year was on the Suzuki in the Production 1300 race at the North West 200. This was another cracking race involving Kevin Mawdsley, Barry Woodland, John Lofthouse and Kenny Irons. Trevor and Kenny diced for the lead all through the last lap, with Kenny just edging Trevor out in a thrilling sprint to the flag despite Trevor setting the fastest lap.

The TT that year was a disaster, as three of his four races ended in retirement, and his one finish on the Norton was in a lowly 44th place in the Senior.

From 1989 onwards, Trevor abandoned the Production racing at which he excelled and concentrated all his efforts on the main 'Superbike' races.

The Nortons (and their riders) now sported the distinctive black and silver colours of JPS, which made them unmistakable, as did the fabulous music of their Rotary engines.

Practice for the TT was a disaster, as every mechanical problem in the book seemed to affect the team who could only hope for better fortunes in the races. In the Formula 1 Trevor started 10 seconds ahead of his new teammate Steve Cull, and by Laurel Bank the two Nortons were together on the road thrilling the crowds all around the circuit. The noise of the two Rotary engines in unison on the mountain section of the course was quite superb. Sadly it was not to last as Trevor retired at the Mountain Box on lap 2 with a suspected seizure having held 10th position at the end of the first lap.

In the Senior race things went better and Trevor was up to 3rd position at the end of lap 1, just ahead of Carl Fogarty. On the second circuit he set the fastest lap recorded by a British bike at that stage despite dropping to 5th place. Following the pit stops he and Fogarty had an entertaining dice on the roads for the next 2 laps, but on lap 5 Trevor went through Quarter Bridge with the bike leaking fuel, which forced him out at Crosby.

It was a similar story at Dundrod, where Trevor was the early leader of the King of the Road 1000cc race only to suffer another mechanical failure.

The experienced and astute Barry Symmons took over the management of the JPS team in 1990 and with much technical improvement having been made to the bikes and Robert Dunlop having been signed up to partner Trevor on the roads, great things were expected of the team.

This was confirmed at the North West 200 where Robert scored a great double victory in the two Superbike races. Things didn't go quite so well for Trevor although he did briefly lead the first race before being forced out with gearbox trouble.

At the TT Trevor was somewhat hampered by a rib injury which caused him a few problems in practice, but the team was in confident mood come Formula 1 race day. He certainly wasn't hanging about as he flew through the Milntown section on the first lap - somehow the Nortons seemed to convey an even greater impression of speed than all the other bikes. By the end of lap 4 he was in a comfortable 5th place, having passed Joey Dunlop on the road. As he tired on the last two laps as a result of his injury Trevor was caught by his teammate Robert Dunlop who had a grandstand view of a massive 'moment' at the 33rd on the final lap. Trevor drifted wide on the exit from the corner, and actually flattened a couple of the concrete posts at the side of the road - but amazingly managed to get the bike back under control and stay on! He finished in a creditable 6th place while Robert took 3rd.

The delayed Senior race was held in extremely difficult, changeable weather conditions, but Trevor got off to an absolute flyer to lead Carl Fogarty by 5 seconds early in the race. An inspired Foggy soon took the lead, which he was to hold throughout the race, but Trevor was still riding brilliantly to hold onto 3rd place at the first pit stop just behind Phillip McCallen. An excellent stop put him back in front of Phillip, and as the conditions improved the pace quickened. The unfortunate McCallen then crashed out leaving Trevor in a comfortable 2nd position, which he held to the chequered flag. This was the best performance at the TT by a British bike for many years and a testimony to Trevor's great bravery and skill in extremely dodgy conditions - anyone who witnessed his massive slide as he went past the Grandstand on lap 5 would vouch for his courage.

Hopes were high for even better things in 1991, and the optimism proved to be justified at the North West 200. In the first Superbike race the JPS Nortons took 1st and 2nd, with Robert Dunlop winning after Joey Dunlop, who had led for most of the race, stopped with a broken chain. This allowed Trevor to storm through into 2nd place.

In the NW200 race itself, Trevor and Robert again led the way in the early stages, but Robert broke down on lap 3. Trevor then had a titanic battle with Joey Dunlop for the remainder of the race, and just held on for a brilliant win, recording the fastest lap of the race to boot.

The Nortons were really flying and the team was in confident mood going into the TT, although nobody expected them to live with the fabulous Honda RVFs. Unfortunately Trevor stalled the bike on the start line in the Formula 1 race, but soon got into his stride and by Ramsey had caught the Dunlop brothers on the road. Going over the mountain the two Nortons were flying in formation, treating the spectators to a wonderful Rotary rhapsody. Trevor was 4th at the end of lap 2 despite pulling in at Sulby Bridge to check his rear tyre, but Robert retired due to the pain of a rib injury. Trevor held onto 4th place during the next two laps but was gradually closing the gap on Brian Morrison, and on the last lap succeeded in forcing his way into a magnificent 3rd place behind Hislop and Fogarty.

Unfortunately, though, this joy was short-lived. At the post-race scrutineering it was discovered that the petrol tank, which had been of legal size at the start of the race, had expanded to exceed the permitted volume, meaning that Trevor was disqualified - a really cruel blow.

The JPS team used the 6 days before the Senior race to strengthen the petrol tank, and Trevor got off to a real flyer. He soon passed his struggling teammate and was 3rd at the end of lap 1. He held a comfortable 4th position at the first pit stop, but was then forced to retire with mechanical problems.

At the end of 1991 it was announced that Trevor and Norton had decided to part company following a highly successful partnership, and he arrived at the 1992 TT with an 888 Ducati sponsored by Oxford Products. The bike never really adjusted to the demands of the Mountain Circuit, and Trevor's 8th place in the Formula 1 race was a decent effort. He retired from the Senior Race, but not without treating the spectators to a typically Nation-esque wheelie at Ballacrye!

Trevor recorded a very creditable 5th place in the 1993 Formula 1 TT aboard a private Yamaha after an entertaining dice with Jim Moodie, but this proved to be his final TT finish. He retired from the Senior Race, and missed the 1994 event. He returned in 1995 but after two weeks of constant mechanical problems, and retirements from both his races, he decided to bring down the curtain on a highly successful career as a road racer. He had been one of the most spectacular and committed riders of his day and was hugely popular with race fans of both the roads and the short circuits. A genuine hero if ever there was one.

Some random thoughts and memories

  • The flapping leathers he wore in his Norton days - somehow they seemed to add to the impression of speed on the fast sections. He wasn't the most graceful rider around, but his all-action style thrilled the crowds wherever he raced.

  • His unique braking technique. Because of his long legs he found the easiest way of braking was to slide his foot right off the footrest and onto the brake pedal - and then back again.

  • The number 5 plate, which he made his own for many years.

  • His spectacular style over the jumps, such as Ballacrye and Ballaugh Bridge.

  • His superb performances on the short circuits. Trevor was much, much more than simply a top road racer.

  • His less-than-superb performance of 'A Hard Day's Night' in the TT Karaoke in 1991. He sounded as if he was being strangled!

  • His personalized car registration plate NAT10N!

  • He has kept a fairly low profile since his retirement from racing, but was a popular participant in the Suzuki parade lap during TT2000. He has also distinguished himself on several occasions in the Weston-Super-Mare Beach Race in recent years, proving that he is an equally skilful rider away from the track! He is currently living in Cornwall, and having got married last year is soon to become a father.

  • His friendly and approachable nature, which made him so popular with the fans. I recall being at the Black Hut during Practice week in 1995 when Trevor broke down - he spent the rest of the afternoon happily chatting with the spectators and signing autographs. Truly one of the nicest guys in racing.

  • Above all, I will always look back on Trevor's years on the Norton at the TT as being amongst my outstanding road racing memories. I still get a tingle down my spine just thinking about him screaming through Milntown on full chat, black leathers flapping in the wind!

Words byDavid Griffiths

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