The Early Days 1959 – Written By Natalie Ferris

As I continue my research into the history of the event, I have managed to get extra help going back in time to this wonderful era. My dad John is over from America, having recently retired he wanted to spend a summer back in his homeland following the sport he loves so much, road racing. He is the main reason my brother Paul and I also love the sport.

My dad attended his first Ulster Grand Prix back in 1959 as a young boy from the country. With a packed lunch his mother made him, off he went with his cousin and aunt for his first experience of motorbike racing.


In this particular year, following a season dominated by M.V Augusta in the International Road Racing scene you would have expected it to be a rather predictable Saturday afternoon in Dundrod on 8th August 1959. However a huge crowd gathered on a wonderfully sunny day to witness four outstanding races, involving thrills galore and intense battles. Come the end of the day every existing lap and race record had been replaced.


With the M.V team deciding to stay at home in preparation for the final ‘classic’ of the season at Monza following a surprise defeat in the Swedish GP at the hands of Gary Hockings M.Z, the expectation of a tantalizing battle between M.V, M.Z and Ducati in the 125cc event was not to be.


In the opening 125cc race Hocking went straight into the lead followed by Hailwood (Ducati) and Degner (M.Z) this continued for 3 laps, where it soon became obvious the gap between Hocking and Hailwood was narrowing. At lap four Hailwood snatched the lead, not without a fight from Hocking. As they battled it out for the next few rounds the crowds were witnessing a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle of the two passing and re passing each other. Hailwood then put in an incredible effort in lap nine and reaped the benefits by setting a new class record of 5 minutes 15 seconds (84.75 mph) leaving Hocking and his weakening engine defenceless. It was a first ever World Championship victory for Hailwood at only 19 years old. With Hocking in a comfortable 2nd position, Degner third and Kavanagh just getting the better of Pagani for 4th.


With a similar trend emerging in the 250cc rage, Degner (M.Z) once again was left in the shadows of Hailwood (Mondial) and Hocking (M.Z) as the two battled it out in the front from the first lap. With nothing between them they shared an identical lap record of 89.59 mph. However it was not to be for Hailwood in this race, Hocking took the chequered flag by 26 seconds while his team mate Degner finished in 3rd. Tommy Robb gave the home crowd something to celebrate finishing with his GMS in 4th and being the only other rider to complete the full race distance.


John Surtees claimed another double 350/500cc victory. At the end of the first lap in the 350cc race Surtees led by 3 seconds ahead of Bob McIntyre. As Surtees claimed a lap record of 92.70 mph, Hartle moved ahead of King, Hempleman and Hailwood to hold third, he passed McIntyre and began chasing down his team mate Hailwood. Unfortunately his race ended on lap 8 as he clouted the bank at Tornagrough and had no choice but to retire to get medical treatment on his foot. Hailwood’s attempt was ended by a broken valve spring in previous lap. McIntyre’s Norton retired on lap 11 with similar issues. Leaving Bob Brown to lead King, Duke and Shepherd fighting for minor placings. Shepherd retired on lap 15 with King and Duke duelling for third. King joined the other retirements on lap 17 giving Duke 3 laps to bridge the 9 second gap to Brown. In the final lap he had managed to reduce it to 3 seconds but Brown fought back and finished 2 machine lengths ahead of Duke and 2 minutes behind the seriously fast Surtees.


The 500cc race was delayed by 20 minutes as the officials struggled to clear spectators from the track in the Cochranstown area. Melting tar made for difficult conditions as Hocking discovered sliding out of 3rd at Tornagrough. Again Surtees led from start to finish with an opening lap record of 96.73 mph. Duke followed McIntyre to complete the podium.


All in all a good day to attend your first ever road race. From then on it was in his blood and my dad became a huge fan. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my brother Paul for taking me to my first road race, I am now a huge fan and it is well and truly a passion. Thank You!

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