100 Years of Road Racing
Many of the local races depended upon spectators being able to travel to the race locations and so public transport played a key role in the development of road racing in Ulster.
This footage shows how popular these events were with hundreds of people flocking to Northern Ireland to witness their favourite drivers speed around the local streets.
Road Transport Gallery
Belfast Corporation Tram
Public transport could dictate where a race took place. The first motorcycle Ulster Grand Prix was at Clady in 1922, the course being picked because of its proximity to the tram terminus. The start line was three miles from the Ligoniel tram stop. Watch the video to see motorcyclists tackle the Ulster Grand Prix track in 1926 in changing conditions!
Belfast Telegraph Van
The Belfast Telegraph was owned by the Baird family. Their son William ‘Bobby’ Baird was a keen motor racer despite his family’s disapproval but after inheriting the family fortune he threw himself into the world of motor racing. He raced a works Ferrari at the 1951 Dundrod RAC Tourist Trophy Race and came sixth.
His final race was at Snetterton in 1953 when he was killed in a crash.
Watch footage from 1951 International Ulster Trophy motor race at Dunrod.
Paddy Hopkirk was a rally driver from Northern Ireland. He made his debut in an Austin 7 Chummy. He won the Circuit of Ireland Rally five times throughout the 1950s and 1960s in a variety of cars including a VW Beetle. He is most famously remembered for winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1962 driving a Mini. Watch the video to see footage of Paddy Hopkirk at the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally driving a Mini No.37.
Rosemary Smith is a rally driver from Dublin. She won the Ladies Prize at the Circuit of Ireland rally in 1965 driving a Hillman Imp like this. It was the start of a very successful partnership as she went on to win multiple races at home as well as some of the top international rallies throughout the 1960s driving a Hillman Imp.
This video shows the build up to the Monte Carlo Rally of 1966 in which Rosemary Smith was set to win when she and a number of other drivers were controversially disqualified on a lighting technicality.
One of the most important racing cars of its generation, this Grand Prix Sunbeam was the winner of the Spanish Grand Prix in 1924. It was also raced at the 1934 Down Trophy Race in Donaghadee with W.T. McCalla at the wheel. He won the race whilst also achieving a new track record of 3 mins 15s.
Head down to the Land, Sea and Sky galleries to continue the trail and learn more about our road racing history.
This Cotton motorcycle is similar to one that was raced by legendary motorcycle racer Stanley Woods. Born in Dublin, Woods went on to win dozens of motorcycle races throughout the 1920s and 1930s most famously winning the Isle of Man TT ten times. He won the Ulster Grand Prix racing a Norton and this footage shows his winning performance at the Ulster TT in 1933.
Built by local man Dick Chamberlain, the Bitza was raced by Coleraine born George Brockerton. He was an organiser and competitor at the very first North West 200 race in 1929. The North West 200 is one of the fastest and well-renowned road races in the world. Its name refers to the original distance riders had to race of 200 miles. Today the NW200 is divided into several races on a circuit almost 9 miles long.
Watch the push start of some of the riders taking part in the 1957 race.
Museum of Innovation
Harry Ferguson is famous for being the first man in Ireland to build and fly a plane but did you know he worked tirelessly to introduce road racing to Northern Ireland? He was one of the key figures behind the passing of the Road Races Act in 1922 by the Northern Ireland parliament enabling motorcycle and car races to take place on Ulster’s roads. This Act led to the creation of some of the world’s most famous races such as the Ards TT, NW200 and Ulster Grand Prix.
In association with the Ulster Automobile Club.