The Ulster GP’s formative years


Promoted as the world’s fastest road race, the Ulster GP began 95 years ago as the Ulster Grand Prix Handicap Road Race, for which the organiser’s major award was presented. Its formative years could also be entitled the Joe Craig years.

Words: Richard Rosenthal Photographs: Mortons Archive

Based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, the Ulster Grand Prix (UGP) was first run in 1922 on the 20.5 mile Clady Circuit.

Joe Craig, here on the left, with teammate Jimmy Shaw after the 1925 Ulster GP, was the event’s first specialist, recording a class win every year 1923-26.

In the years up to the Second World War, the circuit crossed the grass landing strip of RAF Aldergrove (1918-2009) which was designated operational in 1925. During the Second World War, RAF Aldergrove expanded over part of the UGP’s Clady Circuit, a problem the postwar organisers resolved by omitting this section, shortening the circuit to 16.647 miles. In 1953 the event moved to the 7.401 mile Dundrod track, where it remains.

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Historians identify the two Clady Circuits as the ‘long’ and ‘short’ form followed here. Its name is derived from Clóidigh – washing river. While handicapping played a significant role in the UGP’s earlier history it soon was established, and then promoted, as the world’s fastest road race. While there have been claims of faster road events in the real road racing context, and again in 2017, the UGP organisers will claim with justification it’s the world’s fastest road race.

For how long the Ulster Motor Cycle Club had been scheming its new event is unclear, but road racing had begun to flourish in Northern Ireland. Although roads couldn’t be officially closed for motorcycle racing at that time, the enlightened Irish authorities cooperated with organisers and granted permission to race for each application. Not only were local authorities willing, but Ulster motorcycle road racing had a great champion in Thomas Moles.

Read more in the April issue of TCM – out now!

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