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The Ards Tourist Trophy (T.T.) Races

A plaque on the wall of McWhinney’s butcher’s shop at the corner of Castle Street in Comber commemorates the great Ards Tourist Trophy or TT Race which once ran through the town. This was the famous butcher’s shop corner, a noted feature of the course, where cars didn’t always successfully negotiate their passage from the Square into Castle Street.

The Ards TT ran from 1928 until 1936. It was a massive event on the sporting calendar, held in August or early September, and attracting up to half a million spectators in any one year. Starting at Quarry Corner in Dundonald, cars raced their way along the public roads (closed of course for the occasion) through Newtownards and Comber back to Dundonald again – a gruelling 30 laps of this 13½ mile circuit. All the great drivers of the day were there, men such as Kaye Don, Carraciola, Nuvolari, Freddie Dixon, Earl Howe and E.R. Hall. They reached speeds well in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Comber was packed with spectators. The Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR) Company built a grandstand on the Belfast Road, and private individuals provided teas, sandwiches, buns and seats – in exchange for silver and bronze, of course. It was a regular ploy to charge for the convenience of a wall or garden hedge to lean over while viewing the race. Rowans constructed a stand against a large shed beside the road and offered tickets at 10s 6d each (52½p). The shed still stands today. 

The railway kept running through the race, despite the fact that it crossed the Newtownards Road on a level crossing at the Glassmoss just outside Comber. The solution was to erect temporary platforms on each side of the road with a wooden footbridge connecting them. Passengers simply walked over the bridge and changed trains.

Tom Corken did very well out of the TT Race. He provided sand for the many sandbags along the course. This was a contract he relished as he was paid not only to provide the sand but also to remove it again. Afterwards he was able to re-sell it, a good business deal by anyone’s standards. Tragedy struck during the 1936 race in Newtownards when Belfast driver Jack Chambers crashed into a crowd of spectators in Newtownards, killing eight people. The race never ran again.


1928 Kaye Don

1929 R Carraciola

1930 T Nuvolari

1931 N Black

1932 C R Whitcroft

1933 T Nuvolari

1934 C J P Dodson

1935 F W Dixon

1936 F W Dixon/C J P Dodson

Comber-based production company, Spence Brothers, have produced a detailed documentary film on the Ards TT races, including rare and never-before-seen footage. To find out more and buy the DVD, contact Roy Spence on 028 9187 2480.

A minor crash outside Hugh McWhiniey's butchers shop during the re-enactment of the TT race. The speed involved was minor, the sandbags protected the shop. Come to think about those sandbags ... they may well be bags of potatoes (spuds) so there may well have been champ for dinner.

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