Born in 1948, Tom always had a love of all things speed, and particularly anything with two wheels and an engine.
He spent his early years grass-tracking, but with his uncles James and Wilfie enjoying success on the roads and short-circuits, it was inevitable that young Tom would follow in their footsteps.
One of his first bikes was a Bianchi which he bought from one of his uncles and he quickly set about modifying it for racing.
After learning the ropes on short circuits, Tom entered his first road race at the age of 19 when he took part in the 1968 Tandragee 100 on a 250cc Greeves.
He started with an 8-minute handicap that day and didn't win but that didn't matter, the racing bug had taken hold.
A year later Tom was back at the Co. Armagh circuit. Again handicapped, this time by a minute, he claimed his first win riding a 250cc Yamaha. Further success followed when he won at Skerries on an Aermacchi.
For the 1970 season Tom acquired a 350cc Yamaha and took his first international win when he got the better of Tommy Robb in an exciting race-long battle, and followed this up with a win at the Cookstown 100.
He then headed to the Isle of Man for the TT races and made his debut in the 250cc race.
In what was an eventful race, Tom was lying second at one point but a jumping chain hindered progress.
Despite stopping at Ballaugh to repair the chain and then falling off at Signpost Corner, Tom still put in an impressive showing to finish 13th. But a few days later his luck was out when he crashed heavily on his 350 at Ballacraine in the Junior TT. A broken vertabrae and hip put him out for a few months but with typical determination Tom raced at Maghaberry at the end of the season and won the 250cc race!!
With another win at the Tandragee 100, this time on his 350, 1971 would however see Tom again suffer injury when he crashed heavily at the North-West 200 sustaining a fractured right elbow and paralysis to his right arm, but yet again he bounced back.
In a season disrupted by the escalating 'Troubles' in N. Ireland, Tom took wins at the Temple 100 on his 250, the 350cc race at the Mid-Antrim 150 and these coupled with success, set Tom up for a full tilt at the 1973 season.
Tom at Maghaberry in 1969.
Photo Courtesy: Jim McCullagh
The John McCullagh Collection
By Kind Permission.
By Kind Permission.
Tom lines up on the grid with his Yamsel at the 1971 Tandragee 100 alongside Jack Wilkin (Yamaha) and Ray McCullough (Yamsel).
Photo Courtesy: Michael Mooney
By Kind Permission