Carton’s in spotlight at the Classic Bike Awards
I was honoured to be invited to the Classic Bike Racing Ireland Awards last weekend in the Glenside Hotel, to MC the night, but more so to interview the new Honorary President, Tony Carton.
Tony has dedicated most of his time in racing to sponsoring different riders, and he has also been involved with many clubs, and while he was honoured as the new President of Classic Bike Racing Ireland, Tony is also President of the Loughshinny club.
Along with Tony as a special guest, the dinner was also attended by Sean Bissett, president of Motor Cycling Ireland, and Ken Turner who is chairman of the M.C.U.I. Ulster Centre.
Tony Carton's involvement in bikes stretches back a long way and he said: 'My uncle Owen Sheridan, who lived in Swords, was involved with bikes, and as a young lad I spent most of my time with Owen.
'Owen had a garage and taxi business in Swords at the corner of the main street and the Malahide road. His address was no 1 Malahide Road, one that he was very proud of. His taxi was a Dodge, and he had the whole roof covered in photographs that I loved looking at.
'My first bike was an off-road DOT 197 with a Villiers engine and I started to race it in a grass track meeting in the Dublin and Wicklow area. In those early days, Grass track meetings were held on a Wednesday evening in Saggart and Blessington.
'My next machine was a Greeves 250 Challenger. I started my involvement with the Dublin and District MCC, as they ran most of the grass track events, and also the famous Skerries 100. I then got involved with the Fingal club and the Blackchurch Racing Association, who both held their meetings in O'Toole's pub in Swords (now the Lord Mayors).
'It was through Owen O'Reilly that I got the opportunity to go road racing with a Manx Norton, and my first race was in Faugheen. I was bitten by the bug, and raced up and down the country.'
Tony then turned sponsor when a young local rider Don Donnelly started racing on a 200 Suzuki.
'Myself and Billy Sweetman sponsored Don with an ex Danny Shimmin 250 Yamaha, but at Faugheen, Don was seriously injured and was forced to retire from racing.
'I then got involved with another top Southern rider, Geoff Cronin, who became very successful. I also sponsored Eric Galbraith, Danny Shimmin, Davy Gordon and Francis Everard. It was then that the Loughshinny club started, and I got involved with the club, and to this day I am still involved.'
I spoke to him about the late Martin Finnegan.
'It was around 1989 this young local lad would appear in the yard, where I had my plant hire business and also kept my bikes. He was a great young fellow who was interested in the operations of both machinery and bikes - that young fellow was Martin Finnegan.
'When Martin started coming to the yard, you could see that he was different from young fellows of his age. He was very brainy, and a natural talent.
'His approach to racing was the same. When he started racing in Moto X, he would arrive back in the yard at eight or nine at night, and even if I wasn't with him, he would be there power-washing the bikes, where most lads would chill out, and wouldn't clean them until Monday or Tuesday.
'When Martin finished his apprenticeship with CIE, he came to work with me, and he was the same in his work - very particular. Martin was always around the yard, and his passion for engineering and bikes were growing. At the time Martin was making a name for himself at all levels of Moto X, and I would be with him, even though Martin's brothers Sean and Peter were also racing, along with his brother-in-law Alan Sweetman.
'Even though Martin was at the top of Moto X, his interest in road racing was always there, and Francis Everard's bikes were also worked on there, and in 1996 when Martin took to the short circuits, he started on Francis' 250 Yamaha and wore a set of my leathers and one of Francis' helmets.
'In 2000 when Martin won the Manx Grand Prix, you could see his determination to learn the course, and his preparation paid off. He won and broke the lap record, which still stands. You could see from his riding he was special, and that's where he became such a favourite with spectators the world over.'
I asked Tony about the classic bike that he built for Martin just before he died.
'I said to Martin that he should go to the classic Manx Grand Prix, and he agreed. I built the bike for him, but he tragically never got to race the bike.
'I left it there in the workshop for a few years, and Edward Manly asked me, could he ride it at Killalane. I originally said no, but gave in and away he went.
Guy Martin, who was in the pits for Martin at the TT before he started to race there, also rode the bike at Killalane, but he was beaten by Michael Dunlop on Gerry O'Sullivan's bike,' Tony said with a laugh, looking at Gerry in the audience.
After the chat with Tony, he was presented with a beautiful award to mark his honorary Presidential reign, from the club chairman Sean Henry.
Tony Carton has done so much for racing, and still his famous Round Tower Plant Hire name adorns the fairings of race bikes as he sponsors Thomas O'Grady who will be carrying the iconic name around the UK this season in the Thundersport Championship.
The night also saw the club's short circuit championships then presented, and the 350 riders were the first to collect their awards, with Kevin Callan finishing third, Herbie Ronan second and Martin O'Neill taking the first prize.
In the 500 championship it was Sean Leonard, who had just returned from his successful trip to Australia, who finished third, with Brian O' Neill runner-up and Pat Murray topping the championship with a total of five wins and two second places.
Paul McMahon was the runner-up in the 250 class, with Gavin Duffy undefeated for the whole season on eight wins. In the Unlimited class, it was Robert McCrumb who was runner-up and Eanie Horan who took the Championship.
There were also some outstanding Irish and Southern Centre road race championship awards presented by MCI President Sean Bissett - to Freddie Stewart for his third place in the 500 class, with Sean Leonard runner-up and Edward Manly taking the win. Both Sean and Edward were also presented with their Irish Championship medals.
The 350 class saw Willie Wilson finish third and there was a three-way tie for second, with Sean Henry, Gearoid Hoare and Freddie Stewart accepting their awards. Once more Portrane riders Sean Leonard was top of the pile, winning the championship, while Ken Parkes won the 250 class.
The evening finished with a raffle and auction, and there was a brilliant band on hand to entertain the revellers for the rest of the night.
Keep 'er lit!