Saturday 1 October 2016

Risking it all for sheer love of the game


Published 04/12/2012 | 11:30

THE WORLD of sport has seen many men and women dedicate their lives to competing at the top level, and to get there they very often forget that they have family or friends who look after and support them.

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Some say that they are greedy, others say they are just dedicated. It has often been said that motorcycle racers are more greedy than most, as they put their life and limb on the line every time that they go out on a track or in the case of riders in this country, the roads. Motorcycle racing is a very dangerous sport, and everyone that competes knows the dangers, but so many of them will tell you, 'it won't happen to me'.

Getting into the mind of a road racer is not always easy, and each rider has their own feelings on the sport. People outside the sport often look at the riders, and say that they are mad. How they could do it, when they know that serious injury and tragedy is only around the corner? When you look at families that have suffered from tragedy, it is still hard to know how they move on, and when you look at a family like the Dunlop's you often wonder how they keep going, or more to the point, how does their poor mother cope with the stress?

When Robert Dunlop lost his life during the practice on the Thursday evening for the 250 class at the 2008 North West 200, his youngest son Michael was just behind his father and saw the crash. Two days later, both Michael and William started the race, and while William retired, Michael did something that most people thought was impossible - he went out and won the race after a brilliant battle with John McGuinness and Chris Elkin. It was one of the most emotional races that I, and indeed all those who attended that day, have ever witnessed.

While the Dunlop brothers are still racing and winning wherever they go, their other brother is a member of the British army serving in Afghanistan, and for their poor mother Louise every day must be hard as she looks at her sons going out to race or to war. Other families have suffered through racing, none moreso than the Robinsons from Cullybackey, where three brothers have lost their lives off bikes, two, Donny and Neil at racing and their other brother off a road bike.


This year at the Manx Grand Prix Ryan Farquhar won the 500 Classic race in the morning, to add to his illustrious tally of wins around the famous TT Mountain Course, but what followed later that day was to have a profound effect on the Dungannon rider. His uncle Trevor Ferguson was killed in an accident at the Nook in the Supertwin race riding one of Ryan's bikes, and a few days later Ryan announced that he was retiring from racing with immediate effect.

The most decorated rider in Irish Road Racing history, Farquhar said: 'I am finished with racing, I have been racing a long time, and I have lost a lot of friends in that time, but it's different when it comes to your own doorstep. What I have witnessed in the past 24 hours I've never seen before, and it's the people that are left who suffer the most.' Only earlier this year Farquhar was a witness at the inquest of the late Martin Finnegan, and while he was married in 2004, and has two daughters, the relief to his wife was plain to see. 'I am relieved that Ryan has stopped racing, but it is unfortunate the way it has happened,' said Karen Road Racing is not only a man's game, and one of the few ladies to compete on the roads is English rider Maria Costello.

Maria competes regularly at Irish road races, and loves her sport. She became the first lady rider ever to stand on the podium at the Isle of Man, when at the Manx Grand Prix in 2005 she finished third in the 400 class, and later she went into the Guinness book of World Records when she became the fastest woman ever around the TT, only to lose it to Jenny Tinmouth in 2009. Maria is well aware of the dangers that road racing brings, yet she continues racing. 'Remember my point of view on racing will be different than your typical woman.

Yes I do depend on sponsors, I am fortunate that I get sponsors, and I put every penny that I have into racing, I try and have a bit of a balanced life but my life revolves around racing and I like it that way. I love racing here in Ireland and I would rather come here and race my bike than go on holiday abroad. When you are a competitor you are selfish, of course, it means that you want to do what you want to do, and I think that is the same for any sportsman.'

As a road racer Maria knows the dangers. 'I have lost too many friends, I know it's dangerous, we are grown-ups. Road racing outweighs the bad and that's why I love it.' Never put off by the men around her, Maria fights her own corner, and her true love of road racing is plain to see, especially with the supreme effort that she puts into the sport, and her outlook into racing in a male dominated sport. Getting into the mind of a road racer is not easy, and to see riders come in after a race, the adrenalin that goes through their bodies is plain to see, whether they have had a good or bad race, their face generally tells its own story.


Skerries rider Keith Costello (no relation to Maria) is a rider who tells it straight: 'All road racers are greedy and selfish, and I have had that discussion so many times, and yet it doesn't stop lads doing it.' Like Maria, Keith has lost friends in the sport, and only at the Skerries 100 in 2010 he lost a great friend, Myles 'Mylo' Byrne. Yet it was only this year, after his wife Donna told him that she was expecting their third child that he made his mind up, that it was time to cut back on his racing. 'I made my mind up after Donna told me that she was expecting, and when I found out that I was to have a son, I just blanked it out and went out to retain my 350 Irish Championship.

When I saw the conditions that I was racing in at the likes of Armoy, and then I retained my Irish Championship, along with winning the Ulster and Southern Centre Championships, along with the Classic Clubs and Loughshinny Club Championship, I had won everything that I could this year. The most annoying thing that I felt that the whole season was a waste of time. No one gives a toss about the Irish Championships, there is no proper recognition from the MCUI, or respect for the effort that riders put in during the year, and the expense of the sport.

I was given my Irish Championship medal that was thrown into a cup that I was presented with at the Classic Clubs Annual Awards, and never even congratulated on it. I have not said that I am giving racing up, but I will definitely not be racing next year, and we will take it from there,' said Keith. It is hard to try and see why motorcycle racers cut corners with everything in their personal life to cover their racing.

As long as I have been in the sport I have seen it first hand, how house bills are not paid in order to get a new clutch for the bike, and then riders spend every cent that they earn, and more when they get loans out to cover their sport, knowing that they could crash and wreck the bike or worse get injured and not be able to work and repay the loans.

I have seen families scrimp and save, work two jobs so that their sons or brothers can race a season, and yet very few of them will ever make it to the top of the sport. Friends run fundraisers, collect sponsorship, and run raffles to help their mate's race. I have tried to get into the mind of road racers over the years, and at times it would be easier to get into Fort Knox, and yet when they put on their helmet, even the easiest of people change. They are focussed, and with only one thing on their mind, Greed or Speed!!

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