Tuesday 23 July 2019

Gallagher's great service to Yamaha

Martin Gallagher has a wealth of experience in racing whether it be on the roads or the British Championship. Photo: Jack Corry
Martin Gallagher has a wealth of experience in racing whether it be on the roads or the British Championship. Photo: Jack Corry
Lee Johnston gets the Ducati ready for practice at the TT in 2012, with crew chief Martin Gallagher and his brother John (on the right). Photo: Jack Corry

Jack Corry - Corry Corner

There are very few motorcycle racing fans that have reached the heights of Swords motorcycle technician Martin Gallagher, as the 55-year-old race fanatic is involved at the highest level in British Superbikes as a crew chief, and he has been involved with some of the top riders in one of the best championships in racing. As well as that he has been involved with many riders on the local scene, and I caught up with him last weekend to hear his story.

I have known Martin for over 30 years, and yet the quietly spoken grandad had a great story to tell. Married to Sonia, with two grown-up daughters Tanya and Ashleigh, as well as four grandchildren, Martin is known and highly respected throughout the racing world as the man to look after your Yamaha engine.

It was his story, and I could have listened to him all day, as it was enjoyable and moving at times as he recalled the good and the sad side of our sport.

'My interest in bikes started when I was growing up in Swords, and I can remember cycling up the street of the town and scratching on the window of the legendary Owen Sheridan's garage, just to see the bikes inside. That to me was what I wanted to see. I also had close neighbours Pat and Jack Murphy who were also into bikes and members of the local club, the Blackchurch Racing Association who met in the local pub at the top of the town called O'Tooles, which is now the Lord Mayors.

'Growing up, my local events were the Turvey Sprint and the Skerries 100. From there I wanted to move on, and be involved with bikes. Every Saturday I used to go into town to look at motorbike magazines, and one of the shops I used to go to was Leo O'Reilly Motorcycles in Dorset Street. I went in one Saturday looking for a job, and while he didn't have any jobs, he put me in the right direction with ANCO (they were the forerunners of FAS) and they were starting to look into running courses for motorcycle mechanics and have a recognised qualification.

'Leo took me to see Ginger O'Byrne that day in Bohemian Motors in Phibsborough and introduced me to him, and said that if you need anything, give me a shout. I had a chat with him there and he took my details - this was early 1979 - and in September that year, while working in Larkin and Matthews garage in Swords, I got a phone call from Ginger, asking could I come in and see him as this course was going to start in October.

'There was six people picked to go on the course, and after six months I was placed with Danfay Yamaha to do my work experience, and I am still there today.

'After the six months you had the basics of the job, but I went on to do other courses associated with the job, and after that FAS took over. At that time there were six of us in the service department of Danfay, and it was also a race preparation shop as Danny was racing at the time with Will Larkin as the service manager and he was also Danny's race mechanic. We had all the Yamaha products, like the marine and bikes, as well as the off road end of the product.

'The workshop slowly depleted over the years, from the six to only one, me. I look after the service for all Yamaha products in Ireland, and I am the head technical manager, and I have seen a massive change in the business over my near 40 years of service to Yamaha. We sell maybe one or two sports bikes a year, whereas we sell more ATV's than we do bikes. We have been number one in the marine end for many years now, but that has also slowed down.

'I started racing in the smaller capacity bikes in the early 80s and I always had that interest and wanted it to happen. It won't happen on its own accord - you have to make it happen with determination and push for that goal.

'I always wanted to be part of racing and that's the reason I got involved with the sport. I have been very fortunate with the people that I have met along the way that pointed me in the right direction and gave me the support. I am still with Yamaha after 39 years, and I still have the passion to be involved with a BSB team after all these years of national racing at home.

'I realised that I couldn't afford to continue racing and be involved with the mechanical side, and at that time it was for the pure love for the sport, and now I am lucky that now I get paid to do my job. The opportunity arrived late on in 2006, when I became involved with the Millsport Racing Team, where I was employed as Crew Chief for team rider Conor Cummins.'

I asked Martin, what was the responsibility of a Crew Chief?

'It's basically looking after the preparation of the race bikes, ensuring that you had plenty of spares, tyres, race fuel, and the logistics of planning a race season, including travel and shipping, as well as accommodation wherever we were racing. There were also other people involved with this job which helped. I also worked with many other Irish riders in the 80s, including Marc Carter, John 'Bart' Byrne, Robbie Boland, Mark Curtin, and they were close to where everything was going. We were all friends, and I got on well with them then, and we are great friends still.

'The 80s and 90s were a different scene to now, it was more of a social scene then. Well, on some courses it was different, like the Cookstown where we all bailed into the Royal Hotel, and the owner Milton Thom would have us all bedded in a dormitory-like room that would sleep 20 or so, and charge us very little, whereas the likes of the Temple 100 had no social scene attached to it. We also had that scene in the likes of Fore and Skerries. Politics never came into the sport where the likes of Milton Thom was involved, and he was a gentleman to deal with, and loved to see the southern gang arrive in Cookstown.

'Prior to the Millsport job, I had been involved with Martin Finnegan with the Vitrans team, and we had great races with Martin. I then moved with Martin to Klaffi Honda. In 2006 I moved away from Martin as my work commitments were taking priority. The Millsport job with Conor in 2007 was really good, with great results, and we even got a wildcard entry in the end-of-season BSB meeting with Conor in the National event, where he finished on the podium. He also won the Irish Superbike Championship that year, as well as the Supersport championship. He lapped the TT at over 125mph, and he had a podium at the Ulster, which was a great stepping stone for the team.

'Moving to 2008 was a massive change for me and the team, as Martin Finnegan was on board as the team rider. It looked like it was going to be a great year, as I had worked with Martin in the past and had great memories of working with him, and to this day he is still the shining star in my mind.

'Martin wanted to achieve more and more, and he wasn't going to be put back by 'It didn't matter' - he was going to push on. His riding style was aggressive as he was taking Moto GP antics to road racing, and the fans just loved him. Whoever saw a rider smoking a rear wheel approaching a hairpin?

'Martin was just different, and stylish, and he brought riding to a different level.

'The riders in those years like Richard Britton, Archibald, Farquhar and Darren Lindsay, along with Martin, were pushing racing to a different level, and it was a great time.

'The start of 2008 was good. We had testing and we went to Cookstown, where he was again back on Yamahas, and he was happy with the package but reckoned he was done out of a race win that weekend.

'The following week at Tandragee everything was looking good as he won the first Open race of the day and was riding on the crest of a wave. What happened in the next 600 race when the red flag came out proved to be the worst thing in the world, and it was the biggest loss for someone that you could imagine in racing.

'You just never get over the shock and horror of his accident, and in the following weeks you look at things and wonder is it anything that you have done, but you regroup and move forward knowing that it was nothing that you have done or that the team had done wrong.

'I didn't blame road racing, nor did I want to move away from roads at the time. I looked at Martin and what he had achieved in such a young life, from his Moto X to winning road races, and you could never say no to him, you knew well that you could never argue with what his ambitions were going forward. Even with the Round Tower/Danfay team, Martin gave the Southern fans something that they hadn't seen since the likes of Eddie Laycock, as he was winning races.

'We were still involved with Alastair Seeley with the Mondello Masters and he was also a one-off road racer, only competing at the North West 200. I was asked to go and work with Millsport and Alastair and move on. The next event was the North West and we had a really good qualifying, and the team were working well as we had the experience of former road racer Derek Huxley, and I also had my brother John there, as he has been with me over the years, and he is still involved.

'Alastair finished second to Steve Palter in both 600 races but won the Superstock race. It was a sombre event as we also saw the tragic death of Robert Dunlop in Thursday night's practice. It was like being hit by a truck, and then a second truck comes along and runs over you, that's what those few weeks felt like, as I had worked with Robert in the past.

'It was a massive blow to lose two great riders and friends in just two weeks. You then become a very selfish person, blocking everything out, including your family. Nothing else mattered, only achieving that goal.

'Racing to me is not about the money, it's about winning. Even when I was racing to finish third in a race at Mondello, or win the 200 class at the Turvey Sprint, or better still being on pole position for the 1983 Skerries 100, that's what it is all about, but at team level if I didn't achieve the results I personally took it to heart, as I felt I let people down - race fans, sponsors and riders alike.

'In 2009 I did the North West for Millsport with an American Jimmy Moore and Michael Rutter who rode a 600. I was then starting to work with International riders and you gained more experience.

'It was the same team for the TT, and while we pulled back from the roads at the end of 2009, Millsport decided to concentrate on the Irish scene, like the Masters and Irish short circuit championship. This proved fruitful with Seeley and Jack Kennedy, but at the end of 2011 we were finishing up with the Yamaha, and Millsport had taken over the Ducati franchise for the North, with the new Panigale.

''Steve Mercer was the original rider but with everything running late, he wanted to go his own way, and we signed Lee Johnston. We went to the North West where he finished second in the Superstock race. We introduced him to the TT, I just remember his face after his first lap of the TT course after the Saturday newcomers practice. He came in with his eyes out on stalks, and a smile from ear to ear saying, I think this is mad but f*****g great. He won many races during the Masters, and as this was a new bike we were happy. He also won the Dundrod national race on the Thursday of the Ulster Grand Prix.

'With Lee moving back to East Coast in 2013, we had Karl Harris for the North West, and he was so laid-back.

'With Millsport being the Superstock team for the Italian factory, it was their shop window, and it was important to be back at the BSB. We signed Tristan Palmer for the rest of that season and he went on to take a few wins and podiums.

'I realised that racing in the BSB was the place to be for racing. For 2014 we were moving up the ladder to British Superbike, and this was a huge effort, both in financial terms and machinery. We joined with Moto Rapido, and became known as Rapido Sport.

'We had Steve Moore come onboard with some of his team and we then had Jacem Smertz ride with us that season, and this was a new level. It was mixed as he was a hard crasher.

'At the end of 2014 the team owner decided that he was going back to the roads, as he was moving to the Suzuki franchise. We had an interview with Dan Kneen who was coming on board, and while I was still based in Ballymoney, there was very little coming in the way of spares to get the bike up and running.

'Meanwhile, I had the offer of a job with Mar-Train racing who were to be the factory Yamaha road race team. After a meeting with Tim and Sonya Martin, I was taken on in the job as team mechanic, and my days of crew chief were over.

'I was happy with that as I didn't have to make decisions, and it was perfect for me, working with Dean Harrison and Gary Johnston. My main job was working with Gary at the three Internationals. We had great results at Scarborough with Dean, when he won the Spring Cup as well as the 600 races.

'The TT was good as Gary took a third place in the first 600, which was great, and in the second race he finished fifth.

'The Southern 100 was another great meeting, as was the second meeting at Scarborough, and at the Gold Cup, Dean took the win to cap off a great year.

'I was also working with the WD 40 BSB team with Jack Kennedy, which was great to be with a talented rider like Jack.

'In 2016 I was back with Jack, but he was trying to ride the Superbike like he rode a Supersport, which didn't happen, as Jack was a true and true Supersport rider. Jack moved on to world Supersport, and I am still with WD 4O, and the new rider for 2019 will be Claudio Corti, a former World Moto 2 rider, and he also rode in some GPs.

'I have worked with Tommy Bridewell, and Mason Law, which has given me more experience.

'There is some difference between road racers and short circuit riders. Road racers are laid back, whereas BSB riders are a different breed, as the road racers want the craic, and the BSB riders will be in the back of the race truck on a spinner or cycling around the track to keep in shape, and you don't get that with road racers.

'Outside this level of racing, I always like to help out our local riders, with Micko Sweeney being one of them. Micko would ring you up saying that he had blown and engine, and could I have one built in a few days, no pressure. Micko is a great rider and very particular about his racing which is great to see.'

To be honest I could have written another 1,000 words, as Martin's life in racing is full of different chapters, but he has achieved so much in racing and also suffered the sad side of our sport.

He will be back in the thick of this year's BSB and no doubt looking to improve on his career winnings.

Keep 'er lit!

Fingal Independent