Motorcycle racing: An obsession that takes hold of body and soul
Road racing commentator Jimmy Walker explains what drives the competitors on in the most dangerous of sports
With the North West 200 coming up at the weekend, there are many who would ask why road racers have what appears to be a cavalier approach to the thin line between life and death.
There are many, however, in the game who live for nothing else and they will miss the adrenalin buzz which comes with competing in this event.
One of them, Robert Dunlop, who was sadly killed in practice for the North West in 2008, has two sons in Saturday’s race and they would be the first to say they would not be anywhere else.
William and Michael are two of the front-runners hoping for a slice of the action, and because they are following in the footsteps of their father has spurred them on rather than deterred them.
William told me: “Dad would have been proud that we continued the tradition. Like my father I get a buzz out of pushing that machine down the road and hearing it fire up ready for battle. I love the feeling that comes from whizzing around those high speed corners, which present a challenge like nothing else in the world. There are many people who tell me that I should give it a rest but that isn't the way I’m made. My Uncle Joey never thought of retirement, and sadly he was killed in 2000. But it never occurs to me that I may suffer the same fate.
“I love road racing, not just at the North West but everywhere else and the adrenalin rush is indescribable. You would have to drag me off a bike to stop me.”
William’s father Robert was one of my closest friends and I remember him telling me: “People don’t understand that I would put road racing first before my family. That may seem harsh but it is a gut feeling which I have always felt.”
There is a story told about Robert, who was recuperating after a major smash in the Isle of Man TT which threatened his life, but he had nothing in his mind except to return to the big time.
When his agent visited him at his home, Robert, who was still on crutches, walked down the stairs and sat and looked at a pile of letters. He threw one after the other into the fire — including the usual final demands — and then got what he was looking for, which was the entry for the TT.
“That’s what I want,” he said.
Dunlop’s story did not end there for he went to the TT and had to pass a medical examination before racing. He threw away his crutches and walked as upright as possible into the medical centre, feeling extreme pain but not daring to let it show.
After a close scrutiny, Robert was able to walk about the centre for the benefit of the medical observers. But the strain told and when he left the building he passed out on the road.
He had to be given a piggy-back by his mechanic to his car but he said: “We did it well and I think I will win.”
Believe it or not, that is what happened and Robert Dunlop scored one of his many amazing victories in that year’s TT.
The North West has a good record for safety these days. There was a time when this was not the case.
As far as Saturday’s race is concerned everyone will be hoping the riders have an incident-free day and come home safely.
The riders themselves will be thinking about this, but they will be more conscious of that drive which takes over their body and soul once the race is under way.