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Phillip McCallen tells road racing pal Stephen Thompson that it's 'time to hang up leathers'

By Claire McNeilly

Published 17/09/2015

Stephen Thompson with his partner Charlotte Pullan
Stephen Thompson with his partner Charlotte Pullan
Phillip McCallen

Road racing legend Phillip McCallen has urged his friend Stephen Thompson - who sustained a catalogue of life-threatening injuries in a horror smash - to reconsider his plans to return to the high-octane sport.

As exclusively revealed in yesterday's Belfast Telegraph, Thompson is determined to race again despite losing an arm and suffering other massive injuries at this year's North West 200.

Crumlin man Thompson's stance has dismayed his partner of 14 years Charlotte Pullan, who lost her husband Lee to road racing 19 years ago and fears a similar fate for Stephen.

Stephen is father to nine-year-old Libbie and stepfather to another daughter Fay (20), who was only a baby when her father was killed during a race in Belgium.

McCallen (51), who retired from road racing in 1999 after seeing another close colleague, Simon Beck, die, stressed that he wasn't being critical of his friend's desire to get back on a bike, but added: "My message to Stephen is that he really needs to be ready to stop racing.

"I would say to him: 'Hang up your leathers, have your memories and share that with other people. Don't worry about proving you still can ride a bike'."

The 11-time Isle of Man TT winner added that he empathised with Charlotte, who is hoping Stephen never mounts a powerful motorcycle again.

"She has been through a very serious experience before with Lee Pullan, who was a great, great guy," said McCallen.

"That girl has experienced two of the worst things that could happen in the sport - a fatality, and now she's experienced a loved one losing a limb.

"That is so, so hard for a partner to accept so I think it's a miracle that she's still such a strong person after coming through that."

Portadown man McCallen, famous for his five wins from six starts at the 1992 North West 200, said he had no regrets about quitting the sport, but was well aware of the withdrawal symptoms retired road racers can face.

"Those symptoms can go on for years because you've come off the highest drug in the land," he said.

"Motorcycling is a pure adrenaline drug. My wife Manda can understand how Charlotte feels because when we met I was a racer and that's all she knew me for.

"That was my drug and she supported me in that. But your partner always wishes that some day you'll stop this. Nobody can make you do that, though; you have to decide for yourself."

Portstewart woman and road racing fan Violet McAfee, who was caught up in the crash that left Thompson fighting for his life and hospitalised for three months, said she understood why the racer was so keen to get back on the bike.

"For people like him, it doesn't seem to matter how bad their injuries have been," said Violet, who visited Stephen in hospital during his recuperation.

"Stephen has gone through a huge amount of life-changing stuff and it's hard for people to believe that he would even still want to get onto a bike after losing an arm. But it's the drive and passion they have. They're adrenaline junkies.

"I can understand where Charlotte is coming from; the riders' partners know their next race could be their last. But then she has to understand where he is coming from, too, because that's his passion and hopefully they'll find some common ground. By the time he gets his prosthetic arm he might have changed his mind and decided it's not worth it."

Violet herself is recovering well from the severe injuries she sustained after being hit by one of the three motorcycles involved in the pile-up at York Corner last May.

"I had my second operation three weeks ago today and everything is coming along very well," she said.

"I'm in no great pain. So far, so good. I have some down days but I'm an awful lot better than I was and I walked away from it a lot better than Stephen did."

Belfast Telegraph

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