Success on two wheels just runs through Neill family
Philip Neill is best known as one of Northern Ireland's most successful motorsport team owners. Along with his father Hector, the Neill family has enjoyed over 50 international road racing victories with riders like the late David Jefferies, Adrian Archibald, Ian Hutchinson, Alastair Seeley and, of course, the inimitable and enigmatic Guy Martin.
Operating under the TAS Racing banner, Neill's parent company, they are currently the driving force behind BMW Motorrad UK's official effort in both the British Superbike Championship and on the international road racing scene.
Based in Moneymore, Neill's race team premises have become a landmark on the outskirts of the Mid Ulster village, topped only by Springhill, the 17th century Plantation house, now owned and run by the National Trust.
Moneymore and the surrounding area is very much part of family life for the 48-year-old former motocross racer and local businessman, married to Nicky, and whose three children go to school in the area, with one in particular aiming to follow in dad's two-wheel tracks.
"Both Katie (13) and Curtis (11) have an involvement in many different sports, and I encourage that. While Rachel (16) doesn't share their sporting passion, she is often involved with the race team on the hospitality side of the business, but is currently busy studying for A Levels," says Philip.
"I'm also lucky to be married to Nicky. With me being away so much, Nicky is key to the stability in their home life and education.
"As the people who know me best will tell you, family life for me is more important than anything. The problem we encounter being involved in racing is that it dictates a lot of time away from home, and we spend many weekends away from family (Philip will take in around 40 flights per year to fulfil his role at the helm of the Tyco BMW team).
"I would never say I don't enjoy being in racing, but my first choice would always be to spend time with my family, and having three children makes that balance even more difficult to find, as they all have different interests."
Speaking of what makes him tick away from the high-octane world of motorsport, he confided: "I have a personal passion for cycling and it just so happens that in what started out as an interest for all the family, Katie has come to the fore, although Curtis is enjoying it as well as his football."
Having seen potential in his youngest daughter, and being a self-confessed and driven competitor, he added: "Although we spend a lot of time together in the local forest at Davagh and enjoy cycling with our local club, Carn Wheelers, Katie in particular is now competing at quite a high level, which has brought about some success."
With Ulster League and Championship titles in her age group at Cyclo-cross and mountain biking, as well as a debut podium on the roads last season in an Ulster time trial, the dynamic has now changed somewhat, with dad being careful not to turn his family-filled pedal-powered weekends into a single-minded venture like his racing - where winning is the only acceptable goal.
"It's fantastic and as much as we do it for enjoyment, I am competitive," he smiled somewhat apologetically. "That has rubbed off on Katie. I need to be careful with it though, as enjoyment for the sport has become competition again in my life, and it's now taking a lot of time to prepare and train.
"I do have to remind myself that we are doing this for family time and to enjoy the sport first and foremost, and not push too hard as dads can do. If Katie wants to continue to compete, as with Curtis, and they continue to be successful, I will drive it to the best of my ability."
Success in sport is measured by the thickness of the CV and for a small local team that began life in the halcyon days of road racing as Hector Neill Racing - after Philip's father Hector - they have racked up an impressive tally of top steps.
Riders like the late, great Jefferies and local man Archibald have won Isle of Man TTs as have Bruce Anstey, Cameron Donald and, more recently, Hutchinson. But there's only one man people ever want to enquire about.
"Guy. He's some boy," said Philip of the Lincolnshire truck mechanic and racer, who, thanks to his quirky TV series, is now a national treasure and worldwide celebrity, much to his personal chagrin.
"If someone was to define me in a couple of words, I would hope that they would use the words, passion and challenge.
"I saw Guy as a challenge when we got involved with him six or seven years ago. He is a character; clearly very talented, but hadn't quite reached his full potential. We had the passion to help him do that.
"Yes, he's very different to work with than the other riders, but I don't think he has changed.
"The world around Guy has changed: it has created a superstar out of a very interesting character, who loves working in the truck yard and taking on big challenges, but I don't think Guy sees himself as a superstar at all.
"Yes, he's had to change in certain ways to cope with the demands on his time, but I admire him because he has created these opportunities for himself. Those who know Guy best will know that TV hasn't created a character, Guy already was that character.
"He has shrewdly used his position to grab those opportunities with both hands and tick personal boxes, fulfilling ambitions and desires that the rest of us can only dream about. I admire him for that."
Neill wouldn't be drawn on whether Guy would or wouldn't race at the TT again in pursuit of that Holy Grail victory.
What he did say was: "We just have to accept that Guy did have a huge desire to win a TT. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
"He was certainly good enough, but people are too hung up on the fact that he hasn't won one. He has conquered other goals in his life that he probably feels are bigger achievements."
Having recently signed former Italian World Superbike star Davide Giugliano to join Christian Iddon and Hutchinson in the team for 2017, TAS Racing was dealt a bitter blow in November when four of the team's Tyco BMW race bikes were stolen.
The financial hit to the team has been estimated in excess of £150,000, but it has had a profound effect on Philip, and his father Hector.
"It has hit me very hard, I have to be honest," said the Moneymore man, recounting the incident. "This is not a normal business. I had this misguided belief that we would never be open to that. But you learn your lessons hard.
"Had this been the early days when we were starting out with no manufacturer and sponsorship support, the team could have been finished.
"We are operating at a professional level nowadays and part of that requirement means we are structured as a business, so we do expect to be covered for the loss financially, but it doesn't take that invasive feeling away."
The future for TAS Racing is currently looking strong both in British Championship and on the roads with 14-time TT winner Hutchinson. But a question that most race fans have been asking for years is why Northern Ireland's top team has never been able to hook up with the country's number one road racer?
"Michael Dunlop, I assume you mean," Neill accepted. "That's a very difficult question as it takes two parties to reach an agreement.
"I have a huge amount of respect for Michael in what he has achieved in racing and if I'm honest, it is particularly satisfying to win road races and championships with local riders, as we have done with Adrian Archibald and Alastair Seeley.
"I wont deny the fact that on multiple occasions I've spoken to Michael about riding for us, or he has spoken to me about riding for TAS Racing, but for various reasons it has just never been the right time either for him or us. I would never say never, but to make it happen there would need to be willingness from both parties."