Sam Marsden's dream of following in the footsteps of Burt Munro became a reality when Professor Gordon Blair rode into his life – on a motorcycle.
The late Professor Blair, originally from Larne and who lived in north Belfast, worked at Queen's University until he retired early in 1996. He rose through the ranks from Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Head of Department, Dean of Engineering and finally to Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university, writing hundreds of papers and securing nine patents.
In 1971, Professor Blair helped secure a technical agreement where his department worked on the research and development of Yamaha's racing engines for many years. As a boy, Gordon Blair had watched in fascination as a diesel engine – which powered the milking parlour belonging to Sam Marsden's grandfather – blew smoke rings into the air.
And as an esteemed academic, he in turn inspired Sam to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.
"He arrived one Saturday, I was studying for my exams and he just showed up on his BMW motorcycle looking for my grandfather," Sam recalled. "In his childhood he played with my grandfather on the farm and it was during this time through watching the plant used to power the milking parlour he was inspired by what would end up being the basis of his research into engine development.
"During the many conversations we had, I told him about my dream to break Munro's land speed record and he encouraged me to make it a reality." Following his conversations with Professor Blair, Sam applied to Red Bull Formula One for a year's placement as a student.
After two interviews and out of hundreds of applicants, he was offered a position as a junior design engineer.
He added: "Working at Red Bull gave me opportunities that have helped me with my studies and what I plan to do in the future."