RJ Woolsey: From the stage to the starting grid
Ulster road racer RJ Woolsey tells Roisin Delaney why he's on song to raise thousands for injured riders
There are not many bike racers who can boast of appearances on the X Factor and Britain's Got Talent on their CV. But Tandragee man RJ Woolsey is as much at home on the stage as racing at speeds of up to 120mph around the dangerous road circuits of Ireland and the Isle of Man, where he is today finishing his debut appearance in the Grand Prix competition.
The father-of-two – he has a son Simon (7) and daughter Victoria (3) – uses money raised from his singing to fund his racing and also contribute to the racing charity, the Injured Riders Welfare Fund.
He says: "I love to perform with my band, RJ Rocks The 80s, and it's a fun way of raising funds for the bike. We're a seven-piece band and perform songs by Queen, Meat Loaf, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits and U2. Earlier this year I put on a show in KMR Kawasaki team manager Ryan Farquhar's garage for my sponsors, and we'll have another night there again at the end of the year."
He takes his talent to wider audiences as well, performing around the province. And the 34-year-old even made it on to two reality television talent shows.
He says: "In 2009 I entered the ITV series The X Factor and that was all new to me, so I took a lot from that experience.
"I spent 13 minutes on the stage in front of the judges. I remember Simon Cowell gave us all a backstage briefing about what we could expect from the audition and he told us all not to be afraid to fight against the opinions of the judges.
"So I took his advice and I fought. I recall realising how tiny Dannii Minogue is, she was barely up to my chest in high heels. I also remember thinking how thin Cheryl Cole looked. It's funny getting to see these people up close."
He put his heart and soul into the auditions, eventually making it through to the final 40 out of a total of 15,000 entrants.
"I tried to be a bit different and decided to sing a song by a female artist. I sang Cher's classic 'If I Could Turn Back Time'.
After that appearance, which can be seen on YouTube, he got on to Britain's Got Talent in the same year, appearing in the televised stages.
"I chose to take away a lot of positives from the experiences of auditioning and I threw those positives into focusing on my own music. I started to write a rock album all about motorcycle road racing and drawing from my own experiences. I originally called it Fast Furious, but later changed the name to Fast Freedom.
"The record has now been produced with copyright clearance and it is ready for promotion, so hopefully I'll be able to return home in one piece and get working on that properly after this stint in the Isle of Man. I'd love to get a single to the top of the charts – that would be a great personal achievement for me. It's worth remembering that the proceeds made from the profit of my songs on this album all go to the Injured Riders Welfare Fund.
RJ (Robert John) got the racing bug early. "I was reared on the Tandragee road circuit in Co Armagh. My granddad used to take me off to watch different races, so the desire to be involved in racing was there from a very young age. I started racing at the age of 20 on a classic, slow bike, a K4350, as I needed to build my confidence.
"I got great results at the Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100 and other short circuit events. I managed to win four Irish motorbike championships, including the Irish Road Race and Short Circuit championships in 2007, but after the birth of my son seven years ago I decided to retire from racing. Racing when I had that responsibility was unnerving and I couldn't hack it."
But he later returned to the sport and during the past week has fulfilled a long-time desire to race at the Isle of Man, the mecca for motorcycle road racers. He even performed on stage three nights during the event. "I love the feeling I get performing, so I'd say I'm addicted to adrenaline. I came to the decision that if I was really going to go for it, then I'd need a reliable bike. So thankfully I have the 650 Kawasaki, which Ryan Farquhar (former top Northern Ireland racer) will get back once this is all over.
"A great mechanic from Cornascriebe by the name of Tam Stevenson helped me get everything together and Romtech NI have also been very good to me. It is quite costly, but the money from performing has helped me along too. Fuel alone is costing around £1,200, so when so much work is going into this I want to give it my all."
He admits his racing causes concern at home. "Even now my parents are worried about me racing, as any parents would be.
"My main goal is to race well, come home in one piece to my children and go back to the family business, Woolsey Concrete Products, as well as work some more on my music.
"The company works a lot with the farming industry, so this is a busy time of year for us. I've taken time off to race, so my dad is not at all pleased given the time of year. But he'll be happy once I'm safe and well at home after this. I would love to race well and get a finish, of course, but once I come back in one piece everyone will be happy."
And then RJ Woolsey, the bike racer, will once again morph into Meatloaf or Freddie Mercury or The Boss.