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I will likely listen to my family and quit after William Dunlop's loss: Jeremy McWilliams

By Jim Gracey

Northern Ireland motorcycle racing's most experienced rider last night said that he is likely to bow to family wishes never to race competitively again following the tragic death of William Dunlop.

Former MotoGP winner and now road racer and North West 200 winner Jeremy McWilliams (54), told how he and his family, currently on holiday in Italy, had reacted with shock and disbelief at the news of William's loss in an accident during practice at Saturday's Skerries 100 road races.

"The first thing my sons said to me was, 'That's the end of it, dad'. They knew and admired William, like all of us, and they were stunned and upset," McWilliams said.

"Then my dad phoned the boys from Belfast and said to tell me if I get back on a bike to race, he will disown me.

"I have to admit I am considering my racing future. At this stage in my life and career, my family will have more influence on my thinking than me."

Glengormley-based McWilliams, married to Jill, has two sons, Jack (23) and Zak (20), neither of whom are involved in bike racing.

Jill and the boys supported his decision to go road racing for the first time at the age of 50, after a successful track career in MotoGP, the Premier League of motorcycle racing.

He explained then that he was taking up an offer from his pal Ryan Farquhar, who had started his own team, to tick a box, but ended up smitten, like so many, by the thrill of the road racing bug.

When I asked her at this year's North West 200 how it had come to pass, Jill told me: "We had a family sit down talk when Jeremy first started to think seriously about taking up Ryan's offer to race on the roads.

"Jeremy is the type who, if he wants to do something, he will. But we still had the discussion and we support him.

"I like to think he is at an age now where he will be more sensible. It's also comforting to know he has good, well prepared bikes and that he is working with machines and people he can trust."

Asked yesterday how Jill felt, Jeremy replied: "Same as the boys."

McWilliams works for the KTM bikes factory team on the development side and also looks after their Supersport 300 team in the World Superbike series.

He was at the weekend World Superbikes round at Misano in Italy, in that capacity, when news of William's loss came through.

Joined on holiday by his family afterwards, he said: "We have been sitting here discussing what happened to William. We just can't take it in.

"He always struck me as a rider who was one of the safest; who would not have strayed outside his comfort zone.

"When I was racing in MotoGP, my sons were too young to understand the risks but now they know how easily things can go wrong.

"When you hear news like this, you really do ask yourself: is it really worth it?

"I have been here before, questioning myself. I was the first rider on the scene in the aftermath of Ryan's Thursday night crash at the 2016 North West 200 that put him in hospital for months and I was the next one again when young Malachi Mitchell-Thomas had his fatal crash on the Saturday.

"Both experiences affected me badly. That's why I didn't race in 2017.

"The problem with road racers is we never think it is going to happen to us, otherwise we wouldn't go out.

"I wouldn't say we become immune but there is a form of denial mechanism.

"We go to the funerals, we mourn our losses but after a period of time we are compelled by our psyche to go out again. It is in our DNA.

"But there are times like this, at this stage in my life and as a family man, that I do have to take family considerations on board.

"I spend my life on two wheels, testing for KTM when I am not racing and I am well aware of the dangers. Only last week, while testing in Austria, I came upon an accident where a road-going rider was killed.

"I know the risks but the death of William has had a profound effect, especially with his family circumstances; a father of a young child with another on the way and, on behalf of my family, we send our sincere condolences to his partner Janine and the whole Dunlop family."

McWilliams then paid a personal tribute to William, who he found to be amiable and unassuming, as many others have described the 32-year-old racing hero.

Jeremy recalled: "Like many others of my generation, I followed the progress of anyone with the Dunlop name.

"I was aware of William from the moment he began making his own name in the sport and raced against him. But riders don't tend to mix a lot, we compete and go our separate ways.

"So I only got to sit down and talk to William for the first time at one of the early Armoy Road Races when I was working for television and interviewed him.

"He was riding a Yamaha for Eugene McManus and I found him personable and knowledgeable and happy to talk about all things road racing. He was down to earth and yet passionate about our sport at the same time.

"We got on well and it was devastating to hear he had been so cruelly taken. It was hard to take in and all of us will have our own decisions to make. Regardless of mine, racing will carry on as William and many others before him did, knowing what we all know now."

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