Tuesday, 31 March 2020

You'll never guess what came in the post!!

Sadly most of us are locked up in our homes for the time being and struggling to find new things to do due to this Covid-19 pandemic. The TV isn't much help either with nothing good on or repeats of old programmes we have seen a million times before.

Ayrton Senna, Niall's racing hero

I was trying to think of something new for this blog. Already the first event has been written off due to this virus, and the "Lockdown" has now prevented anyone I intended to Interview this year the ability to meet up. Then out of the blue I got a message from an old friend from my karting days telling me he came across an old poster that had a good tale behind it.

The exciting future of the M-Sport rally team | Autocar
Malcolm Wilson, former British Rally Champion and owner of MSport.
This friend is Niall Tuohy, who like many of us ex- Prokarters dreamed of racing cars or rallying but would never have the money to go on to do either, Still though in saying that a common link with anyone who raced these twin Honda engined karts, is that the majority of those who raced them had no airs or graces and therefore would help each other out anyway they could. Due to this it created some great and long lasting friendships over the years. Even if they haven't been in touch for years people tend to pick up where they left off which is the case between myself and Niall.

After recalling some on track battles and figuring out names of old rivals we could picture but couldn't put names to, I asked about this story of his he messaged me about. This would also lead to an interesting tale of how it lead him into racing and how everyone's route into the sport is different to each others.

Now Niall comes from Cashel, Co. Tipperary, not really a karting stronghold! The only horsepower round there is the four legged type but there is Tipperary Raceway in Rosegreen, which would play its part in him getting started in racing later on and also not so far down the road at the time in nearby Cloneen was rally hero Frank Meagher.

Niall then began to tell the story he contacted me about.

"My dad was never in motorsport at all or any of my family, but I used to watch F1 and some rallies like the Circuit of Ireland, Donegal or Killarney on the TV when RTE would show them. This was pre SKY TV or internet so I had to make do with RTE 1 and 2 at the time.

As normal on a Sunday when a F1 Grand Prix was on, I was glued to the TV when suddenly Ayrton Senna crashed and it was a big one and it didn't look good for him. I watched the rest of the race and then went out somewhere after. Then later that night I remember watching the news and finding out that Senna had been killed! I went into my room and balled my eyes out much to the amazement of dad who couldn't figure out why I was reacting like this. Then it hit him that I was really into motorsport in a big way. After that we went to watch some events, the first being the big local rally the Stonethrowers. Local driver Frank Meagher was in it and was favourite that weekend and true to form he came home first!"

Meagher was driving a Ford Sierra at the time but by then the Ford Escort Cosworth came out. Malcolm Wilson had setup MSport by this time and drove the infamous Michelin Tyre backed car with its distinctive yellow and blue colour scheme.

Niall continued;

" I don't remember how or even why, but I got this notion to write to Malcolm Wilson and still today can't remember how I got the address. I don't remember exactly what I wrote but it was on the lines of how much I liked him as a driver and the car etc, etc. Anyway off the letter went at I thought no more of it. Then a couple of weeks later I came home from school to find this cardboard tube waiting for me on the kitchen table. I had forgotten all about the letter I had written to Malcolm Wilson but on opening this tube to my huge surprise a signed poster of him competing in the car and a hand written note of thanks along with it!!"

I myself had the same poster in fact I'm sure every young rally fan of the time had the same poster on their bedroom wall. This kicked off a desire to compete in some form of motorsport though in young Niall.

" Now I was a thrilled with this poster coming from Malcolm Wilson but then shortly afterwards dad told me to hop into the car and that we were going for a spin. Nothing unusual about this really, until we pulled up outside this garage as as we walked in there was a Frank Meagher’s Ford Escort Cosworth sitting on stands. I couldn't believe it! They were getting it ready for the upcoming Rally of the Lakes and I got to sit in it and have a good look around. He signed a poster I had of him not long after and I had both him and Malcolm on my bedroom wall."

Young Niall Getting to sit in Frank Meagher's Escort Cosworth

By 1997 Niall had found out about kart racing and had eventually wore his father Tom down and a Stratos chasis Prokart was bought. With neither father or son filled with the knowledge of how a kart worked or what entailed, let alone where to use it, the best plan was to test it out on the local road where they lived. AS you can imagine they found out that the local road was not the best testing facility for the newly acquired racing machine.

First run up the road in his first kart

" I had just got this kart and was mad to go out in it and dad was not at all mechanically minded. So I used to just go up and down the road outside the house in it. What I didn't know at the time was and not for about a year later I had bent the axle doing this and lost the grub screws on one of the bearings too, which meant the axle would move and force the brake disc to one side of the pads in the corners and slow me down. It was Sean McCabe who helped us out and told us what the problem was. We were so green starting at the time, it makes me laugh now."

The next ' Senna '

A new plan was formed and a trip to Tipperary Raceway was made to use as a testing facility as Niall's father new the owner Michael Barry and it proved a much better plan. A little bit of sponsorship from rallyman Trevor Harding also included a pair of worn but still in good nick race boots, which turned out to be Frank Meagher's old ones! It's funny how things can turn out.

All was set for the 1998 season when tragically Niall's father Tom or 'Mossie' as he was known, died suddenly. Understandably the interest in karting waned after this huge loss, as Niall was unable to get to races as he was still too young to drive himself to meetings, so he only managed to get a couple in that year. By the year 2000 he was back properly with a new Wright chasis kart and new engines and once tuned he started to get good results and inside the top ten of a very competitive field at the time.

Niall (#29) flat out in Mondello Park and above the new Harding Car Sales backed Wright Prokart.

"I had a good year that year but I started working then after that and moved up to Dublin and life got in the way of racing for a good few years after that until I went back racing in 2015 in Hillsborough in Co. Down where Isaac Lyons ran a championship in corporate  karts, but it was close racing and I won myself a proper TAG HEUER watch for winning the championship. Since then I have done the UK Club 100 Rotax Max championship in England. It is cheap, fun and competitive. Where I live now cant hold a kart and it is too expensive to do an arrive and drive over here nowadays so I stick to the Club 100 series."

It's an interesting story from Niall but also of how a professional driver who took the time to send a young kid who he didn't know a poster, that then kicked off a lifelong love with a sport. I hope the same has happened or will happen to another young kid in the future, where he can retell to a friend he raced against twenty years later!!

Niall today with the poster he was sent from Malcolm Wilson all those years ago!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Mondello Masters Lookback

This weekend was to be the first round of the Mondello Masters and the opening motorcycle race meeting of the year. The long winter nights spent training, rebuilding engines, bikes and in some cases riders, have sadly been extended due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

While we all of course want to go racing the health of us all and those belonging to us is far more important and we will just have to be patient and wait until this situation ends. With the opportunity to capture a new set of images of a new season on hold for now, looking back on images from years gone by hasn't. Looking back through my archive it brought back many memories of great races from riders from both north and south. How far some of these riders have gone and what they have achieved since some of these photographs were taken is truly remarkable from such a small island. Sadly some are no longer with us and some have retired. Also some of the road racing stars also joined in the series in times gone by which would be great to see again.

While I haven't been to all rounds and to the series every year I have tried to get some nice shots from the ones I have been to. Have a look at just a selection that I picked out and see what you think and feel free to leave a comment. Stay Safe and indoors so we can all get back to the things we love doing.#StaySafe.