The Road Racing Dialogues

On this page I hope to share with you some lighthearted, interesting chats with local and national road racers and those involved in organising and running the sport we adore. What I love so much about this sport is that the riders mostly work full time, earn very little for putting their lives on the line, gather their own sponsorship and are very accessible to fans. I have been guilty of only following the first couple of rows on the grid- which is normal I suppose, but have now realised that the lads and lasses that make up the rest of the grid, the timekeepers, marshals, mechanics and “other halves” are massively important and put in equally as much effort as those who make the headlines. I know this format has been brilliantly well tackled by the team at Emerald Road Racing and I make no apologies in learning from what they do so well.

This is only a start for me, so bear with it. Its really just a way I can put something back into what has become a passion for me as well in hundreds across Ireland, North and South, UK and further afield.

The interviews I hope will not be too formal and take place in a relaxed atmosphere with a pint at our side. The first interview will take place this weekend and I will do my very best to get it published before Christmas.

So who is the first victim you ask? I can tell you he hails from Norn Iron and has completed more laps of the TT circuit than most of us have had hot dinners. You may not instantly recognise his name but you will recognise his passion and effort. Watch this space….

It is with great pleasure I can announce that the first Road Racing Dialogue will be Carrickfergus resident and Manx GP star Stephen “Cargo” Carr. I am extremely grateful that he is giving up some of his valuable time to have a chat with me on Saturday. Stephen has been racing 400 and 600 machines on the roads since 1996 and on the IOM TT circuit since 1997. There is not much about the Mountain Circuit that Stephen doesnt know. Those of you fortunate enough to watch road racing in Ireland, North and South will also have seen him darting between the hedges.

As this is my first rattle at the interview lark, I would love to ask some questions from you knowledgeable fans and riders. So please feel free to post your questions on here as soon as you can and I will do my best to get them answered. Thanks a lot.

I will publish the interview with Stephen in several parts and am please to share part 1 with you today. Hope you enjoy the read.

STEPHEN “CARGO” CARR #96 part one

Stephen and I met in a Carrickfergus hotel just before Christmas. We enjoyed a very informative and laid back chat. I was keen to make it very informal and relaxed and would now like to share the results with you all. Enjoy.

With regards to a motorbike, when and how did it all start for you?

Guys at school, when I was about 16, were getting SS50s and Fizzies and I really thought I want one of those. I had no real family history of bikes, although I did go to the UGP with my Dad in the 60s. He didn’t really have an interest in the bikes, it was more of a big event and we lived close by. My first bike was a Suzuki AP 50, a red one, a disaster of a motorbike. It wasn’t fast, the headlight was like a candle in a jam jar but there was whole gang of us who loved buzzing around Carrick.

So what took you from farting around on wee 50s to road racing?

Well it was a long long time. I am 51 now, got my first bike when I was 17 but I didn’t race until I was 35. When we had the 50s, we would have gone to watch the racing at Kirkistown, with grass growing up through the track. We watched from Fishermans and I thought, I could do that. But it was no more than a thought really. I grew an interest in road racing and of course Joey Dunlop was a big part of that. Joey looked like me, a scruffy biker, but he could go fast and win. When I was about 30 I was in Dobbins in Carrick having a pint and got chatting to an old friend, Jim Kelly, who was about to head off to the Manx GP. He was sharing a van with another rider and could do with a hand, so I volunteered to take a week off work and join him. After only one practice session Jim and the other rider had both crashed, wrecking both RGV 250s, Jim also sustaining a broken collar bone. I was devastated that both bikes were wrecked and it looked like I wouldn’t have anything to do. It was all gone in one day. However the next day Jims mate Ronny managed to haggle another crashed RGV 250 from Barry Wood. Between us we built one decent bike from the 3 crashed ones. I had always tinkered with bikes, it was the only way to afford to get anything done and now my skills were paying off. Ronny rode the bike in the GP. This had all been great fun for me, a holiday really, no money involved.

During that winter, Ronny bought an ex Wolsey Coulter 250B and contacted me just before the Cookstown 100 to ask me to spanner for him. We won the support championship that year and I worked with him a further 3 years. It was then that I felt that I should have a go at this road racing and picked up a 600 Honda from England. It was a crashed road bike which I fixed up, raced a Clubmans and 6 short circuits to get my A licence and then put in an entry for the Mid Antrim in the support class.

What is the definition of the support class?

Well the support class grew up out of the C group which is really the newcomers group. When you get a race licence now this is the class that you will go into. The class is split into two, 250/400 and 400/750 with 650 twins. If you do well in this class and championship you could get “promoted” to the senior races. There are some old timers like myself still in the support class, Adrian Logue, Bill Rice and George Scott are all old hands, but we have the same passion as the Ryan Farquhars of the world. So nowadays I try to enter as many road races as possible- my 400 in the junior support and 600 in the senior support. Work doesn’t allow me to get to them all but I do my best. My friend Ian, who refuses to be called a mechanic, helps me out. He prefers the title pit attendant J. Its perfectly possible to race on my own but nowadays with tyre warmers, generator and stands, another pair of hands is a great help.

What preparations are made before a road race?

Well, lets say the for the Cookstown, the application form will be sent out in January, I am on their mailing list so it will be sent out automatically. There is not too much to the form, you tell them your licence number, transponder number, what classes you are going to ride and what bikes you are racing. There is normally a closing date about 2 weeks before the event. I just send back the form with my entry fee. Each club sets their own fee, some more than others.

How does the organising Club recover costs of running an event?

An oddity of road racing is that income from spectators is relatively low. Nowadays there is a push to put in grandstands which can be charged for and there is always a big effort to sell programmes. Only one meeting in the North can legally charge an admission fee and that is the UGP. They have what is called a race area and you will need your ticket, windscreen sticker or wristband to enter this area during racing or practice. But as we saw this year, spectators will scramble across fields etc to view the racing for free. So generally the main source of income from fans will be the programme and the programmes are generally very good. Although I do have a slight issue – as a rider we get a free programme but at some events we are only given the race card and not the glossy magazine. At an event like the UGP, the big teams are paid to attend.

That is an interesting point; I believed the bigger teams are lured by the bigger prize money available.

Not always the case. The bigger teams and their riders are almost certainly paid to attend. It is a vey murky area and I have a problem with it. We are not all treated equally. If you were to enter a car rally you will find that every teams space in the service area is measured out equally, everybody is treated the same as regards to the rules and regulations, everybody’s the same. But that’s not the case a road racing. In road racing the bigger team you are, the more money you have, the more kudos you have the more preferential treatment you will receive.

In a way that disappoints me, but I should stop being naïve.

There is a harsh commercial reality to it. If you go to a Clubmans round at a wet Bishopscourt in March there will be no one there watching, yet an ISB round in July, when the bigger teams send over riders, there will be lots of punters there. The NW 200 is the same of course. Fans don’t want to watch me and a few others in a couple of support races. My name won’t cover the back page of the Belfast Telegraph. Guy Martin, John McGuiness, Steve Plater and riders of that calibre are recognisable names that attract a lot of spectators. Fans want to watch the riders they recognise from the TV and so often riders will only race over here in the top events.  But I also believe that events like say the NW200 do also get punters out for the first time and out of the 50,000 a few will get sufficiently interested to come along to the smaller events at Tandragee and Cookstown for example.

So how much money should spectators be contributing to the event?

Well as you know I am a keen follower of Ulster rugby and often pay £25 to watch them, for 80 minutes. Now on a warm sunny day at Tandragee, you get a good spot and you will see some mad, talented, skilful guys racing motorbikes for your pleasure. Now that is worth 25 quid in my mind. But and there is always a but, you could also be sat in the lashing rain and the racing gets curtailed half way through. That guy who paid is not going to be happy. It’s a conundrum.  And the riders are affected too. I must have paid around £200 to enter the Mid Antrim and because we had practice sessions and the race then abandoned over the head of that idiot, that money is gone. And we didn’t even get to race. And that same idiot is another reason the charging issue is so difficult. If you have paid £25 to watch a days racing and it is abandoned for some reason like that, you are not going to be happy and might never come back again. It’s difficult. If I pay my money to watch the rugby I am damned certain that I am going to see the show. It may not always be spectacular but I am guaranteed a seat and I know that the event will go ahead.

Any comments on marshalling at road racing?

The only place I marshal now is on the isle of Man. It is a thankless job as lots of punters want to stand where they are not allowed. At somewhere like the NW for example, there are a lot of punters with drink taken who are not regulars at these events and it can be a horrible experience trying to keep them safe. I admire those that do marshal over here but I find dealing with drunks and scoundrels very difficult.

I noticed the road closure is enforced much more stringently on IOM than here. For example, up at the Brandywell, 30 miles from the startline and before racing had started, marshals need radio permission from race control to allow a spectator to cross over the mountain road .Is this a good practice?

It does appear a little extreme but worthwhile. Punters know that the road closure is strictly controlled, marshals carry a warrant and have a power of arrest and as such the circuit is much safer. The crowd control is excellent and generally the huge amount of spectators do exactly as they are told. When I marshal on the island I got to Gorse Lea, and highly recommend it. It is fast and the last right hander before Ballacraine. There is a wall where a lot of spectators gather and before the roads close and sit with their legs dangling over. We go along them all individually and advise them to get their legs behind the wall as soon as the circuit is closed. We are polite and you wouldn’t believe how cooperative they are. We monitor the wall carefully after that using binoculars and occasionally have remind the odd one using a whistle. Unfortunately I have seen some pretty chaotic scenes over here, things that just shouldn’t be happening. At a recent event in Skerries, we were just red flagged because of an incident and within seconds there were loads of punters on a live race circuit all wanting to have a look at the incident. That just shouldn’t be happening, although I do believe things improved this year.

So let’s say I am a punter at Gorse Lea where you are marshalling and refuse to move from an area that you have asked me to move from. Would you stop a race? Or what action would you take?

We would be very vocal in trying to get you to move, as would other spectators who don’t want to see their days racing ruined. The local Police would then be requested to remove you from the circuit. Thankfully this doesn’t happen very often, although the odd drunk can pose a problem.

Tell me about your first 100mph lap around the Mountain Circuit

I think it was my second or maybe third time of racing the MGP and was a Monday or Tuesday practice. It was a 2 lap session and I remember coming over the line and thinking to myself that that felt quite good, but no more than that. It felt comfortable and smooth and I felt that I hadn’t made too many mistakes. But 100mph is not really that spectacular.

Aye but hang on, that’s an average speed over the complete circuit. Trust me, I think its spectacular.

In those days the timings were all done manually o we had to hand around till about 9pm to get our times.  We were hanging over the counter like wee children waiting to hear how we had done. And there it was in black and white. My top speed would have been around 140mph. We celebrated that night alright.

Do you instinctively know that you have done a good lap?

Generally yes. I can say to myself that this corner was good, this one was poor, could have gone harder here etc but occasionally lap time can surprise you. The last practice for racing is usually the Saturday evening and I normally do one lap with brand new race tyres on –just to scrub them in a bit for racing. So I am not really trying my hardest on this lap but often complete it in really good times. It comes down, I think, to being smooth rather than aggressive.

How much is a quick lap down to the machine?

Oh, a whole lot. I feel I could go a whole lot quicker on a faster bike. I could vastly improve my time on JMc`s Fireblade J But still not as fast as him of course. Guys like him have so much talent. He will cut hedges and kerbs that wee bit closer than me and therefore carry more speed. He is braver than me .I like to have a foot or two to play with. If we both started together, on identical machine, I might just keep up with him in a straight line, but come that first corner, he would be away and I might never see him again. If a rider can demonstrate your talent on a lesser machine, eventually the right bike will come to you. Conor Cummins, Dan Kneen and Gary Johnson are prime examples of that. It can be a dangerous dream however to plough thousands of pounds into a bike that, may, just go a mile or tow an hour quicker than a production bike. It`s funny though, I do notice in the paddock here, that sometimes lads are spending more and more money on vans and kit rather than the bike, which is odd.

But that’s maybe so the women can come along to the races with the dog and watch Strictly J

No comment

Do you have someone do a board for you?

Yes and no. I do get a reminder for fuel and occasionally a Go Cargo board. I do give a nod or a thumbs up to those who I know but when you`re running 50th a proper board wouldn’t be much use to me. I did have a guy wave a calendar at me once because he thought I was going too slowly.

I do find though that I start to wind down a little coming over the mountain on the last lap. I am already thinking about getting over the line. Maybe a board suggesting that I am a second 2 behind improving my position would help me go a little faster.

I understand that you are a film star?

Yep, if you watch the training dvd that the IOMTTMA produced you will see me. I am the casualty being airlifted by helicopter.

How do you think the increase of prohibited spectator areas on the Mountain Circuit has affected wildlife? I ask this as I was aware of at least 2 TMs hitting birds last year.

That is a hard one. Of course with no fans at the roadside there is a possibility that wildlife will remain in the area and therefore be a threat to themselves as well as riders. My personal opinion is that after the first couple of machines go through most of the wildlife will clear off. However at Gorse Lea an occasional pheasant and even a duck and ducklings make the odd appearance. On one occasion bikes were lined up at the grandstand waiting for the off when a branch above the road at Gorse Lea broke and landed on the circuit. The marshals had to radio in and get the start delayed for a short while.

So tell me about Mr Davey Morgan…

Davey is 41, and I will tell you how I know that in a minute. He is a very talented guy. He has won the senior MGP, rides the TT now but also rides the post classic at the GP. I would go as far as putting Davey in the superstar bracket-

Even though he wears a pink helmet…

Yes. He is enormously talented and a genuine nice guy. He will happily talk to someone like me, even at my lowly level. A couple of weeks ago I was at a running/ mountain bike event when I saw Davey walking past. The road racers challenge had begun. I managed to beat him by a couple of minutes and he wasn’t best pleased. How bloody old are you Cargo?  He is a 100% good guy and maybe just do an interview for you.

How on earth do you learn the Mountain Circuit?

Wow. Good question. I had ridden the circuit many many times during roads open so I had a pretty good idea. In fact I reckon if you had put me anywhere on the circuit I could have told you what was coming next. However learning the racing lines and braking markers is something else altogether. I was advised to try and split the circuit up into small chunks, maybe 5 or 6 miles at a time. Learn the first chunk as well as possible before moving onto the next and so on. Then hopefully by the time you get back into Douglas you will have a pretty good idea. We would also go out in the van, walk pats of the circuit and even look backwards. Sometimes a bend can look a bit straighter when you look at it from the other side.

However nowadays things are quite different. A lot of riders maybe use the Playstation TT game. I am really not in favour of it. You don’t see the walls, the posts, trees, scenery etc. It is also too easy to fall off. An on board dvd lap however is much better, especially if the commentator know what he id talking about. The Nick Jeffries on board lap is a great one. The Hailwood Foundation is also a fantastic organisation which helps newcomers. They help with funding and bring newcomers round and round the circuit in a car at weekends. Sometimes however I do get worried with some newcomers who make it through to the race. It is very easy to “get lost” on some parts of the circuit. We do emphasise very strongly at riders briefings how important it is to concentrate all the time. I marshalled the newcomer`s race recently from Gorse Lea, which on a bike up to say 600 is about flat out. On this occasion a lad approached us on a 125 and dropped it down 3 gears to get round. He was lost and was potentially dangerous, especially if someone would be close behind him.

We keep informed of surface changes year to year, especially paint markings, manholes, resurfacing or if braking markers such as posts or hedges go. Over the years some lads have left paint marks on trees and posts to be used as braking or corner indications.

Any memorable offs?

The first one ever was at Mondello. For some reason, it has always rained on me at Mondello. Coming into the first corner, I did a guy on the brakes but the bike span out on me. Off I went but not sore and the marshals helped me recover the bike. Nothing spectacular. A more memorable one was at Nutts Corner. I had brought Richards Brittons bike from the Manx to NI on the senior Saturday. I had brought it over in my van and Richard caught me up later. Once I had handed over his bike to him, I thought it would be straightforward enough for me to put in an entry also. After all, my gear was in the van too. Anyhow a short time litter I was flying through the kitty litter with the bike all over the place. One of the marshals remarked how he had heard me laughing as I went in. Flips sake, I had just managed two weeks on the Island only to come home and do this.

My infamous off was back in the days of the Dundrod 150 in June. I approached Tornagrough in the wrong gear. Well the wrong gear for me. I caught the gravel on the side of the outside of the left hander, tried to straighten and ended up flying over the bank ahead. The BBC captured it all for posterity .I spent 5 days in hospital with broken bones, bruised black and blue, followed by 13 weeks on the sick. After that I spent 13 weeks on light duties. Not really a great day. I have been off twice at the Manx, one was early in the morning and I was catching the rider in front of me over the mountain. I reckoned I would overtake him between Kates Cottage and the Creg but came off badly just after Keppel Gate. I was unhurt but had heather sticking in parts I didn’t know existed. I also came a cropper at Governors, thankfully only my pride was hurt.

How are riders supported after a racing accident in Ireland?

The Injured Riders Fund, namely Jan, Sheila and Yvonne do a wonderful job. Everybody who falls off and is off work are treated fairly and get some financial support pretty quickly from the fund. The beauty of what these ladies do is that they are so quick to release cash. There is no waiting for ages whilst the breadwinner is in hospital. I think they would also be a good team to interview.

I would like to sign on as a marshal for the 2012 Manx. Where do you recommend I go to on the circuit?

Without a doubt, Gorse Lea. They are an excellent group of lads and you won`t be stuck for a bun or cup of coffee. They also enjoy the banter and are especially keen on jokes and puns – which are particularly important. But they are also very switched on and you couldn’t ask for a better place to fall off.

Any pre race rituals or lucky pants?

Yep, for whatever reason I refuse to race in anything other than white socks. I don’t care what T shirt I wear, what trunks I wear but I must wear white socks. And my black leathers and white lid.

Thanks very much Stephen for sharing all this with me and I wish you all the very best for 2012.

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