NW200 - Page 2

Road racing’s superstars may dominate the headlines, but the unsung majority are still the sport’s lifeblood. Warren Pole unpicks the fabric of ‘real’ road racing

You can’t imagine any of the superstar drivers in Monaco speaking like this. From Robinson however, it couldn’t sound more natural. I ask what drives him, and he answers after a pause.

“That’s a difficult one and to be quite honest it’s not just the thrill of riding a motorbike. I like winning, that’s what it is. You don’t have to win all the time, but having a chance of winning gives you the push to want to do it.”

One win which has eluded him so far though is the North West. “I’ve never won here. Two seconds, two thirds, but never the top step, and that win’s the one thing I’ve always wanted since I started racing.”

Sitting in his DIY motorhome – a truck he “packed the inside of a caravan into” – it’s plain he doesn’t have a huge budget to make this dream come true. Working as a lifeguard at the Joey Dunlop leisure centre in Ballymoney just down the road earns him enough for a decent living but it runs thin when it comes to racing.

An illustration of how thin comes when we talk tyres, or more precisely, lack of them.      “Some guys run new tyres at every race, but I’m not in that position. I had one set of tyres for the entire season last year. They did 15 races. And my wets are four years old. That’s why my leathers are so battered – I fell off in the rain the other week because the grip just ran out.”

His tyres may be in better shape this weekend, but Robinson still faced a battle to make the grid at all after a main bearing failure on his 125 forced him out of the first qualifying session and left him facing a full engine rebuild to make the second.

“All day Wednesday we were screwing the bike apart and we had the engine in about a thousand bits. But we got it rebuilt and I went out to Robert’s (Dunlop) house to run it in.” You may presume this is because there’s a dyno there – after all, where else would you run in a race bike – but you’d be wrong. This is the world of Irish road racing and given that even tyres are often a too-costly expense, rolling roads are hardly thick on the ground either. Instead, the more traditional everyday road is where race bikes rack up their running in miles.

So it was for Robinson’s Honda 125. “It’s not legal, but I had to run the bike in. I did about 20 miles. Some were slow, but at other times I was pulling top gear with the same gearing I’m running in the race.”

Don’t think the local coppers will turn a blind eye either. Stories of them pulling Joey Dunlop over doing just the same only to wish him luck are either from a bygone age or simply apocryphal. These days Northern Ireland’s traffic coppers are as stern as the rest. “If the police catch you they’ll throw the book at you – do you for so much it would be unbelievable and it would cost a lot of money,” explains Robinson. “You just have to take the chance. You use roads you know, out of the way where it’s quiet and if the police do see you, you just hope you can get away.”

And let’s face it, if there was ever a chase between a heavily laden cop car and a bantamweight road racer, on his own turf armed with a freshly tuned race bike, I know who my money would be on.

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