Two events back to back, both memorial races and both memorable races.
Although a cloud filled sky hung threateningly over us, it stayed mostly away. It was never going to get in the way of the friendly banter emanating from race vans in the paddock as gazebos went up to the background hum of the generators and wafting scent of burgers and fried onions filled the air.
The weekend kicked off with the Jeff Wright Memorial Scramble.
Organised and run by the Ulster Classic Motorcycle Club and held at the Temple Motorcycle and Athletic Club’s Laurelbank track.
The Friday night event was a charity scramble in support of MNDA NI and in memory of friend and respected rider Jeff Wright who sadly lost his battle with Motorneurone Disease in 2018.
A competitive racer of classic bikes it seems only fitting that he be honoured in this way.
The Ulster Classics Club rules state that only air cooled/ drum braked bikes built before December 31st 1984 could compete, ensuring survival of a golden age of motocross and creating a platform to unite and race for those who share a passion for the classics.
Throughout the TJ Plating sponsored Grade A six lap races, gaps grew and diminished continuously as the dirt was raised in a fast paced and action packed set of qualifiers that left multiple Ulster and Irish motocross champion William Burgess on his 1981 490 Maico with a good lead more than once, ultimately him winning the class.
The Norman Watt sponsored Grade B saw Raymond Cromie dominating throughout with Richard Portis, Rory O’Neill and William Stevenson amongst others threatening his reign at every turn, Cromie on a 1983 480 Honda kept them at bay to win all three grade B races.
Newlyweds Joanne and Rory O’Neill proved they are forces to be reckoned with as Joanne held her own throughout the Stitt Marine Grade C races. The Third round of which was fittingly won by number 24 Jack Belton, nephew of the late Jeff Wright, but the title of overall Grade C winner was secured by Eric Bracewell on his 1983 480 Honda, a worthy winner on the night.
Victor of the Non-Qualifier Handicap was Jamie McMaster on a 1978 440 Maico Outpacing Gareth McKeown late in the game to take the win.
As the race ended the rain began, thankfully the shower was brief and left the track favourably more grippy but remained a bumpy and fast technical course.
With The Mournes looming in the distance, the wind swept up the valley to greet us as the closing race and event of the evening was set to begin.
The engines revved with the unmistakable growl of a classic and the Jeff Wright Memorial Handicap race commenced with Matt Halpin first on the track followed by Josh Johnson and Rory O’Neill.
The distinct sound of the remaining qualifiers roaring on to their tails echoed through a rainbow filled sky and into the ears of the front runners but the advantage had been too great and they had shown commitment to the race and determination from the start.
Rory O’Neill was champion on the night earning 1st place in the Jeff Wright Memorial Handicap on a 1980 400 Can Am.
Closely chased by Josh Johnson on Jamie McMaster’s 1978 440 Maico.
With William Burgess who did not disappoint, closing the gap over the eight lap race to claim third place from Lawrence Spence who took fourth.
William Stevenson came in fifth and Matt Halpin was placed sixth.
At the event, the Wright family and Ulster Classic Club paid tribute to Jeff’s Formula One Career as well as paying homage to Jeff’s success on the motocross track. Friends and companions shared memories and moments reflecting upon his career, achievements and incredible bravery on the track and in life.
Day two saw the Brian Bell memorial motocross. As the morning mist left, the vans and fans arrived. Signed in and signed on, they were suited, booted and ready to race.
There was an aroma of bacon baps and caffeine in the air as the riders took to the starting gate and the day began. The vibrant colourful outfits as loud as the bikes engines, finely tuned and tweaked for maximum return in the race.
It was clear from the practice laps that Loughbrickland’s John Meara who is currently leading the Ulster Championship and sitting third in the Irish Championship and his cousin, World Motocross GP rider Natalie Kane were serious contenders with focused intention on winning, so it was no surprise when Natalie Kane championed the Evo Class, winning overall on a Suitor Autofix RM250.
With Spa rider Stephen Kelly scooping first place in the vets class on his Kelly Contracts 450 KTM.
He beat Ballygowan’s Ivan Cairns who came in second with Darragh Cross rider Declan Murray in third place.
It was Roderick Shaw who raced his way into first place in the ‘Pre 78’ Class with Lisbane man Adrian Lappin on his Husqvarna coming in second to Jamie McMaster in the Twinshock Category and Newtownards local Tony Ferguson taking third.
There were pit stops and punctures, gear fails and all the things that make each day of racing distinctly unique.
There was some elite level racing within all of the categories.
The open classes were riddled with talent from all corners of Northern Ireland and it was clear they had brought their ‘A’ game.
Displays of expertise and skill, banter and bravado littered the qualifiers as the contenders for the Brian Bell Memorial handicap began to emerge.
Moneyreagh rider James Milligan on a 350 Husqvarna took second place to Gavin McCormack in group two.
In group one it was the number one spot for John Meara with Comber man Tommy Merton on his Suitor Autofix 2022 KTM 450 chasing him into second place and Jordan McCaw lifting third.
The day’s racing offered up some thrills and a few spills as machines bunched together through corners, scuffling to lead into the straights. Adverse cambers took some by surprise as they wore new grooves in the track with each lap.
The best achievement award went to a well deserved Natalie Kane with gratitude to Natalie and all of the competitors for turning up and taking part.
Carlton and Brian Bell both raced on the day as other family members spectated in a show of support from the Bell gamily, avid competitors and keen riders but also fans of the sport that runs in their blood.
The Temple Club appreciate the Bell family and their support in the annual Brian Bell Memorial, a race which has an honour roll of winners over the past fifty years and this year’s victor was rider number 60 John Meara on his Norman Watt Motorcycles 2022 Kawasaki 450.
Ballymoney rider Jordan McCaw raced into second on his Suitor Autofix 2022 KTM 450, with Niall Creggan in third.
Both the Ulster Classic Motorcycle Club and the Temple Motorcycle Club wish to extend their thanks and gratitude to all volunteers, stewards, flag marshalls, medical teams, Tom Rutherford, Roy Neill, The MRA, MRA time keeping, event sponsors and advertisers.
The hard work of all club members is greatly appreciated and the riders, without whom there could be no racing.
The club thank the supporters for coming out for the weekend and sharing their passion for the sport they hope everyone who participated enjoyed the memorial motocross weekend and look forward as much as we are to our next big event on the motorcycling calendar.
Photography courtesy of Earl Boyd, Bikesport Photos NI.