It’s not often that I call into question my own love of pure road racing.
After the death of Randalstown man Stephen McIlvenna during a practice session for the Manx Grand Prix, I can honestly say that I am beginning to doubt that love.
Better known as Jack, he succumbed to multiple injuries after an accident on the Mountain Mile section of the 37.75 miles circuit. He was an enormously experienced road racer, having taken part in the Manx Grand Prix since 2005 and all the Irish road races as well. His career highlight was a win in the 2009 Junior race. Jack went on to compete at the TT, finishing in 21st and 32nd in the two Supersport 600 races there in 2010.
He was one of a small band of riders on the local scene who was happy to race anywhere, as long as it was a road race.
We were talking once about racing and told him that after I had tried my first road race, short circuits never held any attraction for me afterwards. He said he was exactly the same. They were just too much hassle. He simply enjoyed racing his bike on the public roads and especially Dundrod and the Mountain circuit.
I met Jack shortly after he started racing. His Father Jim and my Father in Law raced grass tracks together many years ago. He always struck me as a rider who would have gone far better had he had a decent break. He did race the Moira club’s R6 for a while after the death of Andrew Neill, but that partnership broke up after a season.
I have enjoyed photographing him over many years, and he always appreciated the wee mention in the Times, and the odd photo. He would have never failed to thank me for the mention.
To say I’m gutted is an understatement. I can’t even imagine what Jim and Stephen’s sister Julie are going through at the minute.
Jim was one of Jack’s greatest supporters and even though he didn’t venture to the races as often recently, he did watch from out on track when he was able to go. To say I will go to no more road races would be an insult to Jack’s memory, but I’m quite certain that they will never be the same again without that happy, smiling face. I will miss him immensely.
His body will return from the Isle of Man this morning, Tuesday, at 9.30am. He will be laid to rest on Thursday at 12 noon in the Old Congregation Presbyterian Church in Randalstown. To Jim, Julie and the rest of the McIlvenna family I can do no more than say how sad I am. I offer my sincere condolences.