In the late 90s and early 2000s Adam Lyons was one of the best riders in the UK and Ireland. But with Gordon Crockard’s GP winning success, Adam’s own achievements perhaps went under the radar ever so slightly in his homeland.
However, there is no doubt how good Adam was. He spent his British championship career regularly battling with GP winners and placing top five in the championship, he was a GP points scorer as well as an Ulster and Irish champion so there is no doubt Adam achieved a lot in his career in his own right and he was also part of the Irish MXoN team that scored a best ever finish of seventh at Zolder in 2003.
The always approachable Lyons was also renowned for his determination as well as having one of the best riding styles, but perhaps most of all at least locally, it was his bitter rivalry with Philip McCullough that had fans excited for each race weekend, a time that legendary Irish commentator Roy Neil described as his favourite era of the sport in Ireland.
We decided it was time to catch up with Adam to talk about his career and get his thoughts on an era in Irish racing that is fondly remembered as one of the best by many fans of the sport.
Getting started in motocross
My dad was four times Irish rally champion, so there were no bikes in our house, I got a bike as kid and rode around the field and someone talked him into taking me to a race sometime but I had no history in the sport at all.
The schoolboys started when I was 12, I was very late starting and very slow! For about two years I think I was being lapped consistently. During the week when I practiced, at that time Brian McCullough and Trevor Cubitt where the top schoolboys, and when I went practicing in the winter time I nearly went their speed and come the race weekend I would be lapped.
Eventually one year my dad said to me, ‘ what about giving this racing up but you can still have your bike.’ I near lost my life, I said ‘ please let me go one more time.’ So, my dad explained to me the full concept of racing, if someone had come up behind me I would have looked over and let them by! My dad explained the concept of racing that it was full effort and if I was going to do it I had to give it full effort.
So, I went to Cork for a round of the Irish championship in ’91 and I holeshot all three races and won all three – and the week before I was lapped! It turned for me then at schoolboy level. I went on and won an Irish championship that year and the 125s the following year. I started going to England to do bits and pieces, not a full season, I showed good speed but had a of crashes!
In 93 I raced 125s and I had a good year with Gordon, at that time the top schoolboys were myself, Gordon and Richard Beattie, a cousin of Michael, he was a very good rider but never went on to adults. At schoolboy level I dominated, Gordon never beat me much at schoolboy level, 94 was the same. I broke my leg in 94 which hindered my results British schoolboy championship wise, but I won the Desertmartin round and then I moved to adults the following year on a 250 (two-stroke).
Moving to Adult racing
When me and Gordon went into the adults they put me in the As and Gordon in the Bs. I never won a race that year, I had a lot of seconds and did a lot of crashing but I had good speed. At that time you had Philip Neil, Brian Steele, Willie Simpson was going well then, Renshaw, Chambers.
I think I finished second in the Irish that year behind Philip Neill and third in in the Ulster maybe, I think Brian Steele beat me.
I didn’t race at all in England that year and did the same the following year although I went back to race the 125 and the 250 (in Ireland) and that’s when the rivalry really started with me and Philip McCullough in 125s. Consistently Philip beat me more that year but I had the speed and McCullough being McCullough was aggressive and always making an aggressive pass on me! Looking back, I am proud of the relationship, I was kind of soft in nature and McCullough’s hard aggressive riding really toughened me up for the following few years. I think I got a reputation of being a tough aggressive racer then.
The determination came from my dad, as long as I gave it 100% even if you were last my dad was happy. I saw days where I won races maybe riding at 80%, no harm to the Merton’s and those guys but I would pull out maybe a ten second lead and then cruise and keep the same gap – and my dad used to be raging! There were days where I was beaten maybe by Philip and he was happy because I had given it my all but Philip McCullough taught me a lot as far as race craft went on the track.
Philip Neill also played a big part in my career as well. Whenever I started going well in Ireland, Philip (Neill) was coming to the end of his career and my dad got Neill involved with me and he got me contacts in England and we made the move, he opened a lot of doors for me and opened a lot of doors on how to train, help me do the longer motos and practicing my technique a lot so Philip Neill was a big help to me that way.
Moving to British championship level
In 1997 we did the full British championship on a PNR Honda. I think the first five rounds I was getting the odd point here and there but crashing out a lot. Before the last two rounds at Doncaster and Hawkstone I remember almost living up in Bushmills doing 40 minute motos in the sand and I went to Hawkstone and at that time I sort of half idolised Brian Jorgenson, and in the final race of the day 125/250 combined race I caught Jorgenson and passed and I think I was the fifth 125 and finished 15th overall. That was really a turning point for me in England, I remember really coming home from that event and believing in myself, I had the speed but I never really firmly believed I could run with them and beat them. But doing that that day it cleared my mind and I started to believe in myself more.
At the end of 97 I had the chance to go and live in England, I had the choice of riding for Rob Hooper’s Suzuki team or the TM team. I rode both bikes and the TM was just miles ahead power-wise and Neil Prince who was a good guy, he was a teammate so I went that route and it was a big plus for me working with Neil and TM focused on racing in Ireland so that meant I could also race at home, although I was living with Gordon in England.
I was consistently between 4th and 8th in the championship although I was eighth overall I was usually a 5th to 8th place rider. I was picked for the 125 Des Nations and I qualified seventh in my race that day and beat Coppins, unfortunately we didn’t qualify for the main race as a team that year but I progressed a lot in 1998.
In 1999 my big year was getting to sign with CAS Honda, (teammates with Gordon Crockard) that was a massive thing for me even getting a wage and your expenses taken care of with a team really behind you. Just the whole confidence thing really grew then. Gordon had moved back to Ireland that year so I lived on my own but rode a lot with Neil Prince and Jamie Dobb and I was seeing I was nearly on the same speed, so that was giving a big confidence boost as well.
That year there was six GP winners in the British championship, Brown, Dobb, Nunn, Sword, Jorgenson, Seguy and I was fifth that year. I had a few mechanical, I think I had two DNFs so I might have got fourth but the bike handled great and I had good suspension. I really upped my game physically as well, I trained really hard and focused hard that year as well, I didn’t have any distractions.
I rode at home that year and did the open series on a 125. I came home just to get mire racing under my belt. I think I was the only person to win an open title on a 125, think that still stands. I enjoyed it, it helped not getting the starts, at the end of the day racing is racing, Brian was going well then and he was a good 250 guy so that was good.
I went to the first four or five GPs but didn’t qualify. I had spent the winter riding 45 minute motos twice a day twice a week. But I had made the mistake of although I could ride the same speed for 40 minutes when it came to doing one lap qualifiers, and then you had 80 turning up trying to qualify, but I hadn’t got good one lap speed. I came back home and for two solid weeks Philip Neill took me to tracks in the evenings after his work and we just focused on pure raw speed, one lap qualifying times. Then I went to Roggenburg and scored a point there for 15th.
The following weekend went to a British at Torrington and I qualified pole, I was 8.2 seconds quicker than McCullough, 4 seconds quicker than Sword, 2 quicker that Brown, Dobb was on the same second as me, so that was the intensity, I had really worked hard to get my qualifying speed up. I qualified for the rest of the GPs I think I was 16th, 17th, 18th. The factory Huskys, KTM, Rinaldi Yamahas were incredible then but that was a big year and a big turning point, I was young and on the way up, and made such a big improvement.
I made a mistake for with my own judgement in 2000 and went to the MJ Church Kawasaki team because they were structured to 125s and I shouldn’t say this but the money was the best too and that influenced me. But when I had ridden the bike it turned out they had got caught for using illegal fuel, I still believe when I tested it was leaded fuel and then when I went to race the bike, Hucklebridge had got caught in Holland riding illegal fuel so when I raced it they couldn’t use those engines and I had a nightmare of a year.
I broke my collarbone at the start of the year and also my thumb that season, I qualified in San Marino I got 16th and 18th, one of the races in the wet I was up to 8th in the wet and I crashed out and ended up 18th. But it was difficult, at Honda they had allowed me to have Philip to help me but when I went to Kawasaki nobody was allowed in to help and I wasn’t experienced enough to see the bike up then I was overriding it – it was a disaster of a year. It was really hard to take and it was me who made the decision so that was even worse. I could have stayed at Honda where things were going really well, but they were geared towards 250s so I really wanted to get into somewhere that concentrated on 125s and at MJ Church that was their main focus. But the Church family were very, very good to me and I am still very friendly with them but as far as the team goes we struggled a lot,
I struggled with the Ohlins suspension too. I just made a lot of changes at a time when I didn’t really need change. We had a good ride at the Nations that year in France, we qualified there, I actually led the qualifying race, holeshot against Pastrana and Langston, I think I finished eighth. We made the main race that day me and Gordon and Trevor Cubitt.
In 2001 I went to TM and that was the year of the foot and mouth, nothing was happing in Ireland until May so in February I went to Italy to do the Italian championship and I ended up staying there for probably three months and I did a lot of testing for the factory at that time. I was never really known to be a big bike rider and I started riding a 300 at that time.
So, when the racing was back again I came back to Ireland to race at Tandragee and nobody expected me to beat McCullough on a big bike and I won all three, that was a good win that day. I think I was leading the Irish and Ulster that year or did selected rounds and I was sixth in the British.
In 2002 I won the Irish and the Ulster on 125s and Ulster open then I crashed at Hawkstone and broke four ribs and had a collapsed a lung. I was fourth in the championship I think up to that but missed the last two rounds and ended up eighths. I did the KWS and was fourth in it.
In 2003 I went to TAS Suzuki, it was an up and down year but a lot of it came from frustration for me because I had worked hard, my physical condition was at a peak in 03 and I really wanted to get back into GPs after making those few years of mistakes and I knew the years were getting on as well, I was 24. I went to TAS and was number one Suzuki, we were going to this and do that and the bike was probably the best handling bike I ever rode but we just couldn’t get the engine to go quick enough.
I have never spoke about it but through different opinions we ended up parting ways. I quit on the Tuesday and Hawkstone was on the Sunday but everybody thinks I had a ride lined up but I didn’t. On the Thursday TM called and offered me a ride for the British that Sunday at Culham. I had never rode the bike, got on the bike that morning at Culham for the first time and I think I got fourth overall that day with a 3-5 in the motos.
We hadn’t even discussed about the rest of the year and Billy MacKenzie got injured so Dixon then rang me to do the remainder of their year and at this stage I was still fourth in the British championship. Second to fifth was all really, really close. I went to Dixon and did a test with him and he said yeah, do the rest of the year. I got on the Yamaha then and had a good second half to the season in 03, I had a lot of top fives. I ended up third in the KWS series, Leok was doing it, De Reuver, Rattray was over, Townley did a few rounds. It was a strong series. I ended up third overall in the KWS and fourth in the British.
I never won a British which was very frustrating, I had a couple of seconds and thirds but I was nearly always a fourth man. I lead two races to the last lap – back markers both times took me down!
Nantwich in the wet, I was leading for the last six laps and had a 20 second led, it was really wet and guy was stuck in the mud and he turned the other direction to get a run up the hill and I came out of blind crest and hit him head on! Then at Hawkstone, I came up to lap Brian McKeown at the top of Hawkstone Hill I was on one side and he was on the other and he looked back and saw me coming but I thought he would stay on his own line but he went to my side and we hit. Brian didn’t mean it at all it was just one of those things, I’ll never forget it he was trying help me get going again! Those two sort of haunt me but it is what it is.
Leaving Philip Neill
It was the hardest thing I had ever done in racing terms, big time. My dad got me to where I was when I was 16 or 17, he was good competitor himself in rallying and he knew he couldn’t take me any further in motorbikes so he got me involved with someone who could. So everything then was Philip, Turk and Mark who did everything for me then. Philip had focused on road racing at that time and he also had started the 600 supersport team.
I was getting frustrated the motocross wasn’t just his sole priority so I said I had to make a choice and go. But you can’t blame Philip, he was getting so much money to run a strong supersport team and road racing team so I had to take it on the chin and made the call to move to somewhere that was more focused on where I wanted to be in my career.
We did part on bad terms and we didn’t speak for several months and it was probably my fault I went about it very hastily. I didn’t sit down with Philip and talk, I just quit and said I’m out, so I sort of left him in the lurch. But I remember the day I won the supercross at the odyssey and I remember spraying champagne and the first person I saw standing clapping me was Philip Neill, so regardless of everything he probably still felt he played a part in that for me. Now we are 100%, I would say we were like two spoilt children for six months or a year but everything is grand again.
I moved to Classic Glass KTM, again it was a mistake, I should have stayed with Dixon Yamaha, my dad wasn’t well and I wanted to be at home a bit more, so with Classic glass and KTM put a deal together so I could race at home do the British and KWS and selected GPs.
I started out on a 125 and everyone had gone four-stroke and struggled big time, it just wasn’t happening. My championship was half over before it started, come May I got on a 450 and went to Oulton Park for the KWS and I led both races, till the last two laps and I ran out of steam, Leok who was running fifth in the world at the that time passed me in both races but I got second overall that day.
The following week Mark Hucklebridge got injured and Chambers KTM asked me to fill in for him in France and Italy at the GPs and I scored points there, I got two 18th in France and maybe a 16th and 20th in Italy. Hucklebridge was okay again so I went back to just doing the British, KWS and Irish. I did the last round of the GPs at Ballykelly and I think I got a 16th and 18th.
It was frustrating in a way. I found when I went back to GPs I could ride one race well but I struggled to ride the two races at the high intensity they had. Basically I wasn’t fit enough, although I was fit, you have to ride another two or three seconds a lap faster to ride GPs. To do that for one race was hard but to do it for two was even harder.
I watch Graeme now, and I haven’t even spoken to Graeme, he is physically fit but it is going to take a year for his body to get used to riding the amount you do on a Saturday then Sunday morning then the two high intensity Sunday races at the end of the weekend after all the travelling, change of culture, change of food. Unless you’ve done it nobody really grasps what it’s like.
To dip in and out of Grand Prix, that was the difficulty I had. When you are in Grand Prix I think need to be there full time and stay there a couple of years. Your body has to adapt and you have to find routines of what you are doing and what suits you, when you travel, what you eat, all those things are key to riding a motorbike at that level.
In Gordon Crockard’s shadow?
In a way I was unfortunate to be in the era of Gordon because his career outshone mine but in another way Gordon made motocross a household name in my era, everybody knew what motocross was and when he wasn’t in Ireland racing and I was, I was the next big thing, so there was pros and cons with it. In ways it helped my career.
The British series back then was so strong, we had six GP winners in the 125 class, it’s just not there now. We had Brown, Dobb, Jorgenson, Nunn, Seguy, Sword – it was a strong series. I am very proud of my career at that time against those riders.
There were a couple of reasonS, I moved back home at the end of 2004, my dad wasn’t well, and I had dislocated my shoulder at the round of the season (losing the Ulster championship at the last round with the crash). I had been to Germany done a deal with Sarholz Honda to race the GPs alongside De Dycker. But my shoulder was giving me a lot of bother, we thought it was just a dislocation but over that winter it kept dislocating itself when I was riding.
I kept having this problem so I went and got it looked at and it turned out I broke the cup that the arm sits up into and I had to have surgery and I was out for 15 weeks. So, I sat back and didn’t race at all, Sarholz got somebody else. I reflected on things and I remember Neil McKeown had got injured, I’d had that surgery on my shoulder and my dad wasn’t well, I was tired travelling. I thought, ‘ you know what, I don’t think I’m going to get any better.’ I believe that if you don’t think you can get any better then It’s time to get out.
I gave up and quit but about July time I met up with Arny and had a run on a bike and thought I would like to win a race before I quit. So I rode a 250 and 450, I rode a 450 a Tandragee and won the Ulster championship race and the following race at Seaforde I rode a 250f and won and that was it.
I raced once in 06 just after my dad died, I think I maybe beat Shaun Simpson that day and I won the overall but it just didn’t feel right going racing with my dad not there.
I focussed then on the family business and got myself involved in that. That was my next challenge in life. I missed the bikes in ways but bikes were never the same after my died dad, I was lost and I became a different person altogether for quite a few years. I needed another challenge and I felt him at work because that was his business and that was another challenge and goal to get on with that and learn that.
I missed bikes but I stayed away on purpose because if I came back and seen it and rode I would get the urge to still do it. I don’t think I even went to racing until 2011 when TAS asked me to run the Suzuki team for them.
I ride now for pure fun. I’m 12 years away from racing so I thought I would buy a bike and I ride now for the reason we all started riding bikes, just for the fun. I enjoy it more now I think since I was a schoolboy. When I ride 10 minutes and I get tired I pull in and nobody is shouting at me to do 30 minute motos or find extra seconds – it’s a whole new thing.
Rivalry with McCullough
The first couple of years when I was in Ireland 96/97, my focus was to beat Philip McCullough but after ’98 I sort of had him beat, I was beating him more than he beat me and I went on to England then so I didn’t really focus on him there.
But in Ireland I’ve always said this and this is fact, there were days that no matter who came to Ireland, Morris, Herring, no matter who came, nobody would have beaten us. I remember one day at Tandragee we lapped up to fourth and nearly Merton in third, and Merton was scoring points in British championship at that time. Nobody could have ridden the things quicker than we did that day.
We had such a strong rivalry we rode to another level. When I watch the home races here now, I don’t see a rivalry as strong as that, it’s been a long time since I have seen that. Whatever it took me and McCullough held on and opened the throttle to get past.
We had a lot of respect for each other on the track.
Being an uncle to little racers!
It’s fantastic, the two of them are showing a lot of promise but Philip (McCullough) is very, very determined to keep it fun for them, despite Philip and I being their dad and uncle, they never once had had a day where we have coached them, they just start their motorbike and go and ride.
I admire Philip for that because he has kept it purely fun for them. At that age, they aren’t even ten yet, there is so much time to coach them yet so it’s all about fun for them.
It’s all about hard work and until we see them in their mid-teens and see what their work ethic is it’s hard to know how it will turn out.
Interview: Jonathan McCready Pictures: Nigel McKinstry