It’s never good when an injury ends a rider’s career and while Graeme Irwin may still yet have a second career on the short circuits, his motocross journey will always be the core of his story, even if that story ended slightly earlier than he wanted.
Making it to the top level of the toughest motorcycle sport takes years of work and sacrifice as well as talent. Irwin rose through the ranks going from British youth champion at 15, Irish adult champion at 16 to British MX1 champ at 25 after some serious injuries that included a broken neck before gaining a full time ride at the pinnacle of the sport, MXGP, with a career high of 13th overall on of the toughest tracks in the word, the whooped out sandpit of Lommel.
Irwin had more to show in the world championship in 2019 now that he had a year’s experience at the elite level, but the injury came at the wrong time and wrecked year two of the MXGP plan ultimately and sadly ended his motocross career.
The first time I interviewed Graeme was when he was 15 and immediately his desire was what jumped out to me along with the raw speed you saw on the track.
“I believe in the saying, you only get out what you put in,” he told me one day that season with impressive maturity and certainty of where he wanted to go and what it took to get there. But it was a year later that it really struck me, this guy was different, winning seemed more important than anything else to him.
Irwin never gave in, and proved it when he got up and continued to ride with a broken collarbone to win the Ulster Championship at 16 on a TAS Suzuki. He fell off the bike in agony as soon as the chequered flag fell, but winning always meant more than the pain.
“It was the sorest thing I have ever done in my life,” said Irwin at the time. “But it was well worth it you know? I never thought of pulling out, I just kept going because knew what I wanted. I never quit, I well never ever quit. If you’re going to put 110% in you have to sacrifice 110%.”
That philosophy and mentality would carry Irwin throughout his career.
He won a moto in his first full year at British championship level, only to suffer two consecutive shoulder dislocations, but he did come back in time to race the MXoN in Italy 2009 and made some new Italian fans by throwing some big whips off a double – the fans were waving each time he came around in practice and he duly delivered!
A broken neck at the French GP in MXGP in 2011 put Irwin’s GP career on hold as he went back and re-built his confidence in the British championship before finally taking the 450 title in 2017 and getting that move back to the world championship, the series he always wanted to be in.
Irwin will be a big loss to the sport, his all action style and heart-on-the-sleeve character made him a lot of fans in the UK, he was always worth keeping an eye because you knew he would never quit no matter how bad things got.
And while his rivals in motocross may be able to relax a little, the BSB paddock might just be getting a little nervous as Britain’s potential JMB makes the switch to tarmac!
Good luck in your new career Graeme and thanks for the motocross memories!