Interview: Philip McCullough

Philip McCullough has been there and done it as a rider with multiple Irish and Ulster titles, a top ten British championship regular plus a few GP and MXoN appearances throughout the 90s and 2000s.

But since his retirement from racing, McCullough is still heavily involved in the sport. He runs his own practice track in Magilligan, he is Ireland’s MXoN team manager, the new chairman of the MRA (Ireland’s governing body) and he has two young sons who are both racing motocross and will compete in the Belfast Arenacross in January.

We caught up with Philip to discuss his boys racing in Belfast, Ireland’s performance at Red Bud plus the current state of racing at Irish national level, and discover that Philip might even join his sons and race at the Belfast Arenacross too! 

You have mixed memories from racing the Belfast Arenacross yourself but now your sons will be doing it!

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We were here watching last year and they really wanted to do it. I contacted Matt about it but at the time they were going to do electric bikes which my boys weren’t really interested it, but then they changed it back to 65s and I got confirmation they got entries for it, so I am looking forward to it.

You know what it’s like as a rider doing it, but will you be more nervous be as a dad? 

I would say so, I always do when I watch them but I just want them to go out and enjoy themselves but it’s going to be a big stage for them all the same in front of maybe six or seven thousand people, it’s something they might have to get used to in the future hopefully.

They have been doing well at Ulster and Irish level but with yourself and Adam ( Lyons) being so successful yourselves, is it hard to keep expectations down?

Yeah, that’s one of the sad things, there is massive expectation on them because their name is McCullough. I don’t go to every race, I take them to a few Ulster and Irish championship races but I want them to still have the fun factor in it for another few years until such times that we really need to push on with them if that’s the career they really want to go down. I will always give them the opportunity but I just want them to enjoy themselves and have fun, they are only ten years old so there is no expectations on them, as long as they’re having fun that’s the main thing. 

Cole and Robbie McCullough Pic: J McCready

As far as coaching them, do you just let them tear away at the minute? 

Very little, just a few wee things. With You Tube and just watching they can pick a lot of things up themselves and their Uncle Adam (Lyons), he will give them small pointers but it’s just minor things. As long they come in with a smile on their face, that’s all that matters. 

You were known for your work ethic and competitiveness as well as your speed, do you see any of those traits in them?

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More so Cole, he doesn’t like getting beat. Robbie is starting to get that way too. They are actually getting similar now in speed, Cole still has a bit on Robbie but Cole has been riding for a number of years, Robbie has only been riding about three years so he is playing catch up, but he has beaten him a few times and it hasn’t went down too well to be honest with you! 

You have been in this sport for a long time do you you still love it?

I can’t get away from it, I am running my motorbike track in Magilligan, it’s good to be involved. I took over as MRA chairman in the couple of week. You think you can get away from it, but when you’re not at an event you are missing something, I have came and watched with the boys here ( Belfast Arenacross) a few times.

I remember racing here myself and it was probably one of the most nerve-wrecking events with everybody shouting your name, it gives you goosebumps, event thinking about it now! So they will probably be nervous but as long as they enjoy it. One says they are goig to be an MX1 rider and the other an MX2 rider, so hopefully they won’t be racing against each other. 

With being MRA chairman now, the number haven’t been good in the Ulster and Irish championship racing, I’m not sure what the answer is, have you any ideas of what to do to get it back to the level it was when you Wayne, and Adam were racing? 

My main priority at the minute is to regenerate the youth side of things, at the minute it’s quite bad. If we don’t have riders coming through it won’t be good for the adult scene. I have a few things in the pipeline and will take those ideas to the people. I think the sport in general is struggling a little bit, we maybe need to try and do things a little bit better and have everyone work together and bring the sport forward.

McCullough at Red Bud Pic: Doug Turney

On the Nations, that must have been one of the most stressful years ever with it being in America and then the injuries but everything ultimately went really well from the logistics to the results, you must be very proud of how it went at Red Bud? 

It was a obviously a very stressful trip to organise anyway never mind Stuart getting hurt and then Graeme getting hurt three days before we were due to fly out! But it all fell into olace quite well and the three riders, Gary, Marin and Richard rode extremely well  to get a 14th place finish. Unfortanetly have the job again next year so I must have done something right!  But no,  I’m looking forward to it next year, it will be at Assen so it”s a bit closer and less stressful to organise. After organising the trip to America I would have no problem organising bikes for the Sahara desert! We had a lot of help from people like IFS, and different companies, it was a very expensive trip but I did it below budget, so there is still money left before we start next year’s planning, 

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And the Seven truck looked really good, it was a really professional looking set-up at Red Bud.

It brings all the riders under one awning and keeps the atmosphere good, everyone got on well and we weren’t running about from one truck to another truck. We missed Graeme and Stuart too, but Graeme is big personality and we missed his experience, it was a good weekend, he weather wasn’t great but the guys did everybody proud and I hope they did everyone in the country proud too.

As a manager how does it compare to racing event, is it more stressful?

It’s definitely more stressful! I used to enjoy the Nations when I rode it. I enjoy the build up to and the organising, there’s a lot of learning involved and it is something that might benefit me down the road if my two boys go down the route and are good enough to ride at a higher level, so if we have to travel around the world with them this should put me in good sted! 

At Assen it should be a good event. I would like to think we will have a lot of young riders know knocking on the door, we had Jason Meara, Glenn McCormick, Jake Sheridan, James Mackrel, so there are a lot of young riders in their early 20s knocking on the door to get into that team. I don’t know what will happen but we will see what the standard is. 

McCullough gives Barr some pre-race tips. Pic: Doug Turney 

It’s obviously better for you to have more riders, but how do you deal with the fall-out from people who aren’t happy with your decisions?

Well it’s not even the riders, I get backlash from what way I paint the helmets, what colours, it’s ridiculous. But at the end of the day I have been trusted to do the managers job and I have 35 years experience and I get the final say, so if I make the wrong call I have to stand up and be accountable for it, but touch wood, I have made pretty much every call right so far.

If I think 2019 is the year to bring a young rider in then I will bring them in. I will wait until nearer the time to see who is performing. With deep sand at my facility I might have a pool of ten riders and have a couple of days at my track and monitor and watch their abilities, see their plus sides and minus sides and then make the final call.

So with the All-Ireland cup at the Arenacross this year, will you be making a comeback?!

I read about it a few weeks ago and my first thought was, ‘ I could do this!’ And then I tried to talk myself out of it! But Graeme Irwin has been at me to do it and Matt Bates as well, so I don’t know, it would be nice, but with my two boys it might be stressful enough!

We would just need Adam Lyons to do it then too!

Ai, it would be back to the old days – killing each other! (Smiles)