Irish MXoN stories: Philip Neill – Part One

Philip Neill might now be part of a very successful road race and short circuit team in the form of Tyco BMW (team manager) but many forget he actually started out his career by racing Motocross and not only that but he had a lot of talent.

Not only was he Ulster and Irish Champion (a total of six titles) but he also raced some Motocross Grand Prix’s and represented Ireland at the Motocross Des Nations four times and he looks back at them with fund memories. We caught up with Neill to discuss his Motocross days and the MXoN event, part two of the interview will be coming soon.

Gatedrop: What year(s) did you represent Ireland at the Motocross Des Nations and at what tracks/countries?

Neill: I represented Ireland in 1990 [Vimmerby, Sweden] – 1993 [Swhanenstadt, Austria] – 1994 [Roggenberg, Switzerland] – 1995 [Sverepec, Slovakia] – I missed the 91 and 92 events through injury although the team manager was great at the time and gave me every chance to be fit for selection but it wasn’t fair to take a position if you aren’t 100% fit.

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Gatedrop: The first time you got the call to represent Ireland at this event, how did it feel to get selected?

Neill: It was great to finally have the chance to represent your country, I had missed out on a spot in the team a couple of times during the late 80’s which was disappointing. I was concentrating on the British 125 Championship with selected GP’s during my early adult career and in those days not racing at home probably wasn’t ideal for the selection process. It’s a special feeling and a great achievement to represent your country in any form of sport or any activity for that matter.

Irish MXoN team presentation 1990 – Vimmerby, Sweden.

Gatedrop: What top riders where you up against from other countries to give people an idea of the level – do you remember which nation and individual riders that won (also who were your Irish team mates)?

Neill: Hmmm, memory is a bit rusty but some things do stand out. The American teams were packed with the big named riders in those days like, Ward, Stanton, McGrath, Emig, Kiedrowski, LaRocco and Bradshaw. The Euro teams always had some very fast hard pack riders like Puzar and Demaria, also the really fast sand riders including Everts, Strijbos, Van Den Berk, Smets, Bervoets etc.. and then you had riders like Greg Albertyn. I just missed riding in an Ireland team with riders like Lawrence, Spence and Burgess but I had some great team-mates from different era’s – riders like Morrison, Chambers and Brian Dinneen through to the next generation of riders like Brian Steele and Mark Farrelly. Without being unkind towards anyone I don’t think we managed to reach an MXdN with our very strongest team, during my period anyway. It would have be nice to see the three fastest riders of that time all healthy in the same team but I imagine many countries could say the same thing.

1990 was a great experience, I remember thinking how quiet and clean Sweden was as a Country and the sand track was great. I was on the 250 [Suzuki] with Alan Morrison on the 125 and David Tougher on the 500. I had a couple of decent results in the 250 class [9th in class I think] and we were well placed for a good overall result but Damon Bradshaw landed on Alan over a tabletop when they were battling for 3rd in the 125cc class taking them both out of the race [we stayed in the same hotel as the American riders which was awkward]. The USA won the event overall [so they couldn’t blame us] Stanton was outstanding on a 250cc Honda although Alex Puzar gave him a good run on the day. I can honestly say Alan Morrison was as fast as anyone on a 125 that day [other than Everts perhaps who won the class as a rookie], it would have been nice to see where he could have finished (Ireland ended up seventeenth) without the incident with Bradshaw. I wasn’t too far behind in the race and just caught the tail end of the crash.

Neill in action during the 1990 MXoN at Vimmerby, Sweden.

1993 was a tough event for me personally, we had Brian Steele on the 125 and Mark Farrelly on the 250 with me having to ride the 500. I was scheduled to ride in one of the other classes but Paul Chambers who was to ride the 500cc had to withdraw and I was asked to ride the bigger class. I had never even ridden a 500 and had to borrow Paul’s full PrCircuit tuned Honda. It was a fire breathing monster and I hated every minute of it! I remember getting a decent start in one race and through the twisty section half way around the lap McGrath was screaming at me to move out of his way. I couldn’t have stayed ahead of him for long anyway but what he didn’t know was I was scared to open the throttle on this thing! Mark Farrelly also had a big moment when he wiped out a marshal off a jump and landed on the other side of the track going in the wrong direction. I can’t remember where we finished but it wasn’t great and my results were terrible. For some reason I don’t remember much else about the event although I believe the USA won it overall and it was cool to see Emig on the 125.

1994 in Roggenberg was the famous year of the English victory [we never heard the end of it…]. Again I raced the 500 but this time on my own Kawasaki I was using at home that year, with Brian Steele on the 125 and Paul Chambers the 250cc. We had a great overall position in 13th that year but I felt I let the team down a little as we had a steering bearing problem with the big Kawasaki and I just couldn’t keep the thing in a straight line. The bike was a missile off the start though, I was 3rd or 4th into the first corner both times but got caught up a pile up in race two. To be fair the English guys were fantastic, especially Maler on the 125 and Mike LaRocco was great to watch on that 500 Kawasaki. The big surprise however was Yves Demaria who had an outstanding debut ride in the 500 class (Demaria won the first moto).

1995 in Slovakia was a strange experience, the country felt like everything was in black and white and rumour has it our boys where lucky to even get through the border after some problems with the paperwork, the track was fantastic however. The team line-up had changed a few times through injuries and I believe we had Willy Simpson on a 500, David Coates on the 250 with me on a 125cc Kawasaki. I remember having high expectations as Kawasaki had arranged a bike for me from one of their British Team riders, unfortunately it turned out to be a stock practise bike and on a really fast track the thing was dog slow. That was the only time we didn’t make the A final although I think we did win the B race overall, I remember I finished 2nd in the race [we had made the best of the bike by this stage] behind a Swedish rider (Saso Kragelj), I recall team manager Roger Magee standing on the track at the finish line. My stand out memory was Jeff Emig on a 250 Yamaha, he was great to watch although Everts and Smets where fast and Belgium won the event overall.

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Part two of this interview is coming soon.

Main pic: Neill with Irish team mates, Mark Farrelly and Brian Steele at the Irish team MXoN presentation 1993, Roggenburg (Switzerland).

Interview: Andy McKinstry