Irish MXoN Stories: Philip Neill – Part Two

Part two of our interview with Philip Neill as he discusses the tracks he rode at the MXoN, how Ireland performed at those events and his thoughts on the race these days. If you missed part one of the interview, you can read it here.

Gatedrop: What were the tracks like at the MXoN you rode and did you feel you were well enough prepared for them?

Neill: The hard pack tracks where like a road race, unbelievably fast compared to what we were used to at home. I had some experience in racing various GP tracks but stepping onto a 500cc at 10 stone was another experience. They also had some big jumps which was ok for me as I liked that kind of track but the one unique thing for me with GP standard European tracks was the amount of ruts on the jump faces, it was important to have confidence in your bike and riding to even clear some of the bigger jumps.

Gatedrop: How did Ireland do at the events you represented them for?

This article continues below

Neill: Our best overall result should have been in Sweden with Alan at the top of his game on the 125 at that time, there are probably many stories behind our results in the other years but 13th overall in Switzerland was a great result and could have been much better without my problems on the 500. With everything considered we had some good riders and we did the best job possible although it was clear we did not have many riders doing a full GP season back then and that really makes a difference when it come to performing for that one big day.

1987 125cc Irish GP at Killinchy.

Gatedrop: Individually how did you do and where you happy with your results?

Neill: I am proud to have represented Ireland although I don’t feel I ever fulfilled my potential, there is no stand out moment when I look back and think I can be proud of that specific achievement. As I mentioned earlier I missed out on a couple of years when I would have liked to be a part of the team, especially on my favoured 125 machine as I was running top 3 in British Championship by that stage and had some decent experience racing on GP tracks.

Gatedrop: What memories/stories from the event stick out for you when you look back to the event? There must be some things that happened not too many people know about!

Neill: There was always lots of fun involved with travelling to and from the event, sometimes a little too much but we won’t go into that! The opening ceremony is a nice feeling, being introduced as one of the top three riders from each country across the world.

1990 – Irish 125cc and 250cc Champion

Gatedrop: When you look at the Motocross Des Nations now, do you still think it’s still as special as it used to be?

Neill: I was still involved for a few years after my retirement working with riders like Adam Lyons and it was good to see riders like Gordon Crockard, Philip McC, Brian Steele and Adam achieve some great results. I think my generation were the benefactors of experience gained from riders like Lawrence Spence and hopefully we provided some experience and motivation to the next generation. I honestly haven’t followed the event closely in recent years although it was disappointing to see the USA not always fielding their strongest team. Speaking as an ex 125cc competitor I honestly believe the event misses the class, it was enthralling to watch 125’s against 500’s on the same track but then again I believe racing misses 2 strokes in general.

Gatedrop: What advice would you give to any young rider who might be lucky enough to get selected for the event for the first time?

This article continues below

Neill: Don’t take it for granted, it may end up as one of the most memorable achievements in your career, maybe even in your life. If you’re lucky enough your kids will ask you questions about the experience some day and you want to look back and say you gave it 100%. One of the biggest problems we face is being fully prepared and that is difficult unless you are lucky enough to race in GP’s each weekend. If you don’t have that luxury all you can do is prepare as far in advance as possible, finding a similar type of terrain to practise on and try to ensure you have everything you need at the event, set-up wise. For me personally the mental confidence is a huge aspect, you really need to believe that you belong there and I’m speaking from experience with that advice.

Gatedrop: At a domestic level, what were your biggest achievements and what good memories do you have outside the Motocross Des Nations?

Neill: I didn’t stand out much as a young schoolboy rider and only started to achieve some success in my final year as an expert, finally winning some races in England and finishing 3rd in The ACU finals. My first year in adult racing was 1996, I was very lucky to have a 125cc GP in Ireland during that period at the famous Killinchy track which provided a great opportunity for riders like me to sample grand prix racing on our own doorstep. My Father used to take lots of video footage which I remember complaining about at the time, now I’m happy to still have some of the footage. I recall that first GP event in 96 was also the first year for many riders of my era, riders like Pedro Tragter and JMB [who we have on video pushing his own bike through scrutineering] who both went on the become World Champions. I went on to compete in various GP’s across Europe over a 10 year period but never made the opportunity to do a full season which is my biggest regret in racing. I scored a best result of 9th in a Grand Prix race which doesn’t sound like much but just qualifying for a 125cc GP during the late 80’s was an achievement with over 100 riders trying to make it through each weekend and it was down to 1 x fast lap time to make it through or not. At home I concentrated my early years racing the British Championships, firstly in the top 35 [as it was know as back then] open class and then more specifically the 125 class as a member of the British Suzuki team, although I wasn’t the best team player at the time we have some great memories from that period. I won some British Championship races and finished 3rd overall in the Championship 2 or 3 times. My best memory is winning the final race of the Championship at Canada Heights during my first full season as a 17 year old, I managed to track that 125 Suzuki down a few years ago and look forward to having it fully restored soon. I started to race at home more often from 1991 and went on to win 6x Championships [between Irish and Ulster] with the highlight being the 125 and 250 Championship in 1990 [both classes ran on the same day with 2 x races per class] I’ve lost one of the medals but have the others framed as a good memory from my racing career.

1994 at Bells Hill. Pic: Nigel McKinstry



1995 at Ballykelly


1996 – Tinkerhill battling with Brian Steele. Final year racing as a broken arm later that year finished his racing career.

Interview: Andy McKinstry