Phil is back in the saddle and continues to tear up the track

It’s not every Saturday you witness a 74-year-old man come second in a motorcycle competition, but that’s exactly what I saw last weekend at Bishopscourt Racecourse at South Down.

Phil Lunney is originally from West Belfast, although he now lives in Ballyhornan, and has been racing, both circuit and road, since the early 1980s.

Racing an iconic 1970s Honda blue and yellow (or yellow and blue) with a set of matching leathers, Phil explained his relationship with the sport and why he was still racing well into the mid-70s.

HONDA: Phil at Bishopscourt on his classic 1970s Honda
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HONDA: Phil at Bishopscourt on his classic 1970s Honda

“I started racing after seeing a few races as a spectator, and I thought I really wanted to do this, so I got involved and raced my first races in 1983 and throughout the 1980s. “, he recalls. “I raced all the tracks back then – Cookstown, North-West 200, Ulster Grand Prix, Southern 100 and the Isle of Man TT.

Part of a collection of racers and motorcycle enthusiasts, Phil was involved with his good friend Donal Hughes in establishing the Andersonstown Road Racing Supporters’ Club which operated until the late 1980s.

The AT Club met every two weeks at the Farmer’s Inn on Colinglen Road, when owner William Brown let them hang pictures and posters of every club member who ran. The bar also became where the club would hold its functions and work out its point allocation system.

Donal Hughes, who was the club secretary and also one of the founding members, was also in Bishopscourt on Saturday, helping Phil with his bike, and said they had devised the points system based on a percentage of the number of people completed, which led to a more equal but fair distribution of points with prizes awarded at the end of the year.

ROAD RACING: Phil racing in the 1980s
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ROAD RACING: Phil racing in the 1980s

Located between Andersonstown and Lisburn, the club was always welcoming to everyone and operated on a cross-community basis, but was only active for about five years. The club had several up-and-coming riders at the time, such as Phil, Joe Phillips, Michael Gamble, Charlie O’Neill – a renowned rider and club member who was injured at the Tandragee 100 in 1989 but later became a hit sidecar race. champion – and Pat McLaughlin.

AT CLUB: AT Club members in the 1980s, including Pat McLaughlin who was tragically killed at the North-West 200 in 1986
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AT CLUB: AT Club members in the 1980s, including Pat McLaughlin who was tragically killed at the North-West 200 in 1986

Tragically, however, Pat McLaughlin was killed in a racing accident in the North-West 200 in 1986. Club members still keep in touch, Phil told me.

“About four or five, we still meet regularly, and some of the guys, their sons and grandsons are racing now!”

Phil’s nephew, Mark Lunney, is also a noted racer, having won several Irish and Ulster racing titles.

However, Phil has only recently returned to racing since restrictions were lifted following the coronavirus pandemic. Tragically, Phil lost his wife – former Sinn Féin councilor Teresa Lunney (née Holland), who was well known throughout Andersonstown through her work with the Upper Andersonstown Community Forum – as well as his daughter Nuala in the space of six months. Teresa died in September 2018 and Nuala in March 2019, a day before Teresa’s birthday.

NUNCA DIGAS NUNCA:
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NUNCA DIGAS NUNCA: “Never Say Never” – Phil’s motto for returning to racing

After moving to Ballyhornan, Phil said the lockdown that came in 2020 had an impact on his mental health, as he struggled both with the loss of his wife and daughter and with the isolation imposed by the pandemic.

Talking with old friends helped, and they convinced Phil to come back racing, eventually persuading him that he should put on his old leathers again (the same ones he had made for racing in the 1980s). Phil’s current motorcycle, a classic 1970s Honda, is also emblazoned with choice slogans, such as “Team Tonto Viejo” (“Team Old Fool”) and “Nunca Digas Nunca” (“Never Say Never”).

Since then Phil has competed in classic races at many circuits at home and abroad, and he clocked a 1.35 lap time around Bishopscourt, doing so well that he finished after two races finishing second in the Ulster Championships and third in the Club. Championships.

Talking about getting back in the saddle next year and his upcoming 75th birthday, Phil said he plans to keep racing and will work on getting the bike back in shape over the winter.

“It’s the last race of the year, so after today the bike will be stripped to the bone and rebuilt over the winter to prepare it for another assault on the roads. don’t forget that the best victories are won in the garage, but also at the bar afterwards!

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