MOTORBIKES: East Antrim team McLernon Racing aims to challenge for podiums in 2016

Family focus: The East Antrim racing team of Curtis, Ashley and Ryan McLernon. INLT 07-919-CON

Family focus: The East Antrim racing team of Curtis, Ashley and Ryan McLernon. INLT 07-919-CON

McLernon Racing is yet another racing family based in East Antrim with the potential to challenge for podium honours in the forthcoming 2016 racing season.

When Ashley, the head of this racing dynasty, along with his son Ryan and Curtis decided that they had had enough of racing up the north Antrim coast on a Sunday morning on their road bikes, the only logical conclusion was for the boys, dad included, to try their hand at racing.

Ashley explained: “I was away from bikes completely before Ryan and Curtis got their first road bikes but I suppose it was the excuse I needed to go biking again.

“I joined in and we really enjoyed our weekly outing, up and down the coast on a Sunday. I suppose I should have more sense but I take my lead from these guys. This is my second go at it.

“The racing seed was sewn when Curtis saw this 10-year-old 600 Suzuki track bike for sale. We bought it and all headed to Kirkistown for a track day. When we arrived there was professional teams there with all the gear. Trucks, awnings, mechanics etc and there we were with this borrowed flatbed truck, a bike, a handful of cable ties and a tin of WD40. It was an eye opener for us but it was also the start of where we are now. Now we have two vans, an awning and an estate car. So we have come a long way since that day back in 2013.”

After further track days the McClernons were bitten by the racing bug, the road bikes were sold and race bikes purchased. With 2014 being their first racing season, it has meant a lot of learning and hard knocks for the three newcomers.

Ashley remembers one such knock at a test day in the middle of 2014 where he and Curtis ended up sprawled over the Kirkistown tarmac. “There was a big gap in the racing season so we decided to go to Kirkistown for a bit of a test. Curtis proceeded to take me out, wrecking my bike, his bike and both of us. There was a lot of picture and no sound after it. Then Curtis asked me for the money to repair his bike,” he laughed.

Their first season saw Ryan take his R6 Yamaha to a race win in the Supersport Cup at round seven at Kirkistown while Curtis achieved a win, a third and numerous top six finishes before being upgraded into the Supersport pro class. Ashley, who claims to be the fastest grandad on the grid, took his time to learn the ropes and pick up the pace. Curtis, on the other hand, reckons he was on it from the start.

He recalled that first season of racing, saying: “I reckon I was too fast too soon. In my very first race I qualified for the Pro race. Okay, I was back of the grid but it was still in with the fast guys. I reckon I was one of the few riders, ever, to make the Pro grid wearing a yellow bib. The only two times I qualified for the supersport cup race instead of the Pro I finished first and second.”

Curtis seemed to be a victim of his own success, something Ashley agreed with: “I think they were hard on him as I think Curtis would have been in with a great chance of winning the Supersport Cup championship, had the organisers not upgraded him into the Pro class. Don’t get me wrong, you can see the improvement in his riding but it was a pity he didn’t get the chance to challenge for the championship.”

Curtis was the biker in the family but before the bikes he was heavily involved in bodybuilding, finishing fourth in bodybuilding Ireland. “I was 17 stone when I was bodybuilding but have lost quite a bit since I took up racing. Although I enjoyed the bodybuilding my first love has always been the racing. When I was in my teens my granddad, Harry, took me to the TT which I suppose began my interest in racing.”

Curtis and Ryan’s grandad was one of a group of men who owned the M.F.V. Tornamona, a boat that went down, so to speak, in racing history.

In May 1985 Joey Dunlop, brother Robert, Brian Reid and 10 other passengers and crew were making their way to the Isle of Man for the TT when the boat struck rocks at the entrance of Strangford Lough in the early hours of the morning and sank.

Joey helped to rescue the other passengers and crew, all of whom were saved. Five bikes, Joey’s and Reid’s, were later recovered from the Lough. Joey’s works Hondas had arrived at the island by another route and despite the incident he went on to have his most successful TT yet.

“There were lots of stories my dad told me about that boat and racing but we will save them for another day,” Ashley added.

In the season past the trio all had their fair share of success. Curtis, the youngest of the three, took his aging ZX6R Kawasaki to many personal bests in the supersport Pro class consistently finishing inside the top 15 but halfway through the year he was forced to sell the bike to raise the deposit for a new house.

For the new season, however, he will join his father in the Superbike class on a CBR 1000RR Honda. “Common sense prevailed when I bought the Honda and I can’t wait for the new season to start,”. added Curtis.

Ashley, who the boys say lets his riding on the track do the talking, took his BMW S1000RR to a first and second at the B&D Easter Monday meeting, completing the year sixth in both the Irish and Ulster Superbike Cup championships. He, like Curtis, has been upgraded into the Superbike Pro class for 2016.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “I enjoyed the 2015 season and for me one of the highlights was sitting on the grid at the Sunflower Trophy meeting with the likes of Alastair Seeley, Danny Buchan and Glenn Irwin. It was brilliant. I have done a lot of work on the BMW for the new season so I can’t wait to get out at the first test day.”

The third member of the team is Ryan. His 2015 season was ruined in a way as at the start he had a few crashes that messed up any chance he had of challenging for the championship.

However, he settled down as the season progressed and got some engine improvements on his R6 Yamaha. His lap times improved and by the Sunflower Trophy meeting he took third in the Supersport Cup race. 2016 could just be the year when Ryan realises his potential and really challenges for the Supersport Cup championship.

The guys realise their team couldn’t run without the support of others and to that end they added: “We would all like to thank PB Motorcycles, Blazin Digital, Hel Performance, Custom Vehicle Solutions, Custom Graphix, Northern Automation, C&F Quadrant LTD and last but not least our mum and wife Kim and partners Catherine and Erin for all their support.”

After meeting Ashley, Curtis and Ryan of the McLernon racing team the one thing that stood out is their enthusiasm and sheer enjoyment of the sport. Watch out this year for Curtis and Ashley, numbers 130 and 99, in the Superbike class and Ryan, 137, in the Supersport Cup class.