"Big H" ….. an interview with Paul Hunt

During early March I caught up with one of the Isle of Man's leading real road racing personalities, Paul Hunt - alias, "Big H" - to chat about his plans and hopes for the coming season. MGP winner and consistent TT performer, Paul is best remembered in the recent past for his double victory at the 2001 Estonian TT, a year after Joey lost his life at the Tallinn circuit….

"The Estonian trip was a real eye-opener; problems at every border, but great fun with the highlight winning both superbike races and breaking the lap record on my first visit and seeing the look on my team's faces as I came in at the end of the first race. I was chuffed when Des Collins, rival Mark Parrett's sponsor, came up to say how proud he was of the result. I look forward to this year's return trip when I hope to meet up with a possible relative who parachuted into Estonia during World War II. His parachute failed, he fell a ten thousand feet into a forest, survived, married a local girl and ended up staying!"

Well, what of the 2002 season for the forty-year old fire fighter, based at the Douglas Fire Station, right next to one the TT course's most famous vantage points, Quarter Bridge? "All the major road races, with my first meeting being a local event over Easter at Jurby Airfield and then possibly a meeting off the Island somewhere in preparation for the NW 200 in mid-May. All this will warm me up for the main event in the calendar, the TT. I'll also include the Steam Packet Races on the Southern 100 course at the end of the week."

Paul was obviously so impressed with his visit to eastern Europe last year that the return trip is being lengthened to include the previous weekend's international meeting in the Latvian capital, Riga. This period of time is the true road racers dream, as it's straight back for the Skerries, Southern 100 and Jurby Road Races. The record books show that "Big H's" fastest lap of over 115mph from 1994 is still the quickest around the demanding Jurby track, a feat he is very proud of …. "it was on an old OWO1 and since then some good racers like Jason Griffiths, Dave Leach and Adrian McFarland have had a go, but have got nowhere near it". Next on the list is the UGP where Paul had a cracking dice with Milky Quayle last year. 

Paul is very quick to praise Manx competitors, both past and present, for their exploits on the roads, feeling they don't get the credit they deserve …. "when I first started, the top locals were Kenny Harrison, a brilliant rider, Steve Moynihan and Graham Cannell, also a short circuit exponent who used to beat the likes of Neil McKenzie in the Pro Am. Then came Gary Radcliffe, who took over from Kenny, and Phil Hogg, killed during practice for the '89 TT - had the potential to be great. Today, the hotshots are Richard "Milky" Quayle, Nigel Beattie and Juan Kinnish. All these boys had/have the capability of competing with the best on equal machinery, but being on the IOM always holds you back"

With his patriotic feelings in mind, its not surprising that one meeting Paul is looking forward to is the Celtic Match Races, to be held this year at Jurby, a scene of Manx triumphs in '91 and '94. Contrasting greatly with this are Paul's ambitions …. "I would love to compete at Daytona and Macau". We might be asking ourselves in the future just how many men show the commitment and the versatility to compete at Daytona, Estonia and in the Celtic Match Races, all in the same year?

OK, so a full season of high-powered racing is on the cards, so what of machines? "GSXR 1000 Suzukis, one prepared for the open class races by Foggy's old mechanic, Slick Bass and a production spec, which I've still to get; also two CBR 600 F1 Hondas, one in full HRC spec, under the watchful eye of Slick, the other of production spec". Slick Bass is not the only one fettling Paul's bikes …. "other preparation is being carried out by myself, Kevin Cringle, John Cringle and my ace machinist 'Ogri'".

Top class machinery, spec parts, transport, accommodation, the next question is obvious ….. where does all the money come from? "At the moment I'm still trying to obtain a production Suzuki, but all other bikes belong to Kevin Cringle of Cringle Construction - my main sponsor and good mate, particularly at TT time. Many locals help me including John Alsop of NAGER - would you believe his company makes silicon implants; my sponsor makes tits! - bike enthusiast, Andy Faragher, Conister Trust, Micron Exhausts, Stuart Black of Black's Bike Shop, NGK, EBC and of course every spare bit of my money goes to the cause".

So where did it all begin? "It was at Jurby Airfield in the late'70s; I went with my Dad, an ardent TT fan to a local meeting and watched Ronnie Russell, whose sister married my cousin, and Buddy Yeardsley, a former school mate. The bug bit immediately, but it was '82 before I made my debut at Jurby on an RD 350LC I'd bought from Len Manchester. It was a forerunner to the FII Yams that won world championships and TTs in the mid-80s with the likes Steve Hislop and Brian Reid. It was very quick, but in a standard chassis; at my second meeting I finished 3rd in the Championship Race, the same position in the 350 Race and won both the Production and Restricted Licence Holders Races". This dramatic start to what is proving to be a successful career saw him bag the "Man of the Meeting" Award from Motorcycle Racing magazine.

I didn't really need to ask Paul what the highlight of his career is so far …. "obviously winning the '88 Senior MGP on a Kawasaki ZX10, lapping at 113mph and increasing the race record by three and a half miles per hour." During our conversation, we wondered whether or not this was the only occasion that a touring bike had won a MGP? On to the TT and the races that come to mind are "dicing with Gary Radcliffe for four laps in the '94 Senior and finishing 6th in the Production of '98".

Strangely, one of Paul's most satisfying races was not one of the big internationals but the Mid Antrim 150 of 1995, when as a newcomer, starting from the back of the grid in the Championship Race, won by Bob Jackson, he came through the field to take 3rd position - but that field did include the likes of Joey Dunlop, James Courtney, Denis McCullough, Gary Dynes, Derek Young, Johnny Rea, Alan Irwin, Jason Griffiths and Dave Leach! '95 was also the year of his memorable dices with Bob Jackson at the Southern 100, finishing second behind the Cumbrian in both the main races, on one occasion adrift by only half a second.

Sadly, as we all too readily know, life is not always a bed of roses for the road exponents of our sport and Paul's biggest dip in fortune was probably his big get-off at the '99 NW 200. "Crashing at Mill Road roundabout, I nearly lost my right hand; in fact the last operation on it was only in November. Hopefully, I'll be fitter for this season - and lighter. It's hard being 6 feet 4 ins and 17 stone; taking up sumo next year!!"

"Big H" is certainly not just setting his stall out for a tour round at this year's TT… "I would like to have five good finishes and complete a lap at over 120mph - perhaps I might surprise a few people in the process".
A target has also been set for the Southern 100 - the 105mph barrier.

Our chat naturally moved on to one or two more contentious issues. Like many, Paul would love an improved pay structure with riders being paid what they deserve as in other sports like golf and snooker. One query raised was "every year there are quite a few non-starters. £200 is allocated as first lap start money in the F1 and Senior, with £150 for the other races. This money is budgeted - where does it go? Can it go to poor Manx privateers?" he quipped. Out came the calculator and the 2000 TT results book - 139 non-starters, a total of £22,550…. over and above this, of course, is the fact that the Organisers, in the Regulations, plan for more entries in the prize money structure than are ever received! Another interesting statistic had now been thrown up - why were there 23 non-starters in the 2000 Senior when surely enough riders were available to make up the planned grid of 80? Was there not a reserve list when a rider cried off?

Finally, I asked Paul what he thought about the 250s being run as part of the Junior TT with the 600s …."the Organisers are keeping up with the times on this one as its exactly what's going to happen in the GPs with 250s being run against tuned 600s. Also, sadly, there are now few top class riders competing on the roads in the 250 class".

With no racing on the Mountain Course for nearly two years, we're all eagerly waiting for TT 2002 when top privateers, like Paul Hunt, on highly tuned competitive machinery, will be mixing it with the best, enjoying themselves and thrilling the expected thousands lining the Manx hedgerows. Paul is to be commended for his organisation, determination and unquestionable riding skill - it is the likes of Paul Hunt who are keeping our sport of real road racing alive and kicking. I wish Paul well for the coming season and thank him for his help in putting this article together.

Graham Bean