Simon Neary - More Determined Than Ever

The sidecar entry for TT 2007 could not really be any better – long time TT exponents,
Hanks, Molyneux, Baker, Holden, Currie and the likes at one end of experience
spectrum and a batch of newcomers setting out for the first time to master the intricacies
of the Mountain Course at the other, but nestling somewhere in between is a man who has
taken to the circuit like the preverbal ‘duck to water’.

Simon Neary first competed in 2002, taking the Newcomer’s Award in Race ‘A’ with
a 15th position, now he is circulating in excess of 110mph lap average with a real chance of a podium position. When did the interest in sidecar racing
take a hold? “I went to the IoM for the first time in 1997, with my parents, to compete in two
motocross events and the beach races at Peel and Douglas and also to support sidecar
driver, Greg Lambert. Whilst I was recoveringfrom an operation on my knee in 1998, followinga motocross accident I went along to a few road race meetings with Team Tee Bee who had supported me in motocross and Greg in sidecars. I knew motocross would be difficult after knee surgery and so retirement soon followed…..laying down in a sidecar seemed like the next best thing!” From then on things moved on a pace; in 1999 Simon went over to the IoM and bought his first outfit, literally hot off the circuit, from Kiwi brothers, Chris and Richard Lawrence. “When they finished their second race they rode the machine to our camp, bringing all their spares and bits and pieces, even the hand cleaner! I’d already persuaded my friend, Gavin Megson, to be my passenger. He’d been with us to motocross meetings, but really didn’t have a clue what he was letting himself in for!”

Determined to make the entry into three wheeled racing as professional as he possibly could, new leathers were ordered in the IoM from Scott Leathers, then collected a
week later before making the journey home.The first race loomed, “modelling lovely new
leathers, boots, helmets and gloves off wewent to Elvington on the Sunday morning. We
did three practice sessions – steady away, asneither of us knew what we were doing. I’d
asked my Dad how I should handle the firstrace – ‘just set off at the back and chase the
guy in front of you’ was his considered suggestion – ‘if you can pass anyone, that’ll be
great, but just enjoy yourselves’. Not expecting anything spectacular, I set off when the
flag dropped, leaving about fifty quids worth of rubber on the tarmac before the first corner.
Round the first corner I went to find myself in second position. Panic stations! My Dad was
heard to say ‘oh no, this will end in tears’. One lap completed, adrenalin pumping and Gavin
decided to bail out of the back of the outfit, scrubbing in his nice new leathers by doing an
up-side-down crab impression! A few words in my ear from my Dad to calm me down and
many comforting words with Gavin, and then we were ready for the next race. Race two saw
an incident when I tried to put a motocross style block pass on Phil Bell, who was also
making his sidecar debut. Unfortunately, Phil misread my intentions, causing me to T-bone
him off the circuit. When Phil’s passenger, Lee Farrington, landed some twenty feet away, he
was heard shouting, ‘who does that bloody idiot think he is – Roy Hanks?’ Tony Thirkell followed us round for several laps in the remaining races and gave us lots of valuable advice
like, ‘slow down and get used to the outfit’. Things were much better by the end of the day
and we came away with a 3rd place finish and our first trophy – the bug had bitten.”

Honours soon rolled in – in 2001 Simon was rated the MRO ‘Best-up and Coming Driver’, was the Darley Moor Open Class Champion with lap and race records to his credit, finished a most commendable 7th in the British F2 Championship, was New-Era F2 Champion, ERMA F2 Champion and had secured first place in the Wirral 100 road race. Simon is also rightly proud of his subsequent two runner-up positions in the British Championship and a similar place in the Superside F2 European Championship of 2005; a win in the two part race, giving him 3rd in the Euro Cup race at Oschersleban was also special. As with many of the British F2 sidecar fraternity, the TT beckoned; how did Simon set about acquiring knowledge of the twists and turns of the Mountain Circuit? “I watched the Tony Pond video every night for about nine months and listened to lots of advice from experienced campaigners, but that’s no substitute for getting the laps in. You need to see the landmarks everyone tells you about and ride them your way. To the newcomers, get in your laps, it’s the only way to learn the Course”.

Sporting race number 25, 2002 saw the Neary debut at the TT with Gary Partridge in the chair. What of expectations? “My aim had been to win the Best Newcomer Award. This was achieved in the ‘A’ Race coming home in 15th at an average of over 102mph. Unfortunately, a spill at the Gooseneck in the ‘B’ Race put paid to any improvement.”

Steady improvement over the next two years – 11th, 18th, 14th and a dnf, but with current passenger, Stu Bond, in the chair for the 2005 event Simon achieved fourth and fifth positions, with speeds improving with every passing lap. Now rated as a true podium contender, he was allocated starting number four for TT 06. Practice went well, but the Neary
– Bond participation came to an abrupt end with an accident at Brandywell during the
first race. How did it occur? “It was due to a puncture. We took the same line in the race
as we had done all week during practice, but it was just one of those things. Flying through
in air, I knew it was going to hurt. When I came to sudden stop in the fence about 100 yards
down the mountain the world was upside down. I shouted to Stu and a muffled groan
came back so I knew he was ok. However, a broken wrist and a dislocated elbow meant
he could not get his visor open and he was sweating and swearing for England. Luckily
help quickly arrived and the marshals, medics and Nobles did a brilliant job getting us both
sorted. Stu convalesced for the remainder of the season, having a couple of rides before
the end when he had recovered.”

Did the accident put Simon off? “No, in fact it has made me even more determined.” Stu Bond will again be his side-kick, but what qualities does Simon look for in a passenger? “I like my passengers light. They must know what they are doing and they must be someone I have complete trust in; at the same time, I hope they should have complete trust in me.”

Sidecar racing is very much a team effort….sponsorship and team preparation are certainly two other essential elements. How does Simon finance his racing exploits? “It’s hard, both me and my Dad work long hours – I’m a driver for Arcadia, delivering clothes for TopShop, Topman, Burtons, etc; we get some help with products from our sponsors Beatson Signs, Dave and Lynn Holmes, Tee Bee, Ferodo, Joe’s Hair Salon, Woodlesford Motor Spares, Scott leathers and Express Tyres. Debs and Winnie and Kevin Morgan bought us some tyres last season which was a big help. Any sponsor would be made very welcome. I must thank all my sponsors as without their help we would not be able to race. Thanks also to Mike Crawford who helped me in the early days.” What of machine preparation? Me and Dad prepare the outfit; Geoff Bell does the engine and Tony Baker, who made the chassis, does our mods and welding jobs.
Ian of Express Tyres looks after the rubber whilst Stu does all the cleaning and polishing, an important role in a team which we run as professionally as we can.”

The sidecar paddock is close-knit; at 26, Simon is still one of the younger ones, so who of the ‘more experienced’ brigade does he rate? “I rate anyone who races sidecars as it takes some bottle to do this sort of racing. You have to take your hat off to the likes of Roy
Hanks / Dave Wells, Bill Currie, Pete Williams – all old timers but still very competitive. Dave
Molyneux and Rob Fisher’s records at the TT will take some beating. Steve Webster has to
be the all-time great. The camaraderie in the paddock is unbelievable. It took a tragedy for
me to realise how close the sidecar family is. We lost Andy Brown and John Dowling at the
Southern 100 in 2003. My Dad and I went to  the funeral in York; I was absolutely staggered
to see how many of the sidecar fraternity attended. They came from all over the UK in
their hundreds; they are top people.”

So, not deterred by last year’s mishap Simon, accompanied by Stu Bond, will again be racing at phenomenal speeds along the Manx roads as well as competing in the British
Championships and the Euro Cup. Ambitionsfor the Island? “We intend to complete two full
races at the TT this year and a podium finish would be nice”. A podium position is very much
in the offing, certainly increased lap speeds for one of the young men who will, without doubt,
be an integral part of the next generation of sidecar drivers around the Mountain Course,
maintaining the high quality traditions developed over the years. Thanks go to Simon for
answering the questions which enabled this article to be produced… Good luck to Simon
and his team for the 2007 season. Simon