Fairbrother to race Isle of Man 2013

By Nathan Crombie nathan.crombie@age.co.nz

It was the growl of a Norton Commando that first roused motorcycle racer Doug Fairbrother from a six-day coma after a near fatal bashing.

Fairbrother had been ambushed from behind and struck on the head with a pool stick while helping a friend in early 1987 at the then Foresters Arms Hotel in his hometown of Greytown.

His mate was about to be hit with a bar stool and Fairbrother - renowned as much for his camaraderie as his adventures on two wheels - had stepped in to help.

"I went to help someone and the next thing I'm in hospital fighting for my life."

The engine note of a Norton in the hospital carpark almost a week after the attack dragged him from his coma, he said. He was discharged several weeks later.

His attacker was sentenced to nine months in prison while Fairbrother took six months "to come right", he said, although for several years afterwards he was compelled to put his back to the wall whenever in a group or a crowd.

"There was a cop at the time who said that'll be the end of my motorcycle racing. I just couldn't let that happen," he said.

An old boy of Kuranui College and mechanic by trade, he had been racing bikes since he was a teenager and today owns one of the first bikes he remembers - the Norton upon which his uncle, Russell Fairbrother, had himself raced to victory.

"Back then I was the wild boy from Greytown to all the older racers. I was 16 and had an FJ Holden ute with my motorbike in the back. I didn't give a s**t about anything else."

Fairbrother raced sidecars, speedway, scrambles, hill climbs and sealed circuits throughout New Zealand, chalking up an array of regional championship wins in several codes and classes and co-founding the Greytown Racing Team and the Gladstone Cliffhanger event along the way.

However, the near fatal bashing forced him to confront the uncertainty of life, he said. He realised "you're not living forever, so you've got to do what you want to do before you get too old to do it".

In 1988 he spent every cent he had on a brand new Ducati motorcycle, travelling to Italy and pushing the four-valve water-cooled beast off the factory floor himself.

From there he journeyed to the Isle of Man and for the first time raced what many consider to be the most dangerous track in the world.

As at August last year, 237 people had been killed while racing on the 60km Snaefell Mountain Course. Track speeds today can exceed 300km/h and on average more than two competitors die each year; six were killed in 2011 and nine died in 2005.

A mechanical fault kept him from finishing his first time out and another fault the next year kept him from qualifying. But in 1998 and 1999 he took finisher's awards for completing the two-hour race.

Fairbrother counts a couple of riders who have excelled on the track as his idols, including 14-time winner Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini, who 10 times took the crown.

His greatest admiration though is reserved for the late Joey Dunlop, an Irish champion he once met who won 26 times at the Isle of Man - the most ever wins at the track.

Fairbrother will celebrate his 62nd birthday during the practice round lead-up to the Isle of Man Manx Grand Prix this year, a few days before he races in the Classic TT Pre-1974 up to 850cc class.

He has once again poured every last cent into the coming race, spending about $50,000 on a 1971 BSA Rocket and two motors, a 750cc and 850cc, that he has fully rebuilt.

His pit crew will include his teenage apprentice and racing protege, Finn Harman, and racing friends from Christchurch from whom he bought the BSA. There will be mates from England who will help him during the bid as well.

However, bar crashes or mechanical failures, the ride is to the rider alone, he said.

"The straights on the Isle of Man are that long you start drifting off and suddenly you start thinking about what's going on underneath you.

"The hardest thing is to keep your concentration up all the time," he said.

"You've got to remember it's only a fast road race and don't overdo it. Because you run out of room and can't make a mistake. Then when the trees open up, you just keep it nailed and don't back off," he said.

"It's like Mt Everest to some riders but others won't race there because it's too dangerous. I want to do 100 mile an hour laps and I want to finish.

"If I can do that, I could end somewhere near the front and I will be walking on water."

Today he is at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park near Hamilton, where he is racing the BSA for the first time. Next weekend he will run the Paeroa Battle of the Streets and seven days later will race at the Powerbuilt Raceway at Ruapuna Park at Christchurch.

Also as part of his build-up to the Isle of Man in August, he will compete in the Barry Sheene Memorial Race at the Sydney Motorsport Park from March 15 to 17.

Fairbrother said he has just recovered from a serious foot injury he suffered during racing last year but his greatest problem today is not the risk of further injury but the funding of his run at the Isle of Man.

His teammates have committed themselves to fundraising and sponsorship and have left Fairbrother to calculate his winning strategy and engineer his ride.

"In my racing career there's been a broken pelvis, broken vertebra, broken ribs, shoulder, collar bones.

"But the worst injury I've had was nothing at all to do with motorcycling, which makes it pretty safe really.

"Out there I'm in charge of it. I stay in control," he said.

"I've pumped more into my life than most people because I was almost killed at a pub one night. I could have stayed bitter and twisted but I learned you're lucky just to be here. Practice is over. It's true, that's how it is."


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