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Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Sunday the 10th of April saw the return of a magic spectacle to the outskirts of Cork City as you head West along the Bandon road. A little stretch of asphalt just up from Ballinhassig was closed off to public traffic to host motorcycle drag racing as organised by the West Cork Motorcycle Club (WCMCC). Despite my being from East Cork myself this was the first available opportunity I had to attend the races but I was not disappointed. I was also lucky enough to start off my weekend on Saturday afternoon at the Ramble Inn just down the road from the track. Here was base camp for competitors, club members, helpers, scrutineers and those of us punters who were in search of the faces that made up the West Cork drag race as well as the machinery on display.

My next assignment was at the paddock gate on Sunday morning at 7am. For those that didn’t make the Ramble Inn yesterday evening, they eagerly formed a steady queue to go under the watchful eye of the scrutineers. At 8am the stretch of road from the Ballinhassig exit down to the Halfway roundabout was closed and a small, dedicated army of volunteers began to form the drag strip, holding area and public viewing areas. I lend a hand to lay out the crowd barriers that formed the holding area and went down then to scrutiny. The holding area behind the start line also allowed the G Class entrants the luxury of having their bikes on the road along with their own “Pit area” so to speak. These gentlemen were the premier class in drag racing and there was great Cork contingent with the O’Driscoll brothers Ciaran and Justin, Adrian Dorgan and of course Ted Brady on Mel Nolan’s built Yamaha FJ 1200 Pro Stock. These Super Street Bikes as they are known have effectively no restriction on chassis, fuel, tyres or engine. As we head towards the start line the sense of anticipation was visibly bubbling as the enigmatic Mr. Tyner gathered the riders for their briefing. Bhí nóiméad ciúnais I gcuimhne na daoine who had gone to their eternal rest in recent times and it was hard not to feel emotional to see the likes of the Carey brothers from Lisgoold at the starting line in honour of their brother and Denis whom was fondly remembered by the drag racing community amongst others.

So the scene was set and at 10:53am Pascal Bowen and Kieran Kelly had the honour of being the first bikes down the road and filling our nostrils with the smoke from the melting rubber at the start line. The action came thick and fast with the aforementioned Tyner and team of marshals keeping the bikes coming down the road all day with most riders blowing the cobwebs off and settling into the business end of 5 qualifying runs. Benny and his team sat cool calm and collected after burning the midnight oil the previous night to ensure everything was spot on with the timing and shortly after lunchtime, we we’re ready for knockouts. There was disappointment for the Wexford raider Mark Culleton as he parted company with his Hello Kitty inspired pre-injection machine but thankfully Mark walked away unscathed from the incident and was lending his support to those at the start line once his bike was recovered. After the qualifying runs, the riders we’re paired up and bumper entry meant Class F we’re first to get the action underway with the 751cc and up class having 8 pairings break the starting beams. Kieran Kelly picked up where he left off in qualifying to lead the times for the final 8.

Going back the order then Class C took to the line in the last 4 pairings with James Royal showing the way. Pre -injection Class CA was led by the 2 Jacks Kelly and Dynan and they would inevitably meet in the final 4. Class D saw some great Club rivalry with Donal O’Donovan and Adrian O’Driscoll pulling through to semi-finals. Class E machinery always throws up some beautiful machinery from yesteryears and Ollie Leahy topped the EA sheets on his 1984 1100 with Mick “Basher” Healy not far behind onboard his 1982 Katana knocking out Ray Foley and Aaron Durnin respectively. In Class E Stephen Murphy set up a final against Mark Quilligan with his unmistakeable t-shirt telling us to “Burn Rubber not Your Soul!” Class F was heating up and Kieran Kelly now dipped under the 10 seconds, Stefan Georgiev, Eltan O’Hea and Johnathan O’Brien onboard the Panigale all progressed too. The knockout stages for G Class were limited to 3 pairings as Adrian Dorgan received a bye as Eric Sheehan’s Hayabusa experienced some mechanical troubles in Qualifying. Kieran O’Driscoll was the first to progress to the semi-finals as he had a relatively easy passage against Guinness Record holder Ted Brady was struggling to find a rhythm on board the Mel Nolan Yamaha FJ 1200 Pro Stock. The 2018 G Class winner Justin O’Driscoll pipped Limerick’s Karol Davern whose Spondon framed turboed GSXR was a real fan favourite every time he came to the line. The last pairing saw the renowned Jarrod Frost put in a solid run if 8.922s against the Leeside legend that is Eddie Galvin. At this stage I had missed out on some of the action on the drag strip but all was not in vain as I was given the task of calling those to the grid for the knockout stages in conjunction with our master of ceremonies John Tyner accompanied by his right hand man (and son) Rhys! The first semi-final in Class B saw William Roberts beat Ian Lynch and on the opposite side of the draw Club man Conor McCarthy pipped Ben Mullane by 6 hundredths of a second. Garry Keohane rolled back the years by clinching the first space in the Class C final with Richard Murphy beating Ray O’Brien. Class CA was led early on by Jack Kelly and Jack Dynan and Kelly got the nod in their semi-final pairing. Liam Wainwright beat Darren Duggan despite a slower reaction time.

The Finals loomed, 8 pairings, 1 quarter mile strip of the N71 and the title of Ireland’s only drag race champion for 2022. Conor McCarthy came up against William Roberts in the first all Cork Final. Roberts narrowly got off the line first, but McCarthy rallied to save his fastest time of the day for when it mattered most and crossed the line in 11.576 @ over 125 mph. In Class C another local legend Garry Keohane was aiming to secure back-to-back titles as he lined up against Richard Murphy on his R6. But Murphy had other plans and as he led off the line, he finished the quarter mile as the only 600 under 11s on the day thus securing the title from Gary. The CA or Pre-Injection class was a close-run affair all day and the only noticeable absentee was Mark Culleton after his spill in qualifying. It came down to a battle of Yamaha YFZ R6s and Jack Kelly took the spoils from Liam Wainwright. Adrian O’Driscoll and Brian Murray would meet in the Class D finale and these 2 had been on the pipe since first practice. O’Driscoll was also out to retain his 2019 title on the ZX6R however the Aprilla RSV of Murray would prove a bridge too far in the final and Brian would win by almost 0.5s at the flag. The first Class E final for bikes before 1999 was decided between Mark Quilligan and Stephen Murphy. Stephen Murphy picked up the fastest reaction time of the day in his last 4 battle with “Snidge” Rigney and continued that form to take the victory from Quilligan. EAs were up next and the iconic yellow Arai lid meant Ollie Leahy was in great form consistently topping the times from Qualifying. On the other side of the white line “Basher” Healy had gotten a fantastic reaction out the gate but Leahy’s 1984 GSXR broke the beam in 11.349s to retain his 2019 title. There was bumper entry in F as Kieran Kelly was looking to make it an unprecedented 5 in a row on his 1000cc GSXR. From the last 16 pairings there was next to nothing to separate the riders on either side of the white line and Stefan Georgiev came through to take on Kelly in the battle of the Suzuki machinery. Both finalists had been pushed closed most notably in their respective quarter finals where Stefan pipped Danny McNamara by 0.03 of a second and Kelly on the other hand dipped under 10s to beat off Stephen Duffy on his Fireblade. Despite relocating from Bulgaria when he heard about the WCMCC drag race his best run was just shy of what Kelly had on offer and Kieran justified the favourite’s tag in a time of 10.028 to give us the closest final of the day by 0.038s from Stefan.

The one we had all been waiting for was finally upon us. The Carey Family Sponsored G Class final saw the Club’s very own Kieran O’Driscoll take on the renowned drag racer and tuner Jarrod Frost in the big one. In my best effort to keep things running smoothly on the grid, all became undone as both bikes lined up on the same side of the track for the finale! Never fear though as it presented the riders 1 chance for a few quick words with John before a coin toss meant Frost would take the left-hand lane for the showpiece. Both men put some rubber down to get tyres up to race pace and crept towards the gates for the big one. Frost who is responsible for the preparation of so many world record breaking bikes as well as drag racing records wouldn’t have it all his own way as the younger of the O’Driscoll brothers was ready to bring the fight to frost. Jarrod’s form in the run up to the final would tell the tale of the final as he was hitting the quarter mile flag on average at less that 9s whereas O’Driscoll would need something very special to improve on his 9.5s average. The Bomber League stealth GSXR pitted against the 1300cc Hayabusa would ultimately be a bridge too far for the black beauty as Frost would get the holeshot and power down towards Ballinhassig in a time of 8.847s and in excess of 190mph making it his second fastest time of the day having beaten Adrian Dorgan in the semi final in a blistering 8.769s. Kieran would finish in a very respectable 9.734s but there was no denying Frost the victory. As the finalists returned to the start line under the marshals it was impossible to miss the smile on Frost’s face behind his lid as he was greeted by the supporters, fans and most notably his right-hand man and son Benji.

And just like that, the intervening 3 years were gone since the last drag race in 2019 and everything in between was forgotten about just for a few hours as we breathed in a collective breath of smoke from the freshly burned rubber of the Class finalists. Those that were on hand all week putting the finishing touches on the WCMCC drag race deserve a medal having gotten the show back on the road but like a lot of us in the paddock, on the grid, at the start line we do it because we simply love motorcycle racing in all its forms and I for one can’t wait for 2023 already.

A special word of thanks to John Burke for his fantastic images used throughout this review.

Donal J. Arnold

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