Road Racing Hero -Sam McClements
Some years ago, TTSC Republic of Ireland Representative, Myles Lally, wrote an
article about his all-time hero, Sam McClements for publication on the realroadracing. com website. Myles has kindly agreed that we can use the article for our magazine – what follows is the extract concerning the last year of Sam’s career, 1989, illustrating, quite clearly the highs and lows of our sport… For ’89 a new Regal 600 series was introduced and Sam decided to compete in this new category on a 600 Honda sponsored by Eden Car Sales. He also had the RC30 ready to rock in the big bike class supported by Robert Anderton. After the first rounds at the short circuits the new 600 circus had their first roads outing at Cookstown and what a debut they had. Brian Reid emerged as the new master of the category while Sam and others fought furiously for the runner-up spot.
I recall Sam and Philip McCallen having a great scrap at the opener, banging fairings over the big downhill jump past the back of the paddock resulting in a piece of Sam’s belly pan fairing landing in the garden beside the enthralled onlookers. Sam eventually finished runner up to Reid after McCallen went
across a hedge on the new Kawasaki after she blew oil all over the back wheel. There was a photo I remember of the incident hanging in the window of the Manx Kushitani leathers shop in Douglas for years after.
After the Cookstown finished early due to a fatal accident involving Joe Magee in the 250 race, the next outing for the 600/1000 was at a scorching hot Tandragee where Sam won the 100 feature race after it was stopped half way through. The pace was as hot as the day’s weather as Sam, Reid, Leach and Sean
McStay disputed the lead in the early stages, then Martin Barr came off on lap four and the race was stopped with the result taken from the preceding lap. Reid was runner up but won the Regal 600 in which Sam retired while lying 4th. The new kid on the block Dave Leach was 3rd in both races. At the NW200 Sam had two top ten finishes at the meeting where Steve Hislop won the two Superbike races and Brian Reid scored his maiden win in the Regal 600, denying Hislop a treble. The race was one of the closest in years with Jim Moodie and Dave Leach adding spice to this new class.
And so to Sam’s 13th and last TT appearance which had all the usual drama. Armed with his 600, RC30 and the big Suzuki just in case, practice went well with a lap of 107.19mph on the 600 but the RC30 needed some work with the pistons after the NW200 Unusually, the 600 race was held on the Friday evening and Sam started his most unusual race by falling off the 600 Honda at Quarterbridge on the first lap! Undeterred he dusted himself down and proceeded only to find out at Governors Bridge at the completion of the first lap that he had a bent steering
damper, falling off again! He then called in to pit lane to see what was wrong and decided to continue, he then fell off again at Governors, then refuelled. Shaken but not stirred he completed the four lapper after falling off three times and finished 30th with laps of over the 100mph mark. Everyone was waiting
for him on the last lap at Governors but he rode slowly round to the cheers of all who witnessed it! In Saturday’s F1 race, in which Steve Hislop delivered the first official 120mph lap, Sam finished a good 10th and, after the tragic events of Wednesday’s Production race in which we lost TT stalwarts Phil Mellor and
Steve Henshaw, Sam rode in Friday’s Senior and finished 7th again behind Andy McGladdery. It was in the F1 Race that Sam set his best ever TT lap, at 117.03mph. At his return to the Killinchy 150, Reid was back to form and won the Regal race with Rea 2nd, but the real scrap was for third and went Sam’s way after a terrific race with Alan Irwin. Then in one of the best Killinchy races
on record Sam delivered another one of his great performances against Dave Leach. At the outset there were four dicing for the honours,
Laycock, Robert Dunlop, Leach, and Sam. Then on lap 3 Sam made the break and
looked favourite to win; Leach then broke from the pack and chased Sam all the way to Tournagrough on the last lap to beat him across the line by two fifths of a second. Dunlop was 3rd and Laycock 4th. Then came Skerries and in its 44th
year was to deliver one of the best days racing seen around the 2.9mile circuit. The hard working Loughshinny Club in their fourth year promoting the historic event had attracted a quality field, including all the main Irish contenders
plus TT stars Moodie and McGladdery thrown in for good measure.
The 1000cc race turned out to be a cracker with Sam battling with McCallen,
McGladdery and Eric Galbraith, all RC30 mounted; the rest of the opposition did not know which way they went. First to go was Stephen Cull’s lap record on lap seven when Sam got away from the others to set a new ALR of 101.04mph. McCallen fought off Galbraith and McGladdery to finish 2nd with the others finishing 3rd and 4th respectively. Up next was the 600cc race and another ding-dong battle ensued between Rea, Moodie, McCallen, McMaster and Sam. Having been fastest in practice Moodie led for the opening lap and, as a newcomer, was getting very accustomed to the circuit. As the race progressed it was between Moodie and
Rea, Johnny doing to Jim what he’d done to Sam in ’84 coming out of Shady Lane alongside him to beat him to the line by 0.2 of a second! Jim was given the consolation of being the lap record holder for the new class. Sam had a great battle with McCallen for third with the verdict going to Phillip at the line.
Then came the Grand Final and what a race it was as Sam delivered a special
performance in his 21st year in racing. Philip McCallen led for the opening lap with McGladdery, Rea, Galbraith, and Sam in hot pursuit. Then, as the laps reeled off, Sam moved from his 5th position up through the field to eventually
take the lead from McCallen at the half waypoint. McGladdery held 2nd throughout
leaving the others to dispute the lower placings. Then Sam upped the pace even further and proceeded to lap faster and push the ALR on the eighth lap, to an amazing 101.58mph. While spectating at Gillies Leap during the race I recall Sam making a breathtaking overtaking manoeuvre with two laps to go when he took to the grass verge after coming upon a slower back-marker who was touring for a finish. As he came over the leap he discovered the rider in front using all 11ft
of the road, and while still flat out Sam rode along the edge of the bank never shutting off the RC30 in the process. In a cloud of dust and grass he over took the back marker to the cheers of all who a moment before had held their breath.
It was later recalled by a Welsh visitor, who wrote to Road Racing Ireland Magazine, saying it was the most amazing display of machine control and course knowledge he had ever witnessed! In the end McCallen finished 2nd McGladdery 3rd, Galbraith 4th, with Rea 5th on his TT winning 250. Afterwards at the awards presentation in the Yacht Bar, Sam was presented with a 21st birthday cake in his honour and the party lasted until the early hours. Sam was now one race short of the great Ray McCullough’s tally of 16 wins and, with the news that the Killalane race later in the year was to be run on the Skerries circuit, who would not bet against another Sam domination to round off the year.
So after great battles with McCallen in Clonakilty in the deep south he added two more victories to his yearly tally; he’d have had another at the Fore races if he had not had ignition problems with the RC30. The Temple rounded off the busy July mini-season and, as Joey made his comeback after a brief appearance at Fore, Sam again won the 1000cc race around the notorious Saintfield jumps circuit. The best race of the day was the Regal 600 race where Reid on his Budweiser Yamaha led from the start with Rea, Leach, McCallen and Sam in pursuit. As Reid led, the others swapped positions over the jumps and bumps and, on lap four, Sam passed Leach and then McCallen, beginning to reel in Rea and Reid. When Rea retired on lap six Sam was up to second and behind Reid on the last lap, as they approached the infamous Rectory corner Sam braked as late as ever and drew alongside his great rival. As they both rounded together everyone held their breath to see who would win the short sprint to the line. Crossing the line side by side, the verdict went to Brian by the proverbial hair type with McCallen 3rd and Leach a great 4th. At the Guinness UGP, remembered
for the crowning of F1 World Champion Carl Fogarty for the second time, Sam finished a great 9th in the F1 race after a titanic battle with Nick Jefferies, Leach and McCallen. His best finish of the day was in the 600cc race won by Reid with McCallen 2nd, Jamie Whitham 3rd, Leach 4th and Sam pipping Alan Irwin at the line for 5th.
The 3.5-mile Mid Antrim circuit located at Clough village was less exciting as
it proved to be a damp start for this new circuit. Sam had a fine 4th in the 600 race won by McCallen, after taking a slip road early in the proceedings. He made up for this mistake later in the 1000cc race by overhauling leader McCallen in the closing stages, setting the new lap record to 99.77 mph. And, so to the fateful Carrowdore of ’89. I remember it was a drizzly start to the day as I made my way up from Dublin on my own to the famous Ard’s peninsula. I remember
wandering around the paddock and chatting with Sam, Leach, and Robert as they prepared for the last road race of the year in Ulster. After having done a few laps I decided to go to the exit of the Bombhole with my new camera to catch some of the action. I was delighted to see fellow Dubliner John ‘Bart’ Byrne clinch his first Ulster road race win after Reid and the evergreen Noel Hudson had both retired. Then during the 200cc race while looking through the lens I caught David Lowry seize his machine in the Bombhole and then become involved in a very serious accident. I wondered whether this was going to be one of those days … Third race on the bill was the 1000cc and I was looking forward to seeing the big bikes in action, Robert led the opening lap on PJ’O Kane’s RC30 followed by Sam, Philip McCallen, Brian Reid, Dave Leach, Paul Cranston and Joey. Robert then upped the pace and was chased by the others and set a new lap record of over 109mph. Then, urged on by his local followers, Sam caught and passed Robert, smashing the lap record at a speed of 110.71 mph. McCallen also upped his pace to go second and lapped at 110mph passing Dunlop Junior. Robert then retired on lap four with a blown engine. Tragedy struck on lap five. Whilst
leading, Sam rocketed through the village and over the jump outside the village towards the Start and Finish at Balleyboley. As he rounded the left hand, Manse Corner he was in the process of moving over to the right hand side of the road when confronted by a slower rider touring back to the paddock. He tried to avoid
the other rider but was unfortunately thrown from his machine and crashed through a fence just before Ballyboley Corner. The race was stopped immediately
and news filtered around his beloved Carrowdore that big Sam was seriously injured in the incident; the rest of the day’s racing subsequently being abandoned. As I drove home I listened closely to all the news bulletins hoping that it would all be OK in the end. It was only as I got back to his other happy
hunting ground of Skerries that I was told that he passed away that evening in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. He was only 44.
I, like all the others that witnessed this fantastic rider over the years, was stunned to hear that he was gone and as far as racing was concerned it was the end of an era. In the following day’s newspapers and subsequent racing tabloids there was great discussion about the future of the sport as such was his stature within it. As we all know now it has continued to flourish and I’m sure he would have wanted it this way. Over the years we all have had our heroes within the sport, I was lucky enough to have met mine and Sam was one of the greatest.
He is remembered by the LMSC and the fans in Skerries by a small stone monument
at the exit of a tunnel of trees just before the start and finish.
He’s remembered every day in our house as over the door is a great photograph
that Joe Wright gave me years later. It’s big Sam in full flow through Baldungan on his all-conquering RC30. My son Sam often asks me to tell him about the photo and his namesake. There was a plaque placed at the spot in Carrowdore years later and it was inscribed: Sam McClements “If he couldn’t help, he wouldn’t hinder”
I think he’d have liked that.
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