Following the loss of their parents just days apart, Lee and Neil Morris raced on, won (and came second) at an emotional TT in 2000. Welcome to ‘A Family Affair’ part two.
Those nine days between September 19-27, 1999, stand firm in the memory. We lost dad on day one of those nine days, mum on day seven and buried them on day nine. Life, for that period of time looked desolate. It truly didn’t seem like a life worth living anymore.
Luckily for both myself and my elder brother Lee, we had the Chrysalis Racing family and the racing family in general to depend on. We were inundated with messages of support, phone calls and comfort. One friend even visited with a week’s food shopping which was and still is such a fine gesture under the circumstances. None of us had really eaten and there was no food in the house.
But probably the most crucial phone call for our immediate future came from Honda UK supremo Bob Macmillan. He’d rung to express his condolences first for dad and then subsequently for mum. He went on to offer us any help that he could. Mum had talked to Lee after dad died about carrying on the team, defending his TT title in 2000. We suddenly knew just how Bob could help us.
Lee and I chatted and decided Bob could sort us out a couple of riders. We sat and made a list and scored each rider on a number of factors. Joey Dunlop appeared, Jim Moodie, Michael Rutter. We eventually settled on John Mcguinness and Jason Griffiths who had finished first and second on our notepad scoring system. Bob held up his part of the bargain with some additional help towards Jason from the lovely Yvonne Ward.
We slogged for eight months to get two bikes ready. I remember getting to the Mallory test having not slept for three days. Lee was the same: our best mate Tony Beaumount sacrificed his time and his rest, Grant Cook too.
We renamed the bikes AMDM, the initials of our late parents. One was dad’s original bike raced at the end of the previous season, the other the result of a team effort to build a replica making certain each rider had the same equipment. Ricky Hunt filled the void of us having lost Dave Morris the engineer, Gary Cotterell the engine builder – dad respected Gary as a former Supermono racer/technician.
Our old Endurance pit chief Dave Bromfield joined us again in 2000. He kept us laughing, steered us when we needed it. My Auntie Dawn came along, this time with my two cousins Lucy and Emily, a grateful distraction from the pressure and the noise. Steve and Chris Caffyn continued their moral and financial support, the biggest part of the Chrysalis Racing family. From the same West Country town of Frome as Steve and Chris, young lad Paul Durston continued his Chrysalis apprenticeship. We coined him ‘Ratboy’. He was given the crappiest jobs usually, but ones that he did with such a pride and dedication. My mum had treated him as her own in years previous and it was nice for me not to be the youngest anymore. Ratboy was good to have around!
Tony stayed with us the whole time. He met dad when they worked together at British Aerospace back in 1992 and played a major part for TT 2000. He was and still is a part of the family, a rock to my mum and ever dependable for dad. He and I holidayed together, went out drinking all the time, even double dated quite a lot. Sharing that victory with someone like Tony was special.
There were others: Grant Cook had worked with dad and Tony too (still does) and brought the family along for the ride for hard work and a bit of banter. I’m afraid I gave his lad Ashley a bit of a scare one morning when my bedroom
door had swung open revealing that my backside had snuck out of the duvet. We were 10-12 to a house that year, but Ashley was only little and I’m not sure he ever fully recovered. Grant’s wife Kirsten still calls me ‘Peachy!’
Nick and May Brown in Onchan opened their garage doors once more and kept the kettle warm as usual, with daughter Suzanne and son Peter not far away. Tom Guilmant, owner of the team’s local Suzuki dealer had been a passionate supporter and sat in the TT grandstand looking on, no doubt thinking back to those days when he placed a pink Suzuki underneath close mate David Morris back in 1990.
Others waited anxiously for news back home. Neighbours Pauline and Karen would tend to the family dwelling whilst the team were away. They would usually have to clean up after our incontinent cat Sally. I recently found out they had watched the race results flick across the teletext screen whilst we were racing. That meant a lot.
And so to the big race itself: which wasn’t without drama. During the Singles TT pit stop, Mcguinness had a lapse of judgement. We had again practised the pit stop up at Nick and May’s house in Onchan: in, cap off, filler in, fuel, visor clean, does it need a rear tyre, check round the bike, drink, bike back on compression, tank full, GO, GO! Dave and I push as John paddles, bump…nothing: again, that audible gasp from the grandstand. Back on compression. Push…bump…nothing.
It went the third time and the crowd cheered. We nearly didn’t notice as we were too preoccupied with the fact that we were now at the end of pit lane and dangerously close to joining the circuit. We hopped over the Armco, nursed our bruises and caught our breath. We felt awful about it. Had we done something wrong? Not enough momentum? What?
Mcguinness came in to the winner’s enclosure having won the race comfortably from team-mate Jason – in the end. The roving mic probed: “You had a bit of a moment in the pit stop there John!” Casually Mcguinness muttered: “I forgot to flick the kill switch back on.”
John was (and still is) laid back. But he was a joy to work with and great to be around. Lee and I were fast becoming tired of people looking at us in that ‘you poor bastards’ kind of way. We never got that from John. He treated us like grown-ups, like mates from the start and never balked if we talked about mum and dad. Racers don’t want to contemplate all that, but he never made us feel like we couldn’t be candid. He still doesn’t!
In the end, the slow stop didn’t matter. We had won and we had finished runner-up too, Jason giving us the icing on the cake in second. I can remember the winner’s enclosure was packed with people. It’s a bit of a cliché, but at one point everyone was a blur. I could hear lots of noise and then it was like
everything stopped for a moment. It was at that point that I broke down. We’d held all that in for eight months to get the job done and it all came flooding out. I’d never felt closer to my brother than at that moment. He held me and we both sobbed!
We all went out in Douglas that night. I remember Ratboy went missing which was a bit of a worry. He was only 16. We were in a club in Douglas and we couldn’t find him. We eventually located him surrounded by strippers posing for pictures. That was an awesome night! I think we all felt like a weight had been lifted.
John was injured in testing not long after the TT, so we recruited Adrian Clarke to replace him for a trip to Assen and Spa for the European Supermono series alongside Jason. The Dutch round was called ‘The Rizla Racing Day’ and the event was packed. It turned out anyone who had bought a pack of papers had got a free ticket. I swear there were plumes of smoke rising from every Grandstand. We graced the podium at each, but Spa saw the usual torrential rain.
Lee crashed his car on the back roads of Liege, so we holed up with our old Endurance friends ‘the Ruttens’ in La Hulpe in Brussels. Grant and Ratboy went back in the van and Lee, Tony and I managed to adjust to the squalor of a 16th century mansion for a week. I began to feel grateful that Lee had pushed the envelope of his Peugeot 206…
One more thing happened in 2000. We learned that we COULD do this, we had an aptitude with the right people around us to continue the success of Chrysalis Racing. But we realised that we needed to spread our butterfly wings. So we got talking to Suzuki about TT 2001, running Shaun Harris who had already been putting the miles in on the new K1 GSX-R1000. But Foot and Mouth paid to that and a further TT victory in the Singles.
So our old friend Tom Guilmant from
Rob Willsher Motorcycles put two GSX-RS underneath us and we went Superstock racing instead. Yorkshire late braker and possessor of the driest wit on the mainland, Howard Whitby was to be our rider in the British series supporting the BSB championship. A bit of a 600 specialist, Howard spent a bit of time upside down on the big Suzuki. But he equally chucked our newest Chrysalis machine on the podium at Oulton Park behind eventual champ Paul Young and fellow Yorkshireman David Jefferies.
A big smash at Dingle Dell in qualifying upset the equilibrium though, John Crockford cutting Howard’s nose off and a trip to hospital with concussion ensued. Chris Burns deputised at
Thruxton and the podium continued to elude us when Howard came back.
Young Copdock flyer Kieran Murphy got in the mix with us the following season and really hit the ground running with podiums at Silverstone and Oulton Park, even our home round at Thruxton. Most impressively, he bagged a 2nd at Silverstone for the European Superstock round supporting World Superbikes and 3rd at Brands in the same series.
Mcguinness reunited with us in 2003 on a CBR600RR after a dismal season in World Supersport. I couldn’t believe Honda let him go: their loss was definitely our gain, but we couldn’t sustain our efforts. The money had run out and John had the good grace to stop us putting the family home up for remortgage. Lee and I had been going through mum and dad’s things shortly after their deaths and had happened upon four lots of documents confirming the number of times they had remortgaged the house in their racing career.
Lee and I looked at each other desperately trying to remember the ‘new kitchen’ or the ‘home improvement’ and suddenly remembered the time mum bought dad a new frame. Racing was most definitely their life, but we were not destined to go the same way…
Raised the profile
We had raced on for three and a bit seasons and arguably raised the profile of the team even further. But the usual suspects had gone their separate ways. We relied on new help, some paid and therefore none as dedicated. Not their fault. We set the highest of standards (I blame mum and dad for that) and I’m not sure anyone could have come close to meeting our expectations. They were great company, did a solid job, but they weren’t family like the others before them!
So the team drew to a close midway through the 2003 season. I spoke to my dad’s best friend recently, who served his apprenticeship in engineering with dad as a teenager. He talked about the fact that neither of them had a car licence so had to find a volunteer to drive a car and trailer to races for them. This was back in the 70s.
He bought dad an RG500 to race, helped him spanner Nortons, big four-stroke Suzukis, even an old Kettle. They went to places like Brands Hatch with nothing in their pockets, raced riders like Wayne Gardner, Roger Marshall and Joey Dunlop in the World of Sport Superbike Challenge. Dad was leading at one point, only to run out of fuel on a bike yet to be tested to its full tank capacity.
I had been putting together a bit of a list of dad’s achievements from old race programmes and I’d noticed some stellar results from dad on privateer machinery against factory bikes, big names and wellfunded teams. I asked his mate why dad never competed in a full championship as I was convinced he could have done more from
what I’d read. All the early 1980s stuff was a bit before my time, I was just a kid. His mate said: “We couldn’t afford it, so we just did what we wanted to!”
He went on to say that he stepped out of racing after a while, around about 1995 when the BMW project was getting big and we were racing at places like Daytona. It was a factory effort with a small ‘f’ at a time when BMW was not synonymous with racing motorcycles. His mate said: “It was all getting a bit too serious! It wasn’t fun anymore!”
I never felt that, but I know what he meant: because it happened to me at the end of our 2002 season. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, so much as it wasn’t the same. Mum and dad’s loss left a massive void and the target changed forever, the camaraderie, the stubborn resolve to do anything that was required, to go without sleep night after night, to battle the elements, to make it because you could or because you couldn’t afford to buy it, to have such belief in what particularly dad was capable of, but equally the direction mum would steer us in. I never feared the danger, I feared failure because I wanted success so badly for dad!
Tragically, my brother Lee died towards the end of 2012 of pneumonia, a month shy of his 40th birthday. His daughter was just about to turn a year old and at a time when life was coming together for him, affirming itself in the most positive of ways.
There is little left of Morris blood from those Chrysalis Racing days, a couple of aunts including Auntie Dawn, but our ever-reliable Nan Dinah has passed. Nan was one of those who never treated me like I was made of glass, something I bestowed on the congregation during the speech at her funeral fighting back tears and contradicting myself somewhat!
Thankfully, many of our racing family remain. Steve and Chris are still firm friends. I live up north now, so though I don’t see them much it always feels just like yesterday when I do. It’s the same with Dave, Tony, Ratboy, mum and dad’s old friends Ian (a former racer himself) and Mandy remain excellent company. Family Brown (with Nick now sadly gone) are still but a phone call or a short skip and jump away, their daughter Suzanne a fellow Lancashire resident. They all remind me of how it used to be and feel, ultimately fulfilling, warm and true.
Our old neighbour and cat sitter Karen said something to me not long ago. She was somewhat baffled how my mum and dad had left me during my GCSE exam year to go and race at the TT. I guess she had a point, but I have to confess it had never occurred to me up until then. I was just pissed off that I couldn’t go.
I got married shortly after we finished racing, moved to just south of the Lake District. Kids followed with my eldest James well into two wheels and youngest Alex sensibly aiming for a less expensive pursuit.
The big single cylinder bikes are still with me! Sentiment and years of watching dad machining bits for them forbid me from letting them go. One of them went to the TT not long ago for Mcguinness’s ‘20 years of the TT’ display and that was really nice. It got made a fuss of and made the telly. Now they stay in the house as it’s too damp in the garage. My very tolerant wife Caroline occasionally adorns them with a pot plant as a form of silent protest. At least she uses a doily, respectful as ever is my lovely lady.
Looking back on racing, something Lee said still resonates with me to this day. He said: “We had the best 22 years with mum and dad, more fulfilling than any other life I could imagine.” I guess it was his way of trying to compartmentalise the loss.
I was reading a well known bike publication recently and spotted a list of TT manufacturers to have won races in the last 20 odd years. Alongside Kawasaki, Honda and BMW was AMDM. Our mum and dad’s moniker was on that list and I couldn’t be prouder!
I now have a new beginning with my family in the north, the chrysalis of my later years. The first of Chrysalis Racing was a sight and sound to behold!