THE LIKELY LADS
Enter the crazy world of upcoming stars Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison
Road racing has a habit of producing peculiar characters. It’s something that goes hand-in-hand with a mindset capable of heading off down Bray Hill at 190mph.
Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison are typical of the breed. Over the last few years these road racing up-and-comers have chipped away at the established elite to achieve a flurry of victories and podiums.
Johnston’s last two seasons have been hampered by injury, but Harrison has gone from strength to strength to establish himself as a front runner. The Bradford ace stood on the TT podium twice last year before going on to win at Scarborough, the Southern 100 and Ulster Grand Prix – where he earned the title of the fastest road racer in the world with an average lap speed of 134.614mph.
For 2018, Harrison remains with the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki squad with whom he enjoyed so much success last year, whi le Johnston looks to get back to the front having signed a deal with the factory Honda Racing outfit.
MCN caught up with the pair (who, despite their rivalry, remain close friends) to find out what makes them tick and what we can expect from 2018.
How are you feeling?
Dean Harrison I’m fine. I’m a friend down for the season as he doesn’t talk to me anymore. Now he’s a factory Honda rider he doesn’t talk to us ‘average class people’.
Lee Johnston How the f*** are you average class? To be fair, in Bradford you are upper class, aren’t you?
DH My team is good, everything is the same as. We’ve built new bikes but we’ve got the same people. It’s not quite factory level like Lee but we’re not far off.
LJ Things are going alright here too! We had a good test in Monteblanco and I’m really liking the Fireblade. The bike definitely has potential and I’m looking forward to getting out again at Castle Combe in a few weeks.
What is it about road racing that does it for you?
LJ It means you don’t have to go to work!
‘Flat-out at Coleraine, you can’t help think “‘this is mint!’” LEE JOHNSTON
DH Yep, that’s it. I’m work shy. Well, I’ve done more days’ work than he’s ever done in his life. He once told me that he did a day’s tiling…
Road racing is all I’ve ever done as obviously my dad (sidecar racer Conrad – Ed) did it. It’s just normal. I’m not l ike Lee who was a factory World Supersport rider and then downgraded.
LJ I did two World Supersport races and he thinks I’m a World Supersport racer?
DH Yeah, he’s come from World Supersport and worked downhill, whereas I started at the bottom and... well, I guess I’m still at the bottom. LJ You never turn up to Donington Park and go ‘F***ing hell, I can’t wait to go down Craner Curves, it’s unbelievable’. Whereas you go to the North West and you might hate every chicane, but when you get to go the whole way to Coleraine absolutely flat-out you can’t help but think ‘this is mint!’.
DH I don’t dislike short circuits. I quite like racing in BSB but it’s just not the same.
LJ That’s what does it for the fans. There’s so much appreciation from road race fans because they can’t just go and do a trackday at the North West or TT. You can’t ride around there properly without racing it. You can’t set off down Bray Hill flat- out without going to get your licence first, then getting the international licence, then getting an invite to race...
F*** knows how we ended up there, but you have to do it all before you can even set off. It’s not like you can just hire the track and ride around. That does it for the fans and it’s the same for us.
DH The best thing is on the first night of practice – whether TT or North West. You set off and there’s no stress. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you can just go have a roar around.
BSB isn’t like that. You have to be on it from the first lap and everyone is so uptight.
Lee, you’ve had some big ones over the last few years – but you keep coming back...
LJ I don’t know any different. When you wake up in hospital, your first thought is ‘When am I going to be back on a bike?’
As soon as you’ve crashed you’re working out how to get back and I think if you don’t have that in you then you aren’t a bike racer. Until you’ve had a big crash and wanted to come back, keen as mustard, you just don’t know how much you want it.
DH I’ve had a few bangs on the head. Screws, pins, plates…
LJ That’s not just road racing either. Look at Haslam in BSB. Every crash he has is massive! He never tucks the front, does he? And next session, or when he’s back from injury, he’s never any slower. He’s done that his whole life. He doesn’t know any different and that has to be part of it, too.
Are the dangers and the risks something you think about when riding?
LJ F*** no!
DH You just think about what’s coming up next and how you can be faster.
LJ I think that’s maybe what goes through the minds of the people who aren’t very fast, or don’t get any faster – that’ll be what’s slowing them down.
Maybe they’ve got a bigger brain than us and their brain is telling them to slow the hell down. You only ride to what you’re comfortable with and if you’re comfortable at 120mph then that’s what their brain is comfortable doing. You don’t go out, shut your eyes, hold it flat out and see what happens! We aren’t crazy. We’re only doing what our brain is letting us do.
We’ve got an ignorance, haven’t we… if someone gets killed. I think it makes you appreciate death as a whole. If someone in your family dies it’s not that it doesn’t bother you, but you just need to crack on.
DH If someone gets killed the race is never any slower, is it?
LJ Nobody ever goes out and says ‘let’s just ride around…’
What makes the TT so special?
LJ When you win a TT you’re a proper road racer. Until you’ve won a TT, you’re like me and just wasting tyres and fuel! I’ve won a few North Wests and Ulsters, but I need to win a TT. DH It’s not just one specific thing. There’s nowhere you’re riding for that long. There’s no lap that long. You’re by yourself and it’s what the whole year revolves around. It sounds awful, but if you do win the North West, by the time the TT is here nobody is talking about it.
LJ That’s the only downside to road racing. There should be six or eight big internationals because there’s that much pressure when you get to the North West it’s the be-all and end-all because it’s only once a year. Then you get to the TT and it’s like ‘I have to do something here’ and then you get to the Ulster and it’s the exact same.
It’s said by some that road racers race at 90%, that’s bollocks isn’t it?
LJ I’ll take you around on the back if you want to find out. DH As soon as that flag f lag drops everyone is out to win and pushing as hard as they can to do that.
LJ Look at the Classic TT. Nobody gives a f*** about it, yet everyone there is off like f*** as soon as the flag drops. Doing 128mph on a shitty ZXR750. How’s that possible if you aren’t giving 100%? DH This is our job at the end of the day and if you do shit you don’t get a ride.
What’s the money like?
LJ Shite. We wouldn’t be talking to you if we were rich would we?
DH Do I look like I’ve got loads of money? I started road racing and it cost me money – so in theory I was paying to put myself in harm’s way…
Does getting older make you faster or slower?
DH Faster. LJ Definitely faster.
DH It’s not just like that in road racing either. Who is the fastest man in BSB? The oldest man. Who is the British Champion? The oldest man. The more you do it, the better you will get…
‘Road racing cost me money – so I paid to put myself in harm’s way!’ DEAN HARRISON ‘When you wake up in hospital, my first thought is ‘when can I get back on the bike?’ LEE JOHNSTON
Who is the greatest racer you’ve ever raced against?
LJ Dean Harrison. He’s the fastest man in the world! When he goes out at night and walks into a pub, he expects me to go in first and announce that the fastest road racer in the world is about to walk in...
DH I don’t even know who I’ve raced against!
LJ This probably sounds stupid, but Kenan Sofuoglu in World Supersport. He’s f***ing impressive.
DH I’ve ridden around in BSB so I can’t say I’ve raced with any of those guys, been I’ve been lapped by a few… On the roads I always liked Bruce Anstey.
LJ Bruce is 20 years older than me – 20. It’s unbelievable what he does.
DH I used to watch Bruce as a kid! You know when you follow someone, when you follow him and see ‘Anstey’ on his back that’s a good feeling.
LJ When anyone else passes you, you’re swearing and calling them a ****, but when Anstey comes past you go ‘well, fair play Bruce.’
What more can you can you say? He never passes you slow, he doesn’t just leave you enough room. It’s bang – and he’s past. It’s like he’s playing a computer game. DH Every pass is like a lunge. He’s so impressive.
LJ If you put Bruce on Dunlops and let him ride what he wanted in British Championships, and there was prize money up for grabs, I reckon he’d be up at the front. You can’t have that much skill and not do it. The lean angle he carries on the roads is incredible, he doesn’t ride like a road racer at all.
What are your expectations for 2018?
LJ Dean is going to keep his title as fastest man in the world!
DH Are you not going to do it on the factory Honda? To be honest, I want to go faster than last year but that’ll be a job in itself.
LJ It’ll be easier for me to go faster than last year, as I had such a shit year, so I’ll say faster than last year. I just have to get through practice week to be honest...
For Dean, the hardest thing is when you have a good year to then have another real good year.
DH Lee will do well at the North West. He’s good at the Ulster too, I know he’ll do well at those two. With the TT, I think they’ll get faster. I’m not saying he’s not capable of winning, but Michael Dunlop is going to be hard for us all to beat this year.
‘At Baregarrow you want to turn left like this – and stick your leg out’ LJ: ‘My beard adds 5mph through the bends...’ DH: ‘Does it f***!’ Johnston flat out admits he ‘needs to win a TT’
Harrison sideways at Scarborough (that would make a good title for his autobiography)
Lee putting the Fireblade to the test at Monteblanco
Dean Harrison: The fastest road racer in the world!
It’s all smiles on the stairs, all business on the track
Harrison with his 2017 TT trophy. We’d put money on him winning a few more.
Laughing off the injuries, you need a good sense of humour to be a road racer