Inspired by Mike Collins’ post, Ian’s best ever learning experience also involves a track day but with a very different outcome…
On 6th September 1999 at Donington Park I had an amazing day with a motorbike on a race-track and learned a lot.
At slow speeds, race-tracks seem like they’re badly designed and disjointed as nothing quite seems to fit together. But once you’re at full pelt, clear racing lines start to emerge and each corner flows seamlessly into the next.
And that’s the feeling I had. Absolutely flat out, the most amazing feeling. 150 mph down the Dunlop Straight, shifting my weight forwards to keep the front wheel on the ground for the bumpy bit under the bridge and then shifting my weight from side to side as each corner seamlessly flowed into the next.
Until they didn’t
It went, as the biking expression goes, “Earth, Sky, Earth, Sky. Ambulance.”
Another rider did something I wasn’t expecting, and I was forced to take McLeans far tighter than I’d intended and far tighter than I should for the speed I was doing. There are various ways that a bike can crash and I had a ‘highside’ and went over the handlebars of the bike at what I think was around 90mph. I bounced a few times on the track and ended up in the gravel trap.
What followed next was a bit of a blur of race doctors and paramedics apologising for cutting through my one-piece racing leathers and then Hospital, spending hours in A&E immobilised on a spinal board while they identified what I’d broken and tried to find one of my vertebrae that wasn’t showing up on any X-Rays.
Jumping straight to the end of the story, it all works out OK. After a few operations to pin things and adjust and remove some pins, I am fine. I consider myself hugely fortunate. I was doing something I love and I came a cropper. I have nobody else to blame.
I learned a very important lesson. That day is the closest I have come to dying and my thoughts for the few hours after the accident are crystal clear in my memory. There were no thoughts of regret or fear and I just felt annoyed. And the reason is this: The 12 months before the accident, I’d been doing a job that I shouldn’t have been doing. I knew it wasn’t the right job and the right environment for me. It was slowly wearing me down and it was doing me no favours. But I stayed in it.
My main thought in the hours after the accident was if that was how I’d spent my last 12 months on this Earth, I’d have been really, really disappointed! My choice to put up with things that were wrong suddenly looked very different to me.
This life isn’t a dress rehearsal and we should make the most of it. It can be easy to go with the comfortable option, or to put up with things you know you shouldn’t and sacrifice the pursuit of your dreams. But just because it seems easy, it doesn’t make it right.
I’m hoping to be around for a long time but if this were my last year on this Earth, I’d still be happy with what I’ve done this last year and the choices I’ve made.
I learned a valuable lesson from my motorbike accident that continues to inspire the decisions I make each day.