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True Heroes Racing. Never was a name more apt.
They say you should never meet your heroes.
But what happens if you’re introduced to a group of people who go on to become your heroes within minutes of exchanging pleasantries? Surely that’s fine. Right? Even if it’s not, that’s exactly what happened when we rubbed shoulders with the team with the most apt name in sport.
British Superbike’s True Heroes Racing – made up solely of serving, injured or veteran members of the forces – entertained us on Friday June 30 as we focused on their exploits for our third Influx film of the year. And it’s an experience myself and our two talented cameramen will never forget.
Team boss Phil Spencer took us under his wing and even delayed his troops’ breakfast until our arrival. It may have only been a little touch but showed we’d been welcomed into the True Heroes family with open arms and full bellies. As the cameras and jokes – often at our expense – continued rolling we got the chance to witness more than just what the impressive thrill-seeking trio of Mark Fincham, Dave Mackay and Jim Walker could do on their bikes.
We soon ignored the results and realised what mattered most was that all involved in the paddock have been given a chance to reignite their forces passion, many despite no longer serving, through the medium of motorsport. They’re there together, enjoying the banter. The camaraderie. The team work. The respect. The pride. Everything the military used to offer. And that’s all thanks to Phil.
True Heroes is his baby. He got it off the ground in 2012 and he’s still there putting his heart and soul into it to keep the team going – and growing. Without him, the team wouldn’t even be competing in the Superstock 1000 and Ducati TriOptions Cup support series, let alone harbouring any hopes of progressing into the main championship one day.
“I’ve been in the Royal Navy for 24 years and I’m still serving so this keeps me very busy,” said Phil.
“My family are supportive of what I do but it’s very challenging, there’s a lot of time away from home as I kind of set-up, run and organise the team. I’m always looking for that next pound to get more sponsorship or trying to get the funding in place to be able to offer the opportunities every year for the guys and girls that are involved in the team.
“My aspiration is to take this team to the top. I don’t see any reason physically why we can’t. The top-level premier Superbike class, being out there showing that the injured, wounded and sick personnel can be involved at the highest level within the British championship. The only thing that’s holding us back is funding. To run one bike will probably cost as much as it currently costs to run the whole team.
“But at that level as well you become a professional outfit. The kind of blue sky thinking for me is that being a superbike team becomes a full-time job for the guys and girls involved. So the aspiration is to be able to offer paid employment to wounded injured and sick service personnel and veterans when they’ve left the service, by being involved directly with the team.”
True Heroes Racing’s mere existence is in itself an incredible success story. But that narrative is considerably sadder now, however, because one of those heroes is no longer with us. Between shooting and this film’s release, Mark died tragically in a racing incident while competing at Thruxton on Sunday August 6.
After seeking approval from the team and his family, we made the decision to upload the video in almost its completely original form by way of tribute. And we did so in the hope it goes some way towards continuing the legacy that Mark and True Heroes Racing have already created since being formed in 2012.
The on-board footage shows the former Royal Marine, who had part of his leg amputated following an on-road crash in 2007, doing what he loved. And that was thrashing his beastly machine around Britain’s top circuits at speeds of up to 200mph.
Motorbikes had always been the 37-year-old’s passion and there was no way he was going to allow a dreadful accident and his subsequent disability to affect that. It was just another obstacle for him to overcome. He and his former team-mates, like double amputee Adam Francis, should always serve as an inspiration to us all.
Yet Mark didn’t want to be put up on a pedestal. He didn’t want extra praise for competing against able-bodied riders. He didn’t want special treatment or sympathy. He didn’t even want to be a prominent feature in the film, preferring for his team-mates to take the limelight.
Ultimately, he just wanted to get his head down and live life to the fullest. He remained a racer until the end. The sky is his track now where he’ll, no doubt, still be sporting a beaming smile under his helmet as his number 903 zooms into focus before disappearing over the horizon.
His heartbroken team won’t forget him and neither will anyone who knew him. Because he was a True Hero, just like those who will continue to pull on the colours of the team he was so, so proud to be a part of.
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