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Rocket Ron Haslam & Son - A Motorcycle Masterclass!

Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2007

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Haslam & Son: – A Motorcycle Masterclass

Like Father - Like Son!

For many centuries it was customary for a son to follow his father’s profession and many sons served their apprenticeship under the familial yoke of a paternal craftsman, following in the footsteps of their progenitor to ply the same trade and thus the well-known phrase `like father – like son’ came into common usage in the English language.

`the unique Haslam family from Smalley in Derbyshire'

Chesterfield’s famous pioneering railway engineers, George and Robert Stephenson are prime examples, and whilst it is rare for both father and son to achieve world-wide recognition in the same trade, it is rarer still in professional sport – unless of course, you are part of the unique Haslam family from Smalley in Derbyshire!

Three times World Champion `Rocket’ Ron Haslam and son Leon, nicknamed `pocket-rocket’ characterise the old adage, `Like Father-Like Son’ - for both have achieved fame and world-wide recognition on motor-racing circuits across the globe in the top echelons of their chosen sport.

These days Ron (50) and wife Anne, assisted by daughter’s Emma & Zoe run the Ron Haslam Racing School based at Donington Park, where riders of all abilities and ages can learn their skills under the expert tutelage of an acknowledged master of motorcycle racing.

`Rocket’ Ron’s exploits on two-wheels are legendary amongst motorcycle fans the world over, but recently six million television viewers were on the edge of their seats watching the thrilling final race of last season at Brand’s Hatch, when a stoppage in race one saw son Leon, who was challenging for the lead, cruelly robbed of his chance of becoming British Superbike Champion. Cheered on by a proud mum and dad and girlfriend Oli, Leon won race two by a country mile and continued his remarkable progress up through the senior ranks to finish as Championship Runner-Up behind Japanese winner, Ryuoki Kiyonara in the closest and most exciting British Superbike Championship ever seen.

Ron’s heritage is Leon’s legacy, and a glimpse into the Haslam family history reveals the triumphs and tragedies of a family for whom motorcycle racing is in the blood.

One of ten brothers and sisters, Ron started racing illegally in 1972 at the age of fifteen! His first outing was at Cadwell Park, where he finished seventh and eighth in his two races riding a 750cc Norton jointly owned by elder brothers Phil and Terry. The following year he became officially old enough to race, but Ron’s budding career was literally stopped in it’s tracks as tragedy struck the family in July 1974 when brother Phil was killed in a racing accident at Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough.

Seventeen year-old Ron took a year out and came back more determined than ever. His progress was rapid and between 1979 and 1984 the `Rocket Man’, so-named for his lightning starts, won four British Titles and three World Titles, and riding 125, 250, 350, 500, and 1000cc machines he became the first rider to win all five races in a day at Oulton Park.

He also famously won the Isle of Man TT in 1982!

The family always travelled together and at the same time that Leon was born in May 1983, his father was leading Great Britain to glorious victory in the annual three-day Transatlantic Match Races against the USA.

Leon was just six months old when he attended his first race meeting when

Ron won the ITV World of Sport Superbike Series in 1984, but triumph again turned to tragedy that same year when another brother, Leon’s Uncle Terry, was killed racing a side-car outfit at Assen, Holland.

But the racing Haslam’s are a strong and closely-knit family, and despite these cruel blows Ron trained hard to maintain his superb physical fitness, and continued in the sport he loves to grace the racing circuits of the world throughout the eighties, riding in over 100 Grand Prix.

1991was a memorable year for the Haslam family as eight-year old Leon began riding as a junior, and Ron spearheaded Norton’s return to racing and finished second in the British Superbike Championship. A badly broken leg saw Ron miss most of the following season, and from 1992 until 1997 he managed Team Great Britain with great success, helping to launch the careers of top British riders James Haydon and Karl Harris.

Following in his dad’s tyre-tracks, 12-year-old Leon won his first British title in 1995 when he became National Young Motocross Champion, and repeated the feat the following year, but after two bad falls and a broken leg he decided to move to road racing in 1997.

Like his father before him he was too young, and the only class Leon could compete in was the Scooter Championships, but he won 7 of the 9 races and took the Championship title! The following year he broke all records in the British Super Cup riding a 125cc Honda, and became the youngest ever rider to win a British race, earning himself the Motor Cycle News `Young Rider of the Year’ award.

Leon’s rapid progress continued and in 1999 when he was still only sixteen he didn’t just win a race - he won the under 23 British Championship! He also made his debut in the World Championship, and finished 4th in the Spanish Championship.

Meanwhile, away from the race-track, Leon was attending Heanor Gate School and studying for his GCSE’s, and later, South Derbyshire College. His punishing daily schedule included physical training in the home gymn before and after school, track practice and lots of travelling to race meetings, and yet he passed six out of seven exam subects, including A level’s in Psychology, Sociology, and Physical Education!

Both Ron & Leon take pride in their physical fitness and train together in the fully-equipped home gymnasium. Leon is also a keen golfer and plays football in the Derby Sunday League, and every day when he’s not racing he trains alongside the footballers of Derby County at Wilmorton College, under the watchful eye of his own personal trainer, Kirk Gibbons.

Keeping in the best physical shape has always been a priority, and in the Millenneum Year Haslam & Son made motorcycling history by becoming the first British father & son, as well as the oldest and youngest competitors, to race in the same Grand Prix - at Le Mans in France!

In 2001 Leon became the youngest rider ever to compete in the 500cc World Championship, and the following year, made his debut in the 250cc GP class, finishing 7th in Portugal and mastering yet another class of racing.

By the age of 20, Leon’s expertise had earned him rides in major senior championships and a 2nd place at Knockhill on a Renegade Ducati in the Supersport 600 was rewarded with six rides in the British Superbike Championships. Later the same season he had wild card entries into three rounds of World Superbikes, and then in 2004 completed his first full season in the World Superbike Championships with Renegade Ducati. The crowning glory of the season came when he won the British Superbike Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. Leon finished 8th overall in the Championship, whilst also winning the `Rookie of the Year Award’.

Last season Leon improved to finish 4th in the British Superbike Championship, and bettered that this year by finishing as runner-up, just six points behind eventual Japanese champion, Ryuoki Kiyonara.

His ambition is to race in Moto GP, the world’s premier motorcycle racing series and to pit his skills against the best, like world champions Valentino Rossi and Troy Bayliss.

I caught up with him recently at West Meadow Farm, the Haslam family home which stands in 34 acres of prime Derbyshire countryside, and asked this articulate and unassuming young man about his plans for the future.

“Well, it’s been an exciting season, so first I’m taking a break, then I’m hoping to start work building my own house here in Smalley, my girlfriend and I have submitted plans and we’re just waiting for permission”.

And his plans for next season? Will it be British Superbikes - or Moto GP? “No decision’s been made yet, and I won’t know until we sit down with the team and sponsors. But the new season starts for me in January with two months of testing in Spain, and then, whether it’s British circuits or World circuits, the racing starts again in March with the first Grand Prix of the 2007 season - and I can’t wait!” he added, smiling confidently.

Well, he may be a chip off the old block, but can he emulate `Rocket Ron’ and `like father-like son’ bring the World Championship back again to Derbyshire?

“Yes, if I get a ride in Moto GP, I’ll win, but if it’s British Superbikes, I’ll win that first – and the World Moto GP Title later” he said confidently, as if it was his destiny.

Perhaps it is?

Contact Tom: tombates@sky.com

 
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