As the old saying goes racing is the process of turning money into noise and you don’t have to be the manager of a race team to know that it’s probably true, just ask anyone that’s destroyed a set of tyres on a trackday or worse still a bike and they’ll know that riding fast isn’t cheap. Increase the pace to that of a Superstock 600 rider and repeat twelve times over the course of a season and it becomes a whole other monster, as I found out when I spoke to local team owner Steve Kinghorn.
His team has spent the last 5 years competing in a variety of national and occasional international level races and hopes to spend 2016 at the sharp end of the Pirelli Superstock 600 Championship. He’s not a millionaire and doesn’t live in Darras Hall as you might expect, but instead hails from the more industrious part of Northumberland and like most of us he holds down a regular job and has family commitments in the form of his wife, Ruth and young daughter, Georgina. How does he do it? I was keen to discover how one man can juggle a modest living and running a professional race team, so popped over for a few beers and found out it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears as well as the invaluable support of friends and family and of course the all-important faithful sponsors.
“When your wife works as a radiographer you can’t exactly hide the injuries”
As you’d expect managing a race team isn’t something you stumble into. For Steve it started early with a love of bikes, in particular race bikes. When the time came he got himself a road bike and it wasn’t long before he found his way onto the track and the occasional race. Unfortunately he often found his way off the track, into the gravel and on his way to A and E as in his own words, his ambitions outweighed his ability. “When your wife works as a radiographer you can’t exactly hide the injuries” jokes Steve, but his family didn’t find it quite as funny. Accepting that racing wasn’t for him he started sponsoring riders at club level; an act that outlines the man’s sheer passion for racing and his generosity.
At a stormy club meeting at Croft the BSB paddock and international races may have seemed a long way off but when the neighboring team’s awning blew away and Steve offered them shelter he immediately hit it off with their owner and racer, Michael Hill. They shared an awning for the rest of the season and Steve eventually became chief mechanic for Mick’s Taboo Motorsport team. Although he wasn’t paid for his work the team’s success and Mick’s work in commentary and media introduced him to the world of BSB, Moto GP and WSB. Unfortunately it wasn’t to last, a horrific smash at Snetterton saw Michael break his back in two places and despite making a full recovery and a brief yet successful return to racing he decided to call it a day and concentrate on the media side of racing, where he has continued commentating for WSB and managing riders. Although the incident put an end to Taboo Motorsport, it was only the beginning for Steve who was now hooked on racing but without a team.
Steve set about starting his own team hoping to be both owner and rider but while he may have forgotten his many offs others hadn’t and in a bid to stop him racing the medics, marshals and staff of the BSB paddock generously dipped into their own pockets to help set the team up on the condition that he would not be the rider. Steve agreed and after he and Ruth added their own money to the pot SGR racing was born, taking it’s name from the family’s initials, Steve, Georgina and Ruth
When not fettling race bikes or the egos of their riders Steve works with vulnerable kids, a physically and mentally demanding job at the best of times. The job’s shift patterns are both a blessing and a curse, allowing him to attend just about all of the races by banking time, juggling shifts and carefully choosing holidays. However shift work can also mean having to go back to work just hours after returning home from a race or finishing a late shift and driving through the night to make it to a circuit on time.
Thanks to Ruth’s job as a Reporting Radiographer at Wansbeck Hospital she’s become an integral part of the BSB paddock by working in their radiography team. The mobile unit will check riders at the track before deciding what, if any, care is needed. Outside of that she helps the team where she can and her nightly banquets for friends and sponsors are known to put the hospitality trucks of the big teams to shame. For daughter Georgina, missing school during term time would mean fines for her parents so she will often join them on a Friday, travelling down with Ruth or her grandparents. Despite everyone’s best efforts the family can’t always make it and it’s those weekends that Steve finds the most challenging.
“A rider winning at club level can suddenly find themselves at the back of a Superstock grid”
In previous years Steve has chosen riders that have shown promise at club level only to find that the step up is too much for them. A rider winning at club level by several seconds can suddenly find themselves at the back of a Superstock 600 grid and that can be a huge blow to their confidence. This year the team are taking a different approach and have signed Tom Oliver who may be new to the team but will spending his third year in Superstock 600, a class he says he has unfinished business in. Tom brings to the team his friend Aston as his mechanic who does it for nothing more than the love of bikes and to help out a talented mate.
“When I look at the books I wonder why I do it”
The arrangement with his riders is of course between them and Steve but boiled down it would appear that he provides everything the rider needs with the exception of their tyres and riding gear. If a rider bins a bike the bill falls squarely on them, a strong deterrent for ambitious overtakes. Superstock 600 limits the amount of tyres a team can use to four rears and two fronts per weekend but it’s still an expensive weekend for a young rider like Tom and it’s even more expensive for the man footing the rest of the bill. “When I look at the books I wonder why I do it” comments Steve. To put a bike on the grid costs £3k in entry fees alone. He won’t go into exact figures but a season’s costs mount up to a sum that would buy you a brand new Range Rover.
With running costs so high sponsors are a necessity for a modest man like Steve and it’s chasing up sponsors that he finds toughest. “It’s not the pressure, the long drives or the weekends away from the family that I hate most, it’s going up to sponsors cap in hand asking for help. That’s the killer”. “A lot of potential sponsors presume they have to pump in loads of money, pay it all in one go or assume their business has to have something to do with bikes but none of that is true”. Luckily the team has found great support in loyal sponsors Painted to Perfection, The Junction Restaurant and AMT Business as well as suppliers Putoline, EBC Brakes, and KAIS Suspension. Despite the big list he’s always on the lookout for additional sponsors. “We’re a northern team and I’d love to get some local businesses behind us as well as the local biking community. If anyone reading this is at a BSB meeting this year then come and find us. We’d love to show people what we do”. While talking to Steve about the struggles of finding sponsors you realise the cruel irony of it, a man that got into this by sponsoring other riders is now struggling to survive and constantly battling to find new sponsors.
“They may be a family team but there’s nothing humble about their aspirations.”
With the opening weekend of The British Superbikes just over a week away the team is coming together. The bike is almost ready and the team are confident it has the pace to be competitive. In Tom they have a rider already with experience in a class he is hungry to be successful in. Steve is feeling optimistic, SGR may be a family team but there’s nothing humble about their aspirations.
Words: Anthony MacLeod
Images: Ifan Griffiths and Paul Egan