Every motorsport death is sad. Whatever the sport, you lose a member of the community and family. Sometimes however, series such as Indycar and events such as the Isle of Man TT have arguably more deaths than what most would consider normal and controversially, have been campaigned against to try and stop such events. I caught up with Josh Brookes, who lost a friend in Alan Bonner at the TT this year. The Australian superstar reminds us how the expected is always unexpected and how we should remember Alan. This is Josh Brookes’ tribute to Alan Bonner and how he as a rider and friend, overcome the situation carry on through TT week.
“Unfortunately, due to circumstances, Alan Bonner had died. The reason it affected me was because he did nothing wrong. There was oil on the track and he was just the rider who got to it at the wrong time at the wrong speed and the wrong place, and he wouldn’t have known anything about it. I asked myself, ‘why does it make a difference’ because – sorry to be blunt – but he is still dead. It doesn’t matter about the reasons that caused it because it is the same outcome at the end. It bothered me because he did nothing wrong. He was so innocent in the whole thing.
Alan was the tent next door to me. I knew Paul Owen, the ex TT rider and he was a mechanic for Alan. I was going into the awning to chat with Paul and Alan was there, so the banter started and there was plenty of good fun with jokes and just having a real good laugh. I got really friendly with him and he’d liked the fact that ‘Josh Brookes, BSB Champion’ was hanging out with him. Because of the position of my motorhome, we saw each other more or less everyday. He’d use my motorhome to warm his porridge up every morning, so when I found out what happened, it wasn’t that I’d just lost a competitor but it was more like I lost a mate.
If they said that he’d just have fallen or if we saw the line that he took and it was a mistake, then we could think, ‘at least he had control’. You’d think, ‘we are all out there doing the same thing and we took our life out of our own hands’. Most people don’t understand that because of the way they value life.
If you’d made a mistake yourself and you suffered yourself, you had control. You chose what it took to get there, you chose the line and it was your choice that led to the incident. However, when it’s nothing to do with any of that and you’re riding well within your capabilities and it’s an outside element, an outside factor that swept him away, it’s difficult to comprehend and accept and that really bothered me.
I have to say that I did have a feeling of realisation. It’s not that you don’t know – everyone knows it can happen to you – but you ignore it because you have to carry on. Just when I felt completely at ease with the bike, I had a situation that bothered me and took the wind out of me a little bit. It made the first lap of the race much more difficult, far more intense than it needed to be or would’ve been. I had my own thoughts in my own head and they was affecting how I was riding.
I got to the end of the first lap and it felt like I had got rid of that excess tension. I felt good on the bike, everything was going OK and then, I just carried on with my own destiny. Then, on the 2nd lap, Ian Hutchinson fell off and it was red flagged, so we all pulled over. At that point we knew Hutchy was OK – injured, but OK. We went back to the start, had a restart and as you know, we had a strong race.
This will sound disrespectful, but the other guys, I didn’t know. Don’t get me wrong, we all felt awful when Davy Lambert and Jochem van der Hoek died, but personally, it was better for me if I didn’t know them because it was easier for me to put it behind and focus. When you don’t know them, it’s easier to carry on because you didn’t lose anything personal to you, as sad as it was. Any TT rider will tell you that it is sad when anyone dies but there’s some weird affect it has on you when it’s personal. It’s not that their deaths weren’t as important, it’s just that we didn’t have a personal connection. The same as some riders wouldn’t have a personal connection like I did with Alan.
When it’s someone you was just speaking to and you have a laugh with and have fond conversations with that form a friendship, it’s harder. We spoke about racing a lot. He spoke about a crash he had at the Ulster Grand Prix and he was just one of the lads who was willing to take the risks.
I feel for the family that he’s left behind, because despite knowing the dangers, the crash that killed him wasn’t anything to do with him. Life isn’t worth living if you’re just competing. If the world was controlled where you couldn’t do anything dangerous, then I’d probably be on the verge of suicide anyway!
I take perspective from someone like Michael Schumacher, who lived his life in one of the most dangerous sports, to end up being seriously injured on a holiday. I may as well carry on doing what I’m doing because there’s other factors that can kill you too. It’s the same for Nicky Hayden – of all the times he could’ve been killed, it happens on a bicycle when you think you’ll be OK. The times when I think you’re going to be safe are when I’m driving the car or walking on a footpath but often, that’s when it can kill you. So, I look at it and think, ‘you can’t stop doing something because of the chances it might go wrong’.
It’s easy to say that we’re all adrenalin junkies and you do it for the feeling etc. Yes, there are elements of that but ultimately you wouldn’t do it all your life because eventually, you’d acclimatise and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Being competitive and riding a motorcycle pushes you to overlook what you’re willing to risk.
The point I’m getting at is it’s not the fact that Alan died. It’s the ‘how’ he was killed that bothers me. All the emotional concern or worry is the circumstances of how it happened. I spoke to Dean Harrison and you know when you need a chat with a lad to make sure that they’re thinking the same as you? Well, we didn’t go too deep into it but we spoke about how none of us are going to go any slower in the next race. We are all going to go out there and ride as hard or harder than the previous time. The English language doesn’t allow you to describe the emotion fully.
There’s other activities and sports such as mountain climbing and skiing where there a lot of deaths. Someone loses their father, son or partner but the next year, they’re doing it again because that’s exactly what the other person would’ve done. They would’ve been there on that next holiday. Alan would’ve been at the Ulster GP this year and warming his porridge up with me at the TT again next year”.
You can donate to Alan Bonner’s GoFundMe page here, helping the family with costs and all money raised over the target amount will go to a charity of Alan’s choice.
Picture courtesy of Josh Brookes’ Twitter, here
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko