A close friend of tragic racer Stephen McIlvenna yesterday told how he sent him a text message on Tuesday evening asking how he had fared in the qualifying session at the Manx Grand Prix – “but there was no reply”.
The 39-year-old from Randalstown was killed during Tuesday evening’s qualifying session on the Isle of Man in an incident at the Mountain Mile.
A statement released by the Manx Motor Cycle Club, who organised the race, expressed their deepest sympathy to Stephen’s family and friends.
They said he had first competed in the Manx Grand Prix in 2005, won the Junior Manx Grand Prix in 2009 and had competed in the TT Races in 2010.
“The Coroner of Inquests has been informed and an investigation into the circumstances of the accident is under way,” the statement added.
Yesterday his friend Chris Dowd, from Chris Dowd Racing in Randalstown, said: “I lent him a fuel tank so he could complete the race as it is 37 and three-quarter miles long, and you only get to do it once a year.
“You have to have a big petrol tank which takes 20 litres of fuel and the tanks that come on bikes are too small so I lent him my tank and he was more than grateful to have it.
“I sent him a text message last night (Tuesday) to see how he got on, but there was no reply. I never got the answer back. He crashed on the mountain mile which is the fastest part of the course.”
Mr Dowd, 52, said he was “very fond” of Stephen, who he said was known as ‘Jack’.
“It was a bit of a shock to us all to hear that he had passed away,” he said. “His father James would have been a previous sponsor of mine when I was racing. Stephen lived with his father.”
Mr Dowd – who has sponsored some of the biggest names in racing, including William Dunlop – said Mr McIlvenna was “a lovely big lad and easy company”. “I have known him since he started coming to the races with his father. If he could have helped you, he would have. It is an accident no one wanted to happen.”
Nigel Percy, another close friend from Randalstown, said his brother Matthew had gone to the Isle of Man with Mr McIlvenna “and is now there on his own”.
He said he was “completely shocked” by what had happened.
“I have known Stephen 20 years,” he said. “He is a very quiet and laid back fella and easy going. Jack was always into motorbikes and thought it would be safer to go racing rather than riding on the road. But it wasn’t to be.”
Rev Donald Patton from Old Congregation Presbyterian Church, Randalstown, said no details about Mr McIlveen’s funeral were yet available. “It is a tragedy and very sad for his father and sister to receive such sad news when he was doing something he very much enjoyed,” he said.