Liam Beckett will roll back the years as he returns to Gasoline Alley at the Isle of Man TT in June as part of top female racer Maria Costello’s pit crew at the world famous road race.
Beckett, who was Robert Dunlop’s mechanic and mentor for more than two decades, undertook his last refuelling job for the Ulster great in 2004 before the Ultra-Lightweight two-stroke class was dropped from the schedule a year later.
I’ll be donning the fireproof suit in Gasoline Alley once more after all these years - Liam Beckett
The Irish League footballing legend has since returned to the iconic Tourist Trophy races as a spectator, but Beckett has agreed to thrust himself back into the ultra-tense, high-octane environment of pit lane on a TT race day to provide a helping hand to the gutsy Northamptonshire rider.
And the man from the ‘Toon’ in Ballymoney can’t wait to get stuck in.
“I’ve told Maria she can count on me and I’ll be donning the fireproof suit in Gasoline Alley once again after all these years,” Beckett told the News Letter.
“I was having a conversation with Maria via social media and the TT came up and she was asking if I’d be there this year. I’m going over this year to promote my new book mainly, but Maria had mentioned that she needed someone in her pit crew and asked if I’d be available.
“I said I would help her out if she needed me and she seemed to be delighted with that,” he added.
“I hope I can give Maria all the help I possibly can and I must say I’m looking forward to getting into Gasoline Alley again because it’s exciting to be there in a racing environment, it’s enthralling to be a part of it.
“I think I’ll still manage fine, the auld hand hasn’t starting shaking yet so I’ll be okay. I always look at a refuelling stop as similar to holding a full pint of beer: don’t spill any for God’s sake!” he joked.
“I’ve known Maria for a while now and she’s a good rider and I’m full of admiration for her. She’s a great competitor in road racing terms and I will certainly do all that I can to help her try and get a creditable result this year.”
Beckett knows only too well the importance of an efficient pit stop at the TT and remembers vividly the tension involved in his key role as Dunlop’s refuelling man during the Mighty Micro’s heyday.
“In the past I did Robert’s refuelling and although we haven’t had any real in-depth discussions as yet, I’d envisage that I’d be undertaking the same task for Maria,” he said.
“We’ll touch base obviously closer to the time because I’ll need to meet the rest of her pit crew and check the refuelling strategy. When I did Robert’s pit stops in the past, we always placed a great deal of importance on getting everything absolutely right.
“The main priority at least was to make sure that we didn’t lose any ground during the pit stop and indeed try and make up some time if it was possible.
“The riders will tell you that if you can gain a couple of seconds in pit lane, it’s a significant advantage because to make up three or four seconds on the road at the highest level takes a lot of doing,” Beckett explained.
“I remember Joey’s former manager Davy Wood used to time us and we were always there or thereabouts in terms of completing our pit stops within the leading times. Willie Snr, Robert’s father – or Willie Da as we knew him – helped me with Robert’s pit stops and we made a great team together.
“It’s an extremely tense time when a rider comes in to make his or her stop at the TT and it’s crucial that the pit crew remain cool, calm and collected.
“The last thing you want to do is cost your rider any time they have rode so hard to gain during the opening laps of the race,” he added.
“Many races have been won and lost in the pits, that’s for sure.”
News Letter columnist and BBC pundit Beckett will also spend his time at the TT promoting his eagerly anticipated new book, which features his memoirs of a chequered life as Dunlop’s right-hand man and career as a giant of Irish League football.
Published by Blackstaff Press, the book is due to hit the shelves before the North West 200 in May.
“It’s an exciting time and all the hard work with the book has come to fruition,” Beckett said.
“We’re in the final stages now with the publishers and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s progressing. There are so many wonderful stories in there and everyone involved is looking forward to the big launch before the North West.”