Crumlin’s Stephen Thompson will return to motorcycling this year after joining forces with his brother Paul to run North West 200 star Michael Rutter on a Yamaha Supersport machine.
Thompson was badly injured in a crash at the North West in 2015 and later had part of his lower left arm amputated as a result. He was caught up in an accident in the Superstock race involving Dean Harrison and Horst Saiger, which also left a female spectator – Portush woman Violet McAfee – in a serious condition.
The 40-year-old has kept a low profile ever since but now feels the time is right to fuel his passion for the sport after admitting he has ‘really missed the bikes’.
In an interview with the News Letter, the popular Ulsterman said that Rutter could potentially race the Yamaha YZF-R6 at the North West in May, but confirmed that the veteran Midlands rider would definitely be on the machine for the Supersport races at the Isle of Man TT in June.
Thompson also revealed that he will run bike at the Ulster Grand Prix in August, with a rider yet to be confirmed, and possibly the Manx Grand Prix.
“We’ll be running the bike definitely at the Isle of Man TT but I’m not so sure about the North West, because Michael is still in talks with the organisers.
“If he wants to ride the bike at the North West, then it’s there for him and also wherever else he wants to ride it,” he said.
“We’ll definitely have someone riding the bike as well at Dundrod and probably a couple of other wee meetings, and maybe the Manx Grand Prix.
“It’s a new Yamaha R6 but the bikes are coming late this year and we won’t have it until the end of March, but Michael will be out testing it a few times maybe at Kirkistown or even at Mallory Park before we go racing.
“We’re buying the bike through the business [Thompson Plastering] and my brother Paul will be involved in this too. He got a little bit bored and I’m missing the bikes quite a bit myself, so we’ve decided to go ahead with this and get a bike for Michael,” added Thompson.
“I was talking to Michael before Christmas and it went from there. He didn’t have a Supersport bike last year but in recent years he’s rode a Gearlink Kawasaki at the North West and a Triumph for Smith’s Racing. If you give Michael the right bike, he’ll be up there, that’s for sure.
“But I honestly don’t care if he’s at the front or not and I’m not worried about results – I just want him home safe. As long as he comes back with a smile on his face and he’s happy, then that’s enough for me.”
Thompson has a long-standing friendship with 13-time North West 200 winner Rutter and was previously his team-mate in the Bathams BMW team.
“I’ve known Michael for years since going to Macau and I’ve hung around with him a lot. When he comes over here to do press events for the racing, he would stay at my house. When I was in hospital after I got wrecked at the North West, Michael came over to see me in hospital for three nights and he came in each night to see me,” he said.
“Even at the TT after I got hurt, he was on the phone every day to my brother to see how I was doing. It took me a while in myself to come around and speak to a lot of people because I’ve been lying low for quite a while.
“Michael tried to get me to go to the North West last year and I turned him down and then he wanted me to go to Macau last year, so he’s finally worn me down now.”
Mulling over his possible return to the North West 200 paddock in May, Thompson admitted he hadn’t yet committed to attending the meeting, although he is set to travel to the Isle of Man for the TT in June.
“I’m not exactly sure what way I’ll be around the races – my brother will definitely be there with the bike and a few mechanics.
“I have a business here to look after and I’m not sure if I’ll be there or not, and I don’t want to put myself under any pressure and say I will go back,” he said.
“I don’t want to commit to the North West but I’ll probably go to the Isle of Man because I’ve really missed it.
“I’ve kept away from the races basically, although I went to the Ulster Grand Prix last year and watched two or three races with Michael Laverty, who came and picked me up and made me go basically. I was glad I went actually because it was good to see a lot of old faces.
“I’ve really missed it and I’m still beat up a fair bit here. I go to physio three times a week and I’m still hurting. I’ve got a lot of phantom pain and pain with this nerve in my arm.
“Some days I’m all right, but other days I’m really bad and I don’t get to sleep at night.
“It hasn’t left me and the whole thing is still haunting me.”
Thompson hasn’t given up hope of one day racing again himself and is exploring the possibility of having a prosthetic arm specially made that will allow him to return to the saddle.
“It’s not to say that I’m not going to be back racing and you never know. I was out cycling at the weekend with my daughter and cousin and I’ve had a special arm made at Musgrave Park Hospital, which I get on Wednesday.
“That will help me do more cycling and feel more comfortable on the bike. We’re talking as well about making me an arm that will allow me to go racing, so I’m not saying never yet.”