Fermanagh’s Melissa Kennedy etched her name into the Irish road racing history books when she became the first female winner of a National race at the East Coast Festival last Sunday.
After qualifying on pole at the 3.6-mile Killalane course in north county Dublin, the Enniskillen girl pulled out all the stops to fend off Paul Robinson protégé Sam Grief to clinch a popular victory on her KNR Honda Moto3 machine by four-tenths-of-a-second in a close finish.
To cap a memorable day, Melissa’s boyfriend, Gary Dunlop (Joey’s Bar Honda), joined her on the rostrum in third and ended the season as the Irish champion.
Melissa’s maximum points haul saw her climb to second place overall in the final standings for 2019.
Reflecting on her milestone triumph, she admitted that her achievement had yet to fully sink in and revealed she had received messages of goodwill from fellow top female riders including Maria Costello and Carolynn Sells, while BT Sport MotoGP presenter Suzi Perry also weighed in with a congratulatory tweet on social media.
Melissa said: “Everything is so surreal at the minute and whenever I came back in after winning on Sunday, there were people wanting to shake my hand and stuff and that just felt a bit weird to me because I’m only me!
“I know a lot of people were saying a win was coming at some stage and I think they were probably just excited for me as well, bless them – probably more excited than me.
“Maria Costello congratulated me and I got messages from Carolynn Sells and Suzi Perry. It’s just been overwhelming to have people like Maria and especially Carolynn messaging me – it really means something to me.”
Melissa sensed she had a chance of challenging for her first Irish road racing success after qualifying on pole, although she admits she didn’t fully believe it would happen.
“Whenever I qualified on pole on Saturday I was almost putting pressure on myself for Sunday’s race, so I knew it was maybe in my grasp a wee bit but I never really gave myself too much hope,” she said.
“I led the race for the first couple of laps and then Sam (Grief) passed me at the very last corner before you come back onto the start and finish.
“I thought to myself that I’d let it slip away but then on the last lap I got past him at Kennedy’s corner, so I kept my head down and tried to push on a bit because I knew he was going to try and make a move on me somewhere. I held on to come round in first place and I was just delighted,” Melissa added.
“I was expecting him to come up alongside me somewhere but thankfully that didn’t happen.”
With both her boyfriend Gary and bother Wayne competing in the same class, Melissa is always nervous on any occasion when the dreaded red flag is displayed. On Saturday, she had an unwelcome reminder of the potential for things to go wrong when Wayne slid off, thankfully escaping unhurt.
“On Saturday there was a red flag and as soon as we stopped I saw Gary alongside me but there was no sign of Wayne,” Melissa said.
“I was starting to wonder where he was but then Davy Morgan said it was Wayne who had come off, but that he thought he was okay. I was up to high doh about that and whenever your boyfriend and your brother are out racing with you, it is double the worry. Thankfully Wayne is okay, although he’s feeling a bit sore.”
Melissa’s final race of the year will be at her home short circuit meeting at St Angelo on October 5.