Former Isle of Man TT winner Johnny Rea says he always knew his son Jonathan had a special talent as the former schoolboy motocross prodigy prepares to be crowned World Superbike champion at Jerez in Spain on Sunday.
The 28-year-old has taken the series by storm this season, winning 12 of the 20 races held to date following his switch from Honda to Kawasaki and never finishing outside the top three in a remarkable display of title-winning consistency on the factory Ninja ZX-10R.
Rea has opened a huge 144-point lead over nearest challenger and Ducati frontrunner Chaz Davies and requires only six more points to become Northern Ireland’s first motorcycle world champion since Joey Dunlop and Brian Reid won the Formula 1 and Formula 2 crowns in 1986.
A top ten finish in Sunday’s opening race (9.30am BST) will see Rea realise his dream of becoming a world champion, and his father Johnny – himself an accomplished racer who won the 1989 Junior TT – said he knew from the beginning his son was destined for the top.
“He was always really into motorbikes and we knew from a young age that there was just something about him,” said Rea, whose influence and support was instrumental in setting his son on the path to becoming a world champion.
“I always knew there was something special there and that gave me the desire to help him as much as I could.
“I just think I did what any other father would have done and I got plenty of enjoyment out of watching Jonathan progress as well,” he added.
“Jonathan was very young when my father died but he told me that he would be a world champion some day and this will certainly be the icing on the cake for me.
“To see Jonathan win the world title on Sunday would mean more than anything I ever achieved in racing myself – nothing I did would even look at what he’s close to achieving,” Rea said.
“The whole family is going and there are so many people from here going over – the support has been incredible.
“I’m flat-out with work at the moment though and although everything is booked and paid for, I won’t know until tomorrow night (Friday) whether I’ll be free to get over there, but whether I’m at home or in Spain, I’ll be a happy man all being well on Sunday.”
Barring a disaster of epic proportions, Rea will secure the championship on Sunday, but his wary dad is loathe to take anything for granted and admits he will heave a sigh of relief when the weekend is over.
“There’s never anything won until it’s in your hands and it’s looking very good at the minute, but I’m still nervous until it’s actually over,” he said.
“In motorcycling anything can happen and I’ll just be glad to see it all over this weekend.
“Jonathan’s an out-and-out racer and in my mind I’d be doing exactly the same thing if I was in his situation and I’d be trying to win.
“Everyone is behind him and the interest has been unreal with the amount of calls from people wishing us well and all the messages on Facebook.
“People here get behind their sportsmen and it’s been a long time since we had a motorcycling world champion, so everyone is willing him on.”