Retro Rewind: Tragic death of top road racer Darran Lindsay was turning point for Donegal's Ray Porter
The part-time mechanic from Lifford only made his debut between the hedges in 2002 and made an immediate impression, winning the Newcomers race at the Manx Grand Prix on machinery supplied by fellow Donegal man Uel Duncan.
Porter made steady progress over the coming seasons and signed to ride for Ardglass man John Donnan’s JD Motorcycles team – a move that soon helped him fulfil his potential.
Despite having yet to win a national road race – albeit going close on several occasions – Porter was a shock winner on the big stage at the North West 200 in 2005, when he claimed a dream international success in the wet on the JD Motorcycles Yamaha R6 in the Supersport class.
He carried that form over to the Isle of Man TT, finishing on the podium in third place in the second Supersport race behind Ryan Farquhar and Jason Griffiths, and also impressed in the Superbike race, with Porter coming home in fifth place behind John McGuinness, Adrian Archibald, Martin Finnegan and Ian Lougher.
In 2006, Porter reinforced his credentials as a frontrunner at the international meetings, as he finished in second place in the Superstock race at the North West 200 following a battle with Bruce Anstey and Ian Hutchinson.
By the time the Ulster Grand Prix came around, he had started riding Honda machinery for Des Moore and his results at Dundrod included a runner-up finish in the Superbike class behind Guy Martin, who dominated the event with a four-timer.
However, 2006 was also the year when everything changed for the unassuming southern Irishman as tragedy struck at the end-of-season Killalane meeting in north county Dublin.
An issue with his machine caused Porter to slow suddenly in practice and Ulster road racing star Darran Lindsay collided with the rear of his bike. The 35-year-old from Lisburn sadly died as a result of the accident.
Porter did decide to continue racing in 2007 after signing for the McAdoo Racing team, but his heart was no longer in the sport and he quit at the North West 200 – days after his former team boss John Donnan had been killed at the Tandragee 100.
In a candid interview shortly afterwards, Porter told me he had been unable to come to terms with the fatal incident that claimed fellow racer Lindsay’s life the previous September.
“I’ve thought about that accident a lot and how can you go back and sit on a bike after something like that?” he said.
“I loved the buzz of racing and the competitive side of the sport and I just wish we could go back to how things were before the accident. It has really changed things for that reason and I’ve lost interest now.
“As well as the accident itself, the thing that affected me badly was realising that no matter how safe you ride or the efforts you make to ride within your limits, something can happen mechanically with the bike that you have no control over.
“That is what happened when my bike suffered a mechanical failure and Darran collided with me and it caused his death. There’s nothing either he or I could have done about it, nothing whatsoever.”
Porter revealed that his confidence had been shot to pieces and after riding at the Cookstown 100 at the beginning of the 2007 season, he knew things would never be the same.
“At the start of this year when I rode at the Cookstown I was just so nervous on the bike, I didn’t trust it anymore,” he said.
“A rider always believes when they judge a corner that they are in control and that they’re not going into that corner too hard. They have total trust in their ability, but there was always that niggle in the back of my mind because of what happened with Darran.
“I was 100 per-cent committed before, but now I was going into corners worrying about what was going to happen. There was no point in carrying on in that frame of mind.”
At the time of the interview in 2007, Porter said he could never fully rule out a return to road racing in the future.
However, 13 years later, he remains one of the few road racers who have managed to walk away from road racing and stay retired.
“I still think about road racing a lot and I miss it badly,” he said in 2007.
“To be honest I’ve really no plans to ever go back to racing at this point, but I would never rule out completely rule out a return in the future - you can never say never I suppose.”