When I was thirteen, my hero Gilles Villeneuve was killed in a crash during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. I can still remember where I was, how I found out and how I felt- as if it were yesterday. I have a feeling today will be a very similar day.
Simon McKinley was (and I can’t believe I am writing about him in the past tense) a very special guy. Firstly for his driving talents obviously- there were days you honestly thought Simon could walk on water when you watched him drive. It didn’t really matter what he was in- the famous white Escort, his beloved and ever sideways Lant, his yellow Cinquecento, a kart, even a mudplugger- you always knew it was worth going to the fence for a looksee. Not only did this make him a multiple champion in his beloved discipline of hillclimbing but it ensured him eternal legendary status on youtube, with well over a million views on his various videos.
Look beyond this though and Simon was special in other ways. I know people say this about anyone who passes, but he was extremely helpful to other competitors and almost as good with the spanners as he was with the steering wheel. Not only did he tend to his own car, he prepared and ran a car for his beloved wife Deirdre, buddy Dermot Nolan and many others too. He would happily miss one of his runs to help someone else out and that shows the measure of the man. (That, plus the fact it generally only took him one run to win the event!!) He also loved a good windup and I suppose many of these stories will be doing the rounds over the coming weeks. I can still hear him shouting at me the usual “Nulty? Where’s that Imp?!”
My phone has been hopping all evening- some people asking if it is true, but most just wanting to talk about Simon- he was that type of guy….
To Deirdre and little Rory, to Margaret, Peter and all of his family, there simply are no words. To the hillclimb fraternity, probably the most closely knit discipline in Irish Motorsport, my sincerest sympathies in this tough time.
As I type this, social media is buzzing, people can’t believe it and are clearly upset. Today is a very very sad day for Irish Motorsport- we have lost one of the very best. One thing is sure though, wherever Simon is now and whatever he is doing, you can be sure of one thing- throttle is wide open and the tail is out……
Rest in peace,
Image from Cregor Elliott, video from Vantage Point Video.