Father and son take a break from British Superbike responsibilities to enjoy Lincolnshire aboard Honda’s finest. Ben Lindley tries to keep up.
The entrance to Cadwell Park flashes past, but I don’t stop. If anything I add more twist to the Honda CB1000R’s throttle. I’ve got a racer and his dad to keep up with. Ahead is Craig Linfoot, 63. He’s streaking across the Lincolnshire countryside after his son Dan, a BSB racer for the past nine years and current factory Honda rider. Dan looks comfortable in jeans and jacket, despite the hot pace he’s setting.
As I watch, Dan launches the front wheel over a crest. He holds the wheelie on the power as he leans sideways and checks his mirror. Just in time to see his dad do the same thing... It’s no wonder that Linfoots junior and senior ride so similarly. Dan grew up on the back of his dad’s second-gen Honda CBR900RR FireBlade (the black one with yellow stripes). Together, they rode from their home in North Yorkshire all over the country to BSB and World Superbike meets at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, and various others. That’s before Dan started racing.
Now he’s 30, and fights in the mid-pack of an incredibly aggressive British Superbike Championship. He won his first two races at Oulton Park in 2017. This year, however, things have been tough. Injuries have interrupted his rhythm on the Honda. At the moment it’s a scaphoid injury, something that’ll put him out of action until Silverstone’s triple header. But today he’s positively jumping at any opportunity to get back on a bike. Especially when it involves riding with his dad.
We’ve got a sunny day to explore the back roads around Honda Racing UK’s Louth HQ. First up is a visit to the seaside on big nakeds for ice cream and coffee. Then up into the Lincolnshire Wolds past Cadwell Park on a first-generation FireBlade courtesy of Honda’s heritage collection.
Leaving Honda and turning north on the A16 towards Cleethorpes, it’s clear Dan is on his best behaviour. His riding is confident and courteous. He’s checking mirrors, allowing traffic a wide berth, negotiating corners with smooth, arcing lines, and looking around constantly at anything and everything. It’s as though he’s on high alert. But that’s no surprise for someone who’s been a BSB stalwart for the last nine years. On the Cleethorpes seafront I ask father and son about the early days of Dan’s racing. When and where did it all begin?
‘It must’ve been 2000,’ muses Dan’s dad Craig. ‘We went to a show at Rawtenstall on my FireBlade – 11-year-old Dan riding pillion. Rawtenstall’s in Lancashire, and its show takes over the whole town. Bikes everywhere. And in the middle of this, Dan spotted a minimoto. Straight away he was asking, ‘Can I have a go on that, dad?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He turned out to be pretty good... until he fell off. Unbeknownst to me he couldn’t hold onto the FireBlade’s grab rail all the way home – he’d broken his finger in the crash and not told me.
‘That 20 minutes had Dan hooked. We bought two minimotos and won the British Championships. Then it was bigger bikes: an Aprilia RS125 – a Superteen bike, basically. We did a season on that on tracks like Elvington, Carnaby and Darley Moor. Won a few of those races, too. And then we bought an RS125 GP, which Dan rode to win the 2003 North East Championship. That paved the way for entry into the British Championship in 2004.’
By now Dan was 16 years old and had been riding for four years. Does he consider that a late start to racing? Dan’s answer is measured. ‘In relative terms to Europeans, and especially the Spaniards, yes it’s a late start. But realistically, I think it’s the right time. You can’t get on a GP125 until you’re 16, so that meant I had four years to learn other bikes. And way before I started riding myself, I’d had lots of time on the back of dad’s FireBlade.
He used to pull a few wheelies and that – a massive thrill when you’re a kid. I think that’s helped condition me against fear.’ ‘You shouldn’t be telling him that,’ interjects Craig, laughing. But then he joins in. ‘I remember you trying to get your knee down from the pillion seat. We’d go into a corner and I wouldn’t have to do anything. Dan would just throw it in himself trying to get it onto his knee. He used to love seeing the sparks off my toe sliders.’ Dan’s grinning and nodding in agreement.
‘I’d only have to look right down and I could see them sparking right below me. That’s where it all started. Even when I was ten, I wanted to be a bike racer. My mum would say, “Come on, Dan, what do you really want to do?” I just stuck to my guns. She loves it now. But I suppose it’s become all our lives.’ Craig pipes up. ‘It definitely takes over, and I’m not just talking about family life. There’s a little clan of us from the Wetherby-Boroughbridge area that follow Dan to every meeting.
That’s the part of the world where Dan grew up. Born in Harrogate, and lived in Knaresborough until he was twenty. Cracking roads round there, especially around Helmsley.’ Does Dan’s clan distract him on race day? ‘I know they’re there,’ says Dan, ‘somewhere in the mass of people. But I’m focusing on my own thing. Race day goes fast as hell and you buzz around like a blue-arsed fly.
I spend the entire time in this tense mental state that’s part apprehension, and part determination to improve. That tension can spill over into your relations with other riders if you’re not careful – I know Jason [O’Halloran, Dan’s Honda teammate] and Josh Brookes keep running into each other on the track, and that’s led to tension in the paddock. But for me the key is to focus on yourself. I try not to worry about other people’s lap times: you’re riding a different bike to them.’ Dan pauses for a second. ‘But it’s easy to say that. My mind constantly questions things. Would it be better if I changed my riding slightly, or do I need to change this on the bike?’ Dan’s CBR1000RR race bike is customised to suit his 5ft 11in frame.
Handlebars and footrests are made at Honda Racing’s on-site machine shop, and more are made after every crash. It’s far removed from the Linfoots’ racing roots. What was Craig’s machine shop like when he managed Dan’s career in the 125s? ‘Non-existent! It was the single garage at home, complete with stacked bicycles, lawnmowers… a fridge. We didn’t have much in the way of tools, instead putting our resources into new pistons and rings. Every weekend the 125 had a top end rebuild, and a new crank after every four meetings. At that level you have to do it.
I was working full time to fund it all, so we serviced the bike on a night and at spare weekends. Dan would deliver newspapers on a morning to chip in the odd ten quid. And he’d help me on my joinery jobs in the holidays. We used to spend a huge amount of time together. ‘At your average BSB round now, I’ll only get time to say a few words to him. I’ll be out spotting where he’s running a little deep, or when he needs to pile on the throttle earlier.’ ‘It’s really helpful,’ pipes up Dan. ‘He can compare my riding with that of the other riders. I can’t see what they’re doing when we’re in practice. The only thing I’ve got time for is to check my sector times against theirs. That’s where I need to improve, especially now the competition is so strong. You need to qualify in the top two rows at Cadwell otherwise you’ve got no chance.’
Dan’s right: at this year’s Knockhill meet, a full two thirds of the grid qualified in under a second of each other. But today, in sun-bleached Lincolnshire, his dad and an enthusiastic journalist are his only competition. How often do Dan and Craig get to ride together nowadays? ‘About three times a year,’ says Dan. ‘Riding on the road is very different to riding the race bike, but I still love it. All I’m used to doing is getting on a race bike, going as fast as I can, and downloading information to the techies. Riding a road bike is a great contrast. That could be the reason why I’m constantly looking everywhere when I ride. I’m not used to seeing the world at 40mph.’
His reactions are lightning quick. When the next hazard’s ten seconds down the road, Dan’s probably got nine seconds to relax in. ‘If anything, he’s too relaxed,’ says Craig with a cocked eyebrow. ‘I’m forever telling him to keep both hands on the handlebar. You don’t know when a pothole’s around the next corner.’ We’re done with the seaside. Honda call and say Craig’s 1994 FireBlade is ready and waiting. But before we leave Cleethorpes, Dan wants to know how to remove traction control from the Honda CB1000R+ he’s riding.
‘I don’t like electronics. I remember trying to wheelie this thing at the TT but the electronics kept stopping me.’ [Craig leans into the microphone and says in a stern voice, ‘You can delete that.’] ‘But really, all these buttons confuse me. On the race bike we have three simple buttons: pit limiter, map button and rain light. We don’t have any of these complicated rockers. There’s a button to switch traction control off? I need to find that button. Maybe I’ll do a few power wheelies.’
Now that the secrets are out (and electronic controls removed) Dan’s riding loosens up. He’s shifting his weight in the saddle, sticking his knee out at the slightest hint of a corner, and pulling up the front over crests in the road. He stops the CB1000R at a red light, leans over and shouts through his helmet, ‘This is a proper machine, this is!’ Craig is similarly fast, but remains utterly composed at speed. His style is a good fit for the old CBR900RR. ‘This is more like it,’ he grins, settling himself deep into the FireBlade’s comfortable bosom at Louth HQ. ‘It feels like you’re sitting in a sofa. I chopped mine in for a new R1 in ’98. That was a mistake: the R1 was much more aggressive and much harder. I felt like I’d dropped a bollock.’
I follow Dan and Craig south into the Lincolnshire Wolds. Craig barely changes his body position on the bike and rarely touches the brakes. Moves are planned well in advance, and he carries big speed through corners. Looks like he’s lost none of the toe-scraping confidence that influenced the young Dan. He’s spanking the 24-year-old bike through the fast and furiously curling A153 after his son. It can’t have been wrung dry like this in the last ten years. No wonder the kid grew up with no fear. There’s the entrance to Cadwell Park, but we’re not stopping. I’m still on the CB1000R and without a fairing my neck’s aching from the wind blast. Three bikes hit the crest, and three front wheels lift high. But only one of the riders has his heart in his mouth.