Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter looks back at when Northallerton plumber, Phil Stead, upset the form book.

ONE of the great American visionary Andy Warhol’s celebratory quotes states that: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

In Northallerton motorcycle racer Phil Stead’s case, and whilst not exactly on a global magnitude, he has managed to put himself in that esteemed quarter-of-an-hour spotlight on at least three occasions.

One of a string of very successful bike racers to come out of the county town of North Yorkshire, "Steady" was a relatively late starter and cut his teeth on the club circuits in his early 20s before deciding to have a go on the National scene on pukka racing machinery.

So, with a newly-acquired Yamaha TZ250 and after gaining the necessary licence, Phil visited Oliver’s Mount in July 1996 where he was guided by another up-and-coming Yorkshire talent, Lee Pullan. Lee, from Harrogate, was a similar age to Phil and was sponsored by the Manton Group whom Stead had bought the bike from. Lee had won a number of races around the switchback Scarborough track and knew the best lines and machine set-up so took Phil under his wing to help him.

Lee won the 250cc race that day with Phil coming home a creditable seventh on his debut, beating some established runners in the process. However, just a couple of weeks later, Pullan was killed in a freak accident at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium when contesting an endurance race.

Undeterred, Phil continued his race career unaware that a couple of local race fans had spotted his prowess and decided they wanted to help him. Via a mutual friend, Teesside butcher David Fawcett and his wife Pat met up with Phil and offered some help for the 1997 season which he gratefully accepted but by now, the Yamaha was being outpaced by the new Honda RS250 model.

So, it was decided that under the "Force 8 Racing" banner (an idiom of Fawcett), a brand-new Honda would be purchased for 1998 whereby Phil assembled a team of merry helpers to do the British Championship and selected meetings at places like Scarborough. It proved a tough season with a few points-scoring rides in what was recognised as the toughest 250cc British Championships in years. Top ten placings at Donington Park and Brands Hatch didn’t reflect the effort and competition but it did stand him in good stead (pun intended) for the end-of-season International at Oliver’s Mount.

Up against the likes of TT stars present and future, and with changeable weather an ever-constant factor, Phil lined up against the factory-supported machinery of established luminaries Ian Lougher and John McGuinness in the 250cc race. McGuinness, recently awarded an MBE in recognition of the 23 TT wins he went on to achieve, was red-hot favourite on Paul Bird’s Vimto Honda with Welshman Lougher, with two TT wins to his name at the time, expected to challenge him. Indeed, it was those two at the front, but as track conditions dried, Stead, with his inspired dry tyre choice, soon joined them and so began a three-way battle for the lead. Lap after lap, the trio went at it and with the not inconsiderate support of the local crowd, all of a sudden, Steady was in with a chance of a win.

He disposed of McGuinness in the final stages but needed to get past Lougher on the last lap which he did courtesy of a hard but fair move into the final Farm Bends complex, to take a popular if unexpected victory. Normally very quiet and cool, an infuriated Lougher sought out Phil in the paddock afterwards and vented his spleen but the result stood, and the pair later shook hands. Fittingly, Phil Stead had won the Lee Pullan Trophy, awarded to the winner of the 250cc race, by Lee’s wife Charlotte and their daughter Fay.

Injury ruined Phil’s 1999 season when he crashed during testing at Oulton Park but with the increased help of another local businessman, Paul Harrison, they teamed up to tackle the 2000 season again in the 250cc British Championship. Owner of the Hungry Jacks sandwich shop franchises around the region at the time, Paul had sponsored Phil for a couple of years but with the Fawcett’s Honda re-branded in corporate green, it wasn’t until the end of the season that Stead shone again.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Phil Stead in action on the Hungry Jacks/Fawcett’s-backed Honda RS250Phil Stead in action on the Hungry Jacks/Fawcett’s-backed Honda RS250

Having retained the 250cc title at Scarborough, he arrived at Brands Hatch and after a deluge had swamped the Kent Indy track, the 250cc British Championship race got underway. With the sun out and track starting to dry, Phil’s favoured conditions saw him get a lightning start and halfway round lap one, he was in second place. With the live TV cameras picking up on his progress, he briefly challenged for the lead before battling with American Roland Sands, Gary Haslam, and eventual winner Gary Jackson.

Californian Sands, now a famous custom bike builder and restorer who is a TV personality back home, just pipped Phil for the final podium spot but was so impressed with his riding, he offered him the third-place trophy. Phil modestly declined the offer in what turned out to be Phil’s best British Championship result.

Not long after, Phil hung up his leathers but decided to make a comeback a few years ago when, reunited with a Yamaha TZ250, he became a front-runner in the revised National Championships and classic meetings. He was a regular winner, including at Scarborough again and even got talked into racing at the North West 200 in 2017 when he tackled the nine-mile Northern Irish road coarse on an unfamiliar four-stroke as a newcomer.

Riding the Frank Wrathall-prepared and Langver Engineering-backed 600cc Kawasaki, in front of 100,000 fans trackside and millions more streaming the action on the BBC Sport website, Stead had a race-long dice with a certain Guy Martin aboard his works Honda whereby the part-time TV celebrity pipped Phil by a couple of seconds after the six-lap race. The pair celebrated with a cup of tea in Phil’s awning later…

Phil is planning another season (Covid-permitting) aboard a 250cc Yamaha in selected classic events this year and as he nears his own half-century, a reminder about Mr Warhol’s prophecy. Never mind 15 minutes of fame, Steady has tripled that at least. And maybe there’s more to come.