From driving tanks to riding superbikes... Yorkshire’s Barrett Steel Racing team shows its power...
Liam Dale used to drive Challenger 2 tanks for a living… now he’s entering the equally dangerous (and slightly faster) world of superbikes.
When Liam Dale left school, he went straight into the British Army, studying at Harrogate Army Foundation College before joining the Royal Dragoon Guards. He was posted to Canada, where he ended up driving Challenger 2 tanks.
“We did two exercises back to back,” recalls the 26-year-old, “When you are on exercise, you basically live in the tank, sleeping in an awning attached to the side. There’s not a lot of room, so you have to get on with your crew. The tanks weigh 80 tons and can travel at 55mph. Driving them is an experience I will never forget.”
Liam admits he has always been a bit of “an adrenaline junkie”, adding: “If it’s got an engine, whether it’s go-karts, bikes… or tanks, I’m into it.”
From the age of eight, he was throwing motorcross bikes round a track, just as his father, Gary, 51, had done before him – he also began riding before he was 10.
Liam takes up the story: “I’ve been doing motorcross since I was seven to eight years old, then when I was older, we bought a road bike and about two or three years after that my dad sat me down for a serious chat.”
It was a turning point for both father and son.
“He basically said that if I wanted to carry on riding the way I was, then I needed to go to the track. So, I agreed with him but said ‘Come with me and we will.’ That was in 2015.”
The following month, Liam and Gary booked a track day at Donnington Park, taking their 600cc road bike along. Liam’s impromptu on-track performance turned more than a few heads…
“We had a couple of comments afterwards, people asking who I was riding for and saying how smooth I was round the track and that I should give it a go. So, we decided to do just that.”
The pair bought a second-hand race bike - not cheap at around the £6,000 mark – and they convinced Liam’s employers, Barrett Steel Limited, where he worked as a sales rep and is now a key account manager, to back him. Barrett Steel Racing was born.
“We turned up at Brands Hatch in 2016, it had been lashing it down all weekend, I’d never ridden in the wet like that before and I’d never used full wet tyres but we went and bought a set for about £400 and then went out to race… and I won it.”
Not only did he win his first race in the Freshman Championship, he notched up two second places and a third place in his following three races and over the entire season, he ranked third overall in the 2016 championship, a staggering achievement for a rookie rider.
Since then, Liam has been steadily rising through the various Club classes, although he’s had his fair share of scrapes along the way, breaking his collarbone, fingers and hand, not to mention being concussed three times. In March, he will launch his assault on the next level up, known as the No Limits Cup 1000, one tier down from the British Superbike level. Right now, he’s gearing up for a series of time trials at various tracks up and down the country beginning this weekend. The first race weekend will take place at Donnington Park on March 23 and 24. He’s also been training hard, With personal training from the Hub26 gym.
He currently rides a race ready Kawasaki ZX10R, which Gary says “will do 190mph all day long” and will go from 0-60mph in about three seconds.
At a recent launch event backed by the team’s 22 sponsors, Liam even received a video message from Carl Fogarty MBE, the most successful superbike racer of all time.
Andrew Hirst, managing director of Barrett Steel Limited in Bradford, says: “Liam was one of our sales guys based at Bradford, said he was going to set his own team up, he asked if we would back him, which we did and over three or four seasons, he has steadily improved to get to the level he’s at now. It’s something we have never done in terms of having exposure to the sport. We’re very proud of the team, I think it’s worked well for both parties.”
Gary Dale, who manages Barrett Steel Racing, in addition to his full-time job as head of operations for Leeds-based Schneider Electric, said: “We have both been on bikes since we were very young. He started on motorcross when he was eight. About four years ago we approached chairman of Barrett Steel about setting a race team up and four years later we’re making the progression to superbikes.
“We have spent the last three years in different classes, this is right time to move up, we have an incredible team behind us, from the mechanics to the people who take care of the sponsors.”
Indeed, Gary’s wife, Michelle and daughter, Kelly-Anne, and Liams partner Natalie are an integral part of the team, taking care of the hospitality at events.
Sponsorship helps pay for the support needed in order to make the racing dream a reality and that includes a fully-kitted support bus capable of sleeping seven.
Gary adds: “We have done some time trials with him, it’s not just as though he’s thrown his leg over and having a go, the time trials were extremely good and by race day we will be able to work out roughly where he is on the grid. Our aim this year is to get podium finishes – nothing less.
“It is frightening, we are following him all the time, we count ‘em out and count ’em back in, so to speak, so when he does cross the finish line, you do breath a sigh of relief, but it’s about getting on the podium and accruing those points. I know he’s more than capable of going out there and competing at this level, you have to work damn hard to go up against 40 other riders and right now that’s what we’re doing.”
Barrett Steel Limited is the UK’s largest independent steel stockholder, with a turnover of around £318m and depots throughout the UK, with stores of over 80,000 tons of steel
Liam won his first competitive race, at Brands Hatch in 2016 with two 2nds and a 3rd to follow that weekend, riding on full wet tryes – since then, he finished 3rd in the freshman championship 9th in the pre-national category and 6th in the elite national category.
Since earning success on the track, Liam has given up his road bike and now drives a rather sensible Nissan Navara - he still has an ambition to ride in the notoriously dangerous Isle of Man TT.
His superbike, a Kawazaki XZ10R has 205hp and weighs just 180kg.
The next stage for the team, if this year goes well, is to progress to British Superbikes
Barrett Steel Racing’s main sponsors include: Barrett Steel Ltd, IPM Group, Grange Moor coachworks, Guard Engineering, Forth Inspection LTD, Hi-Spec Kitchen + Joinery, together with: Puddle Agency, Redline, Blade Access, CrimeStoppers, Northern Fabrications (Batley), Total Active Sports & Workwear, Cube, Maven Training, Douglas Charles Recruitment, Clayton Hotel Manchester Airport, Insta-Hire, LJD Professional Carpet Cleaners, Wildcat Energy Drink and Welcome Independent Living.
The team are currently looking for more sponsors as financially they are not where they need to be to compete at the level needed. Contact them on 07432655456 or [email protected]