THE GRADY BUNCH
A quick glance at an entry list for any round of the Dunlop Masters Irish Superbike Championship will reveal that one surname, above all others, stands out.
There seems to be at least one member of the O’Grady clan racing in all the top classes, and several more that hold the surname can be found in every pocket of the paddock, helping out in the background.
The name is derived from the Gaelic word Gradaigh which means illustrious and their family coat of arms bears the motto: “Wounded not defeated” – very fitting titles for a name steeped in Irish motorcycle racing history.
The most familiar face in the paddock is that of Ardagh, County Limerick native John O’Grady.
His mobile rolling road and dyno – the only one of its kind in Ireland – has helped countless Irish and International motorcycle racers get the best out of their bikes for the last 20 years or so.
Indeed, on the eve of the July Masters meeting at Mondello, McAdoo Racing brought down six bikes to be fine-tuned by the Tralee, County Kerry-based O’Grady ahead of the following weekend’s Armoy Road Races.
John’s story goes back to the mid-1980s. A keen road bike enthusiast, after too many near misses and the loss of several friends he felt it was time to take his love of motorcycles off the main roads and on to the tracks.
He was already interested in motorsport and his first memory of Mondello Park is Ron Haslam winning an event there in 1979.
“Every other weekend I was losing a friend to road accidents, and I wasn’t behaving myself either,” the 62-year old told Road Racing Ireland.
In 1982, he was working for Joe Ryle Motorcycles in Tralee, and his boss at the time gave him his first break in racing. Tucked at the back of the workshop was an unused Yamaha RD 350 LC and this set him on the path of a lifetime in motorsport.
Mondello wasn’t enough and he started venturing north to tracks like Aghadowey, Kirkistown and Bishopscourt. This was a massive effort for a southern rider, aside from distance alone, this was the height of The Troubles and very few people crossed the border for sporting reasons.
He made his Road Racing debut at the Skerries in the mid-1980s and while he did enjoy a reasonably successful career, he never won a road race.
He lost friends and rivals to road racing, the death of John Minogue from County Tipperary particularly hurt. The pair were intense rivals on the track and the best of friends off it.
“I just lost it for the roads,” he adds. “I was never 100 per cent.”
He still raced on the roads, mainly in Southern events like Killalane and Fore as well as contesting the mixed roads and circuit racing championships of the time.
“In 1996 I crashed in Killalane, around the same time I lost my friend Kevin O’Brien. I had enough,” he says.
But once a racer, always a racer, he could not stay away. When Limerick’s Denis Murphy started racing John joined the team as a mechanic.
One thing led to another, and he set up JOG Tuning in 2001. His mobile rolling road is now as much part of the travelling circus that is Irish motorcycle racing as the tyre and spare part suppliers.
Highlights include Murphy’s attempt at the 2005 Manx Grand Prix. The Limerick man led the race, on his debut, on a Suzuki 750 prepared by JOG Tuning, until Murphy over revved it and a potential surprise result was replaced by a very expensive engine failure.
“We were both devastated, we were living the dream,” adds John. Denis lost his life in a road accident a short time afterwards and their Manx dream was over for good.
Despite the personal setbacks, JOG Tuning went from strength to strength.
In 2010, Ian Hutchinson made history at the Isle of Man TT when he became the first rider to win five races in a week. All five bikes were prepared by Padgetts but were fine-tuned by JOG Tuning at the North West 200 a few weeks prior.
“I have tuned Bird’s Duccatis, bikes for Bruce Anstey, all mapped in my little truck from Tralee,” he says with justifiable pride.
Beside him through all this time was his wife Brid.
The pair met while they were still teenagers and she is a very big part of John’s racing successes on and off the track.
“I love it,” she says, “The friends, the community the support network, camaraderie, there is no sport like it and when the shit hits the fan, as it can, we are all there for each other,”
This is the kind of racing environment their two sons Emmet (34) and Evan(33) were born into but Brid just can’t bring herself to watch a race.
“I sit in the corner of the garage, I have my own special chair,” she explains. “I can tell the sounds of their bikes and once I can hear them and I don’t see red flags , I sit there until the race is over.”
Emmet has enjoyed an illustrious career since he took up racing in 2008.
The family bought a Yamaha TZ 125 from neighbour and friend Roger Farmer and he was immediately quick, taking back to back Irish Lightweight Supersport championships in 2008 and 2009.
He won 400cc Sunflower titles in 2009 and 2010 and this set him on a path to the British Superbike Championship where he contested the Triumph Triple Challenge.
“I took a few wins in that and finished fourth overall. The following year I went to the British Supersport Cup and had three podiums there,” explains Emmett.
He was a frontrunner in the Irish Superbike Championship in 2013 before a work-related accident ruled him out for four seasons.
He returned in style in 2018, winning the SuperSport Pro title. Today the elder O’Grady is a frontrunner in the Superbike Championship.
“Motorcycle racing is all I know,” he says.
Brother Evan started racing in 2010, doing one or two rounds each season when time and family commitments allowed.
In his first full season,2019, he was fighting for third place in the Superbike Cup but missed the last round due to a family commitment and eventually finished fifth.
This year he is a frontrunner in the Superbike Cup category on his Suzuki GSXR 1000 and has two class wins so far this season.
“I live and breed it, it is a pure passion for the sport,” he says. “Now, family comes first but after that, I would reduce all the time it takes to do other aspects of life, work, social life, to allow more time for racing.”
It will come as no great surprise that the brothers’ biggest rivals in their respective classes share the same surname.
Thomas O’Grady, from Lusk, County Dublin took two third places in the Superbike Pro races at the July meeting.
The 30-year-old comes from a motocross and trials background, after his father Thomas Sr, another familiar face at Mondello Park, encouraged his family into schoolboy off-road racing.
“In my 23 years in motocross I never came across another O’Grady but the name seems to be everywhere here,” says Thomas.
Emmet and Thomas fought hard for podium positions. Emmet won the first dice but the Dubliner got the upper hand in race-two after an epic battle.
“It must be an O’Grady thing,” said Thomas at the finish, “We both wanted that so bad.”
Evan’s rival in the Superbike class is Dean O’Grady who is also from County Kerry.
Dean, 28, is a member of another O’Grady racing dynasty. His brother Jack, 24, is in his first full season in the Supersport Cup class after inheriting their love of motorcycle racing from their father Gerard who raced occasionally in the past.
A third brother Alex, 16, is making strides in grass track racing and has just purchased a Super Twin to use on the short circuits. Gerard is promised Dean’s Superbike for a track day, and possibly a race, later in the year, meaning there could be four members of this arm of clan racing by year-end.
The long-term future is bright too, Emmet’s oldest son, seven-year-old Ely, is already riding Mini Motos and the family were keeping a close eye on the new FIM Mini GP series that was launched at the July Masters meeting.
“He will be racing before long,” says Emmet ensuring the O’Grady surname will remain on the Irish scene for many years to come.
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