North West 200: Memories of two close racing friends continue to inspire Herbertson
- By Richard Petrie
- BBC Sport NI at the North West 200
Events: Tuesday 9th May – Saturday 13th May
Cover: Watch practice and races live streamed on Thursday and Saturday on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website
In a sport where tragedy is sadly no stranger to many in the paddock, Dominic Herbertson’s intense sense of loss following the death of two of his closest friends continues to inspire his commitment.
James Cowton died following an incident at the Southern 100 on the Isle of Man in July 2018 and Chrissy Rouse lost his life following a crash at a British Superbike race at Donington Park in October.
“I always think of her, her death had a huge impact on me,” road racer Herbertson said while speaking to BBC Sport NI at this year’s North West 200.
“They raced because they loved it and for those reasons it’s important that we keep the sport going,” added the 32-year-old.
“I want you to race for us”
Cowton won an exciting Supertwins race in the North West in 2018 and his family has helped sponsor Herbertson’s road races since the Yorkshireman’s death.
“James was a good man and a really good friend of mine and when he lost his life at The Southern his father came up to me and said, ‘I want to carry on James’ name and I want you to race for us’.
“I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to say no. That Supertwin race was a race to remember, it was phenomenal and the man was such a tough competitor.”
Hexham driver Herbertson first formed a friendship with Rouse, a compatriot from the North East of England, when their paths crossed at an awards dinner.
The two then hosted the popular podcast, Chasin’ the Racin, in which they interviewed a number of guests from various disciplines of motorcycling.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Chrissy and we built the podcast together. We were totally crazy, but that’s what made the podcast grow.
“The more time I spent with him, the more I respected him and the closer we became as buddies.
“I lost my best mate but his family lost a son and a brother. I’m still very close to the family and they’re going through so much more than I am.
“It made me think more, not about quitting racing as I want to race forever, but it made me realize what kind of people you want to be around and how important that is.”
“No one would ever replace Chrissy”
Rouse, the 2020 National Superstock 1000cc British Short Course Champion, was just 26 when he died in the autumn.
Herbertson, who read a tribute at his friend’s funeral, was ready to stop the podcast after Chrissy’s death but was persuaded by Rouse’s 16-year-old sister Grace to continue.
“I was like, ‘Why would I continue this without Chrissy? We built it together and I thought respectfully, ‘Let’s stop this and have these great memories’.
“No one would ever replace Chrissy. It is impossible.
“But when his 16-year-old sister came up to me and said, ‘We have to keep this going – Chrissy loved it and was so proud of it and it’s helping people.’
“People found a lot of comfort in that, especially in the situation we went through with Covid.
“I thought, ‘How can I not go on?’ but it’s very much Grace’s pod now.
Despite growing up in racer camps, Herbertson didn’t ride motorcycles until he was 21 before following his father Mark into racing in 2010.
His first race on public roads was the 2013 Manx Grand Prix and since then he has competed in a number of road races including the Isle of Man TT, Southern 100, Scarborough, Ulster Grand Prix, Armoy and Macau Grand Prix.
He has also competed in sprint races, but ‘pure’ road racing is his main passion.
“In the second I was walking down Bray Hill [at the IOM TT] I knew I wanted to be a street racer,” explained Herbertson, a tree surgeon by trade.
“I won the Mountain Course [the 2018 Junior 350cc Classic TT] But when I road race, it’s about making progress.
“I got some top 8 finishes in the TT last year but then I crashed in the Senior TT and it was 100% my own fault.
“I was going through the Glen Helen section thinking I could make that corner and I ran out of road, too much gas.”
Herbertson made his North West 200 debut in 2017 and returns this year to compete on a Superstock Honda provided by Wilson Craig Racing after mechanical problems with his original BMW entry almost led to his retirement.
“My first impression was that it was amazingly fast. When five riders get together and we’re going 200 miles an hour, it’s phenomenal.
“Three days ago I withdrew my participation for this year, but within a few hours, Darren Gilpin [of Wilson Craig Racing] was on the phone to say, ‘We’ve got a bike here for you, let’s get on it’. It started from there.”