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Motorcycling: Knockhill gets set for BSB

GARRY Stagg rolls up the metal shutters on the door of the Knockhill commentary box and we climb the steep, dimly-lit wooden steps.

It's like, I imagine, ascending the dusty stairs in a lighthouse. Up we go, past faded racing posters, then we're into the box, sunlight flooding through the giant windows.

"If I'd known you were coming I'd have tidied up," the commentator jokes in those gentle, cultured tones which will be familiar to anyone who has stood beside the 1.3mile track in Fife watching bikes or cars racing. From here we can see every part of the track, and over to Edinburgh, across the bridge and up to the castle.

The box, which looks a bit like the green corrugated-iron doocots you'll find along urban canals, is marooned in the centre of the track. Inside, it is like something Doctor Who would build. A mix of high and low tech: hand-me-down computers, an old hospital radio mixing desk, and modern digital electronics. It all works though, and it was all set up by Stagg, an audio engineer as well as a broadcaster, who is responsible for the track's electronics: the four miles of cabling, the safety cameras, the transponders and responders. As he says: "If it's got a plug on it, it's my responsibility."

I don't understand all the technical details but his enthusiasm is infectious. He's 62 years old but is full of schoolboy joy, keen to share his passion. I get the impression that if he could sleep in this box - his den - he would.

I gaze out the window. Knockhill is celebrating 40 years since it was carved out of the hill using an old mining railway track and its service roads. This weekend the best riders in Britain and beyond will be tearing up the track on their 180bhp race bikes at the MCE Insurance British Superbikes championship (BSB) when, as part of the Homecoming Scotland celebrations, there will be marquee with bikes and exhibits from the last four decades. Today, the paddock is busy with riders testing, but for now the only action is a handful of children on scooters and bicycles playing on the closed track.

We cross to the office to meet events director Stuart Gray. He tells me Knockhill employs 35 full-time staff and is worth £4 million to the Fife economy. Its biggest two events are BSB and British Touring Cars. It hosts the Scottish car and bike championships, testing days for car manufacturers, and a winter rally, and is the second busiest course in the UK for track days. It even hosts a 24-hour bicycle race. Gray shows me the man-sized events wallchart. It's packed but he tells me they are constantly looking for new additions. It is also the only track in the world - it has FIA International Grade 3 status - that can be raced in either direction.

We're joined by Derek Butcher, who bought the track in 1983 and has steadily improved it. For 2014, he's spent £100,000 to move the hairpin back to give 53metres (170ft) of run-off to the air fence. "We spend at least £150,000 a year on improvements," he says. "Sometimes for the competitor, based on facilities or safety. Other times for the spectator: improved parking, viewing areas."

Butcher says that what makes Knockhill special is that those who run it, race it. "Jillian [Shedden, Managing Director] used to race, her husband Gordon, [former British Touring Cars champion] is our business development officer, Stuart [Gray] races, his son, who works here part-time, races. I'm back playing on bikes. My son, Rory, who works here, is in the British GT championship."

Niall Mackenzie, three times BSB champion and former MotoGP racer, is club president. We talk about how success sells tickets, how Scottish racing needs a higher profile. He says: "We were spoiled in my era, late 90s, with four or five potential Scottish race winners in a BSB round."

He hopes his sons Taylor and Tarran, who will both be competing this weekend, can emulate him.

Mackenzie says sponsorship is a headache in today's economic climate. Tarran races in the Metzeler National Superstock 600 championship for WD40 Racing, which costs £35,000 a year, not including fuel, testing and crash damage. His older brother Taylor races for Tyco Suzuki in Motorpoint British Supersport.

Their father, originally from Fankerton, near Denny, works hard at getting them sponsorship: "My motivation is that if we find sponsorship, it's not our money we're spending."

The BSB teams have been arriving at Knockhill since Tuesday. As you read this they will be frantically working on their settings to squeeze tens and hundredths of a second out of their lap times for qualifying tomorrow.

Come Sunday, we'll hopefully be cheering Hawick's Stuart Easton, who rides for Rapid Solicitors Kawasaki, to victory. By Monday the BSB circus will have left but Knockhill will roll on, ready for the next event, the next challenge, the next race, the next year.

For tickets, see www.knockhill,com.

2) Round Britain rider MARK BOWERS

Round Britain rider Mark Bowers, who is touring the British Isles to raise money for the fight against Motor Neurone Disease, called at the Glasgow office of MND Scotland this week to say hello to staff and volunteers. Bowers, from Manchester, who is riding a Triumph Explorer 1200, is aiming to raise £5000. To donate see,www.justgiving.com/MNDGBMotorcyletour. I'll be catching up with Mark soon in Bikes.

Perth Bike Night raffles a Harley-Davidson

Craig Babbington, the man behind Perth Bike Nights, is raffling a Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 this Saturday. The restored bike was donated by the widow of its late owner and tickets cost £10 each. All

money raised at the meet, which runs from 6pm to 10pm, at Noah's Ark, Old Gallows Road, Perth, will go the Ninewells Cancer Campaign. Other raffle prizes include a suspension set up at ERS Racing at Knockhill, a professional photo shoot with your bike, powder coating vouchers, and vouchers from Perth Motorcycles. Organisers are hoping to attract more than 600 bikes, including a group of 16 Italians touring Scotland as well as English visitors.

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