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TV: Ahead of their field; Townlands: The Millstreet Maestro RTE1 Wednesday, 8.30pm FARMING FAMILY WHO ARE TOPS IN MOTOR RACING.

Byline: JOHN MANNING

FOR the Coleman family, speed is the family business. Billy Coleman is the greatest rally driver Ireland has ever produced and now his sons are following in his tracks.

Billy was born in 1948 in Millstreet, Co Cork, where he still lives today. From an early age he developed an interest in motor cars, confessing to the bug when he sat up on his father's knee to drive the car when he was five years old.

His father owned a garage in Millstreet but Billy preferred racing cars to selling them. By the time he was 21, he had won the Circuit of Ireland rally.

Billy caused a senstation in 1969 when he won Ireland's premier road race in a tatty, self-prepared green Mark I Escort. With an independently-run car he won the Circuit of Ireland and outpaced the factory-sponsored Escort of ace driver, Rodger Clark.

Billy Coleman had arrived and over the next 20 years there was not a single rally fan that didn't know the name of Billy 'The Kid' Coleman.

In a sparkling career, this unassuming Millstreet farmer won 17 rallies, romped to victory in the Circuit of Ireland no fewer than three times, and in 1974 became the first Irish driver to win the British Champ- ionship. Remarkably, he remains the only Irishman to have ever done so.

Billy was a shy and modest competitor. Rally fans loved him because he let his driving do the talking.

A mark of Billy's influence on Irish motorsport is the fact that the award for Young Irish Rally Driver of the Year is now called the Billy Coleman Award.

This documentary offers rare access to a notoriously publicity shy driver and his racing dynasty. Billy's talent constantly put him in the limelight but he admits that even in those days, rallying was not the beginning and end of everything for him. He loved the driving but he hated the fuss. He says, "I loved the land maybe more than I loved rallying."

With a glittering career and many major wins under retreat happily to the farm where, if anyone wanted to talk to him, they had to travel down the road to Mallow.

He hated telephones then and wouldn't have one about the place. A conversation with Billy was only possible via a relay service routed through his brother, John, at the family Ford dealership in Millstreet.

After almost 20 years of racing, Billy retired from rallying, bowed out of the limelight, and returned to a quiet life working on the family farm, and raising his three daughters and two sons.

But the quiet life didn't last. The call of the road proved too strong. Now 15 years later, the Coleman name is once again on everyone's lips.

This time Robbie and Gordon, Billy's sons, are the ones making the headlines, following in their father's tyre tracks, and picking up where he left off.

Track drivers don't have co-pilots but Billy has guided his sons' careers from the back seat and made sure they avoided some of the potholes he had met in his long career.

While they have taken to racing on track rather than rallying, both boys have inherited their father's gift for speed. Robbie, the older of the two, won this year's formula Ireland circuit title.

Now that the man who tore up the highways and byways of Ireland like no one before or since is no longer in the driving seat, his sons are the men of the moment.

Robbie and Gordon have a healthy dose of petrol in their blood and they are driving the Coleman racing dynasty forward at speed.

Billy, on the other hand, now prefers to go no faster than his tractor will take him.

CAPTION(S):

QUIET LIFE: Ex-Irish champion rally driver Billy Coleman; BACK-SEAT PASSENGER: wise words for son Gordon
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 10, 2003
Words:644
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