Born in the year 1930, Omagh man Pat McAleer must surely be one of the oldest motorsport timekeepers in the world.
Living in a small village by the name of Drumnakelly, just six miles from Omagh, Pat is surely one of the most humble people I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing. On being introduced for the first time, Pat’s reaction to the news that a feature was going to be run on him was a simple one.
“Sure what would you want to do that for?” Pat asked.
Having been involved in motorsport from he was about 18 years of age, Pat started off as a marshall, a role which he enjoyed for a couple of years before he started timekeeping on Omagh motor club events, from which he has continued on with his time-keeping role ever since.
“My family has been taking over the role and have doing a much better job ever since, things have moved on a great deal since I started, when we used old Longines clocks that timed to the minute, today’s timing are down to hundreds of seconds, if not less,” recalls Pat.
Once established in the early days, Pat soon found himself on the 5-day Circuit of Ireland rally event which covered every corner of the Emerald Isle and saw McAleer Timing work alongside pretty much every single motor club in Ireland.
Pat says, “I can’t remember my first event as a timekeeper, but I do recall my first time in Donegal, the year of which I can’t be sure but the event started outside a Garda station and was then named the Rally of the Rosses.
“I do remember being there with the old Morris 8’s and Austin 7’s competing alongside Hillman Imps and stuff like that, they were standard road cars back then and the crews didn’t wear helmets or anything like that.
“The cars were very slow compared to what they do now, timing was all in minutes, there was no seconds or tenths of seconds to be thought about back then. Right at the beginning clock cards were used, the machine for it took up the whole of the boot of the time-keepers car.
“This meant that after the finish line, a competitor had to jump out of the car and run over to the clock machine to get their time stamped on their card, the time therefore was that at the stop line, not the actual finish line,” Pat recalls.
As it happens, even after all the years that he spent time keeping, Donegal remains Pat’s favourite event to spectate on whilst some of his fondest days are those which were spent on the proper Circuit of Ireland rally when it toured the whole of Ireland and incorporated stages such as Molls Gap and the Healy Pass.
As a mechanic by trade, Pat actually built the Mini Cooper used by Ronnie McCartney to win the 1964 Circuit of Ireland rally and, despite being 89 years of age, Pat was in the workshop the day before I interviewed him changing a set of brake shoes on a car. I think it is safe to say that this man has not only served his time as a mechanic, but is still serving his time on the tools, as well as the time-sheets.
One of the most memorable events for the McAleer family was the Bushwhacker rally around 25 years ago, son Declan explains, “We’d an old car that we were using to set up the one stage and after the rally was over, with five of us in the car, we all went for a wee spin and we rolled it!
“This happened within the stage, a stage which was only 3 miles long and, at the point of impact, we had managed to do 50 miles on that one 3 mile stretch of Road, it’s lucky none of us were seriously hurt!”
Over the years the family have seen some sights at finish lines such as Gene Meegan and Pat Kirk rolling in front of them, as well as providing Jari-Matti Latvala with fresh soda bread, tea and buns, having retired with mechanical failure just beside the McAleer’s timing van. Latvala appreciated the gesture so much that he sent Pat, and his late wife Mary McAleer, a signed photograph thanking them for the fresh food.
Having been involved with motorsport for some 71 years now, there are two drivers that stand out in Pat’s mind. One being Jimmy McRae, the other Russell Brooks. Pat actually had the chance to catch up with Jimmy at this year’s Donegal International Rally where they reminisced the good old days.
Pat hasn’t always seen motorsport from the side-lines however, as he once competed on two wheels atop the saddle of a Norton motorbike, racing at the likes of the Cookstown 100 before the realisation of the sports dangers and subsequent sale of his bike.
Motorsport has always been close to Pat’s heart as he recalls, “Way back whenever I was running about, my father took me to a football match at Croke Park in Dublin, it was my first time there and I went in to see it, but it didn’t make much sense to me, despite my father being football mad”
“A fortnight after that, the game went back to a replay or something like that, and when we got to Dublin I got out and started walking around Dublin looking at the motorbikes. My father scolded me at this, scolded the whole way home and scolded for weeks after it, so that was the end of me and football!”
Chairman of Omagh Motor Club, Gary Milligan, comments, “Pat’s contribution to the club over the years has been immense, not only to Omagh Motor Club, but all the local motor clubs and indeed outside of motorsport he has been timing marathons and half marathons as well as bicycle races.
“Pat has been in Omagh Motor Club in excess of 70 years and there are some great stories from him from the past, he has now got his sons and a daughter, alongside his grandchildren involved with the time-keeping and without the McAleer family, there wouldn’t really be an Omagh Motor Club, that’s how important this family is to the club.”
To relax away from cars and motorsport Pat spent a long time dancing with wife Mary and, despite losing Mary six months ago, Pat still tries to get to the dances to see old friends and enjoy himself.
Words & Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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