Northern Ireland: Three generations of motorsport enthusiasts

People Culture

The motorsport community has always been a core foundation for enthusiasts, participants and spectators alike. It’s a shared passion that brings people together, ignites fierce competition and sparks lifelong friendships. But for some people it runs even deeper than that. It’s the cornerstone of family. And for the Colbert family of Killyman, Dungannon, cornering, and cornering well, is something three generations all have in common. 

Ken (70), Stephen (44) and Max Colbert (11) all have motorsport coursing through their veins. From cross country rallying to karting and race engineering to studying the history of racing, their family is bound together by one collective calling: Motorsport.

“I think the thing I love most about motorsport is the speed and the adrenaline,” says Max, sitting with his father, Stephen, who beams with pride discussing his son’s budding motorsport career. 

Stephen, now working as a race engineer in Formula 3, grew up in motorsport watching his father Ken race and rally in Northern Ireland. Ken still races but it’s the youngest of the Colbert generation that has his eye on the ultimate prize. 

“I want to push the car to its limits. I want to be in Formula One. That’s the place where I want to be.” Max tells us. 

Stephen knows the pressures and pitfalls that come with those early years of racing driving. “Keep your dream, keep aiming high,” he says to Max. “There’s a pressure on my side which will spill over onto Max a little bit. It’s all about lap time. With motorsport you can remove the word hobby, it’s all about lap time.  It’s fantastic but it comes to a point where I have to hold myself back a little bit”. 

“Being the link between the younger generation and the older generation, I grew up with my dad passing down all the information and it has come full circle. We’re very lucky that we’ve got motorsport, with Max starting at zero and with dad doing his motorsport events again, it’s nice because it’s all the generations together.”

This togetherness shines particularly bright in Northern Ireland, where Stephen believes youngsters have a little more breathing space to hone in on their skills.  

“Motorsport in Northern Ireland is quite a bit different [compared to the rest of the UK]. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere, a more homely atmosphere. Yes, it is competitive here, karting is competitive here, car racing is competitive here. I think on the mainland there is pressure to really be the next best thing. That can go one of two ways, either good or bad. I think you’re away from the spotlight a little bit more here, you have a chance to grow.”

Max also has a keen interest in the history of motorsport and has a good amount of it on his own doorstep. He’s already driven his grandfather’s Metro 6R4 rally car and watches classic Formula 1 races from yesteryear with his dad. Aryton Senna being a particular favourite.

A reminder that for all the lap times, fine margins, errors and successes, it’s the individuals and the characters that make the world of motorsport so enthralling. It’s the teamwork and the ingenuity, the support and ultimately the bravery of racing drivers that comes together to form the basis on which this huge community is built. A sense of belonging that is passed from person to person, generation to generation. Motorsport is a passion that burns bright all around the world and is reflected with vigour here in this green and glorious corner of Northern Ireland. 

See you on the podium, Max.