Published: 06:00, 12 November 2020
Super Mario Campion made a triumphant return to motorbike racing after almost 40 years.
The 63-year-old grandad amazed everyone - not least himself - by finishing third at the Lord of Lydden race.
It was his first competitive action since the 1982 Clubmans Championship when Campion, in debt and his confidence rock-bottom, retired and vowed never to race again just a year after almost winning the title.
Instead, he satisfied his love of motorsport by taking part in track days, working as an instructor Lydden Hill for 11 years.
But when the Lord of Lydden returned to the Kent circuit’s calendar a few years ago, Campion saw the times and started telling himself he could take on the youngsters.
Having kept himself in shape over the years - “I’ve done press-ups every night before bed since I was 18,” - the Broadstairs businessman renewed his racing licence and lined up on the grid on his 216bhp Seton Tuning Yamaha R1.
“I knew I’d be a bit overwhelmed having all those fast bikes barrelling into the first corner in the wet,” said Campion.
“First thing in the morning I like to feel safe, I don’t want to be bouncing down the road, I want to get a feel for everything.
“I was seventh going into that first corner but I told myself I wouldn’t lose my rhythm and would fight back.
“I don’t know how I did it to be honest, because I’ve never been a fighter on the track.
“I got back to sixth and then fifth and then passed two riders at once to get third.
“When it came to the last lap I wasn’t sure whether to take the fast line and leave myself open or go for the covering line and lose time.
"In the end I went in the middle and finished a second ahead of fourth place.
"I know Lydden really well, I’ve probably done more laps around there than anyone in the world, but I couldn’t believe it.”
“It must be unheard of for a 63-year-old grandad of six to come out of retirement after nearly 40 years and finish on the podium.
"I love the new bikes, and all the technology, but you still need to be able to ride them.
“I don’t seem to be slowing down and I try to keep myself out of trouble. I can’t say I never crash but I average one every eight years, which isn’t bad.”
Campion’s success means he’s made peace with himself after admitting defeat in his bid to swim the English Channel.
He twice planned to make the crossing to France, with the aborted attempts now put to bed in his mind.
“I don’t like failing at anything and the Lord of Lydden has made up for the swimming,” he said.
“I wanted to swim the Channel when I was 50 but had really bad tinnitus, so I didn’t go for it.
“I then thought I’d have a go when I was 60 but I had problems with lungs from the chemicals used in the swimming pool and my breathing wasn’t so good.
“When I got in the sea to train, I was very panicky.
“At the pool you’ve got lifeguards and hard ground; in the sea you’ve got sharks and all sorts.
“I was at Mallory Park doing a track day, and they have a big lake in the middle.
“I suddenly thought to myself, ‘Do I want to be swimming in the cold or would I rather be on the bike?’"