BRAVE motorcyclist Howie Mainwaring has been ruled out of action after trying to race with a broken neck.
The Frodsham rider suffered the injury almost four weeks ago when he crashed his MV Augusta during a qualifying lap on the 166mph Lesmo bend at Italy's famous Monza circuit.
Despite landing heavily and being unable to line up in his World Supersport 1,000cc Championship race, Howie believed there was no serious damage and flew home to prepare for his next outing - a National Super-stock event at Snetterton.
He realised something was seriously wrong after just one lap of the Norfolk circuit.
Howie, 21, said: 'I was aching all week and I felt really rough, but I went to Snetterton to see how it was because I didn't want to miss a race.
'It took two people to get me into my leathers and one to help me onto the bike.
'We joked that we would have to lash my hands to the handlebars to keep me on!
'I went round on a practice lap and when I couldn't straighten up after the last bend I knew it wasn't safe.'
A subsequent trip to hospital revealed that Howie had a lucky escape. X-rays showed that he had completely ripped a major ligament in his shoulder and cracked a vertebrae in his neck.
'It was bad,' said Howie, who is nicknamed 'The Hurricane' by fans for his daring racing style.
'The crack was already healing after a week but if I had ridden again, the stresses of racing could have made the break a lot worse.
'As it stands, the worst thing is now my shoulder. I have been told it is the most painful upper-body injury you can sustain and I believe that. It is a gony.'
Howie's team, MV Augusta, have been supportive throughout and would like to get him riding in another World Supersport race before the end of the season.
But first he must return to the National Superstocks and amazingly he has already set his sights on a comeback at his home circuit, Oulton Park, on July 14/15.
Howie's dad Steve, a British Super-bike contemporary of the late Barry Sheen, said: 'It is frustrating for Howie to be stuck at home.
'His crew are down as well because they all enjoy working together and they say they want him back as soon as possible.'
The injury is not the first serious one of Howie's career. He missed most of the 2005 season after suffering a badly broken ankle at Oulton Park.