If you are into Bikes then you must know John McGuinness (and if you don’t, then where on earth have you been hiding?) as he is a true Isle of Man TT legend and I think his number of wins across the different classes only lags that of the true top dog, Joey Dunlop.
This autobiography is very raw and near the knuckle (in other words it is extremely rude in parts and not for the faint hearted or for children !!) and if you read it then it is likely you come away with the view that John is very much from a working class background and his council house upbringing shines through. I guess this explains to a large extent why he comes across in interviews and things as so ‘down to earth’ and he himself admits in the Book that he has not always been the sharpest negotiator when agreeing to contracts to ride for a particular team and he laments that not having a Manager earlier in his career probably held him back a lot. On that subject, it is quite astonishing how little John got paid in the early days and I think he even says somewhere in the book that he would almost have ridden for nothing if it meant he got on a bike and had the chance to compete.
If you are into Bike Racing, and in particular the TT scene and Irish Road Racing and the British Short Circuits, then assuming you are of a certain age, you will find all the references to other riders through John’s life as very interesting and there are some superb insights all through the book. Of course when I read a book like this I am trying to get under the skin of someone like John to get a sense of what their mental set-up is to be able to race at somewhere so incredibly dangerous as the TT and also the technical aspects and physical challenges involved in racing around normal roads at such crazy speeds for a very long time. It never ceases to amaze me how motorcycles can be charged around at speeds approaching 200mph, with the Rev-Counters buried in the Red, and yet still not explode. The reliability is astonishing really.
While I am on this thought train, I will just mention one bit that has stuck in my brain about how John says that on the TT these days with things so competitive, if you get any kind of wobble or shake or something then you have to keep the throttle wide open and keep the power on. He says that if you have a ‘moment’ and back off for even a fraction of a second then that will be enough to ruin the whole lap (and bear in mind a lap is something like 33 miles). It just shows how slim the margins between the riders are getting and how there is more and more a push to the absolute limit and very little margin for error.
Another thing John talks about is how in the first few years where he started to win at the TT, he found things easier because the level of competition was probably not as acute as it has been in recent years, and also because back then he had an edge on the other riders because he was able to go flat out on cold tyres right from the start whereas the other riders needed quite a distance before they could match his pace. In such time, John already had a big lead pulled out. He now admits that other riders have twigged this and they now all ride flat out from the start and that has made it a lot tougher.
Something else John mentions a lot is his belief that young riders should not go to the TT because it needs a lot of respect and of course is extremely dangerous. His thrust is that he didn’t race there until he was 24 and this is despite coming from Morecambe and going to the Isle of Man TT for many years as a kid with his dad and living just 10 miles from the Ferry to the Island. He talks a lot about younger riders dying out there and he says he can very quickly off the top of his head think of 2 dozen good friends that he has lost to the Island - that shows how nasty it can be despite the fun, fame, challenge and wealth that is given to the top riders.
There are some belting stories from ‘good times’ he had with Joey Dunlop. Joey seems to have been quite a strange character really (you could tell that from seeing him interviewed after winning yet another TT Race by a country mile !!) and he appears to have acted as a bit of a mentor to John McGuinness although sort of from a distance. If not a perfect mentor, he at least was supportive and encouraging of John’s early career - even if that did mean utterly thrashing him around the Island on one occasion to prove a point and put John in his place.
A great Joey story was when a group of them had a lock-in at Joey’s Pub in Ireland somewhere and they all got well and truly sloshed and then Joey decides to drive them all back to their Hotel in his Ford Mondeo. Apparently, you wouldn’t want to drive with Joey when he was sober and this time he was all over the place and ended up smashing through the wall outside the Hotel and driving over the garden and stuff. Anyway the Hotel Owner comes out screaming blue murder and then suddenly says, “Hey, is that you Joey in there?” and once it becomes clear that it is Joey the Hotel Owner starts laughing and shaking his head and says “Hi” to Joey and then walks off !! It just goes to show that for many Irish folk Joey Dunlop has a status higher than the Pope and probably not far off that of God himself.
Another great one is where John had been helping Joey get his Bike ready for the TT and Joey decides to go off and ‘test’ it on the roads outside his garage. Not long afterwards the Police turn up and announce that they just saw Joey hammering past them at about 180mph and that when Joey returns can the mechanics “Wish him best of luck for Sunday” !! Apparently Joey saw the Police Car outside and ended up hiding the bike at a neighbour’s house for a while.
John also mentions when he first saw Joey close up on the Island and it was on a practice night in the days leading up to the TT Races and John saw Joey casually pull up outside a Newsagents on his actual race bike and to lean the thing against the wall (these seriously trick machines have no mainstand or sidestand or anything) while he popped in to buy some fags !! For Bike nerds, I think he said it was the Honda RVF750 or something - it was a Factory bike and probably worth not far off £1m……
There is a lot about John’s early years and that is very interesting. The thing that is clear is how it really was a shoestring operation and many times they were only just about scraping together enough money to be able to enter a race - and the bike would have been really rubbish. They were having to do crazy things like digging old tyres out of the skip at the race meetings which other riders had deemed too worn out and on one occasion John crashed a Kawasaki KR1S 250 he had and he had to go into the Car Park to pinch a gear lever off a Bike that was parked there !!
The sacrifices that his wife Becky and John himself had to make were considerable - such things as living in a worn out old campervan for years and even living in this when they had their first child. When he was not racing, John did work as a building labourer and suchlike and also went cockle-picking on Morecambe Beach (I am sure this is where all those Chinese cockle-pickers got caught out by the Tides and died years ago) and on a particular sponsorship deal he had to ride for Padgetts, John had to work as a driver for them during the week.
With such a ‘council house’ background and not really making much money from his ‘career’ until in recent years, it is quite an eye-opener how he is good friends with extremely wealthy bike riders like Valentino Rossi and former F1 Driver Mark Webber - but I guess those guys really respect what John does on the Island although of course there are now several Riders who are as fast as John or even quicker.
The copy of the Book I read has a very short new Chapter that has been added after the Book first came out and this covers a horrible accident and the following recovery period that John had at the North West 200 Race in Ireland - he admits he should never have been on the Bike (it was the new Honda Fireblade and he was never happy with it and on this occasion the throttle stuck open) and the recovery has clearly been extremely tough. If he has any sense he will retire but at the time of writing this I think he was still racing at various events in 2019 although I am not sure if we will be around in 2020.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this Book and found it a great read with plenty of insights into how the mind of a Road Racer works but I must warn potential Readers that the language is very crude and probably more annoying for me are the significant spelling errors that were in the copy I read - it amazes me that Books can be printed in this day and age that contain so many errors. It particularly grates with me because I do put in a fair bit of effort to try to keep spelling and grammar errors to a minimum with stuff I write for the Website and even with my Tweets I am pretty anal about them !!!
If you fancy a copy of the Book then skip over to the ‘Non-Finance Bookshop’ page and you should find it somewhere buried in there.
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