PH MEETS JOHN MCGUINNESS
PH meets the road racing legend as he prepares for the finale of this week's Isle of Man TT
What was your first experience on a motorbike?
I was about three years old. Mum and dad had a bike shop and one day they gave me an Italjet rev-and-go bike with stabilisers. Dad just stood behind me and said, "That's go, that's stop. Get going in a straight line." So I tore off on it and headed for a wall. Apparently my Dad was shouting, "Whoa! Stop! Hit the brakes!" I just missed the wall.
I used to ride around the industrial estate in Morecombe where Dad had his shop. Eventually the stabilisers came off and I was away. We've got a few images at home that are quite funny. I was in the Daily Mirror doing a big jump over some little buses dressed as my hero Evel Knievel
Yeah, my Dad wrote to Jim'll Fix It one day to see if I could do a jump with him, but the ol' boy never even replied. I was gutted. Jim didn't fix it for me.
You still describe yourself as a 'brickie from Morecambe'. How much time did you actually spend on a building site?
I wanted to be a mechanic but my dad said it was a waste of time and I needed to get into the building trade. I went to college to serve my time and spent three years doing my City & Guilds. There I was with my trowel: 'John the builder.' But it was 1990, Thatcher had just resigned and the country was on its backside. I was expecting to make £500 a week but there were no jobs. I was like, "Cheers dad! Thanks for that! Thanks for the advice!"
So I started collecting mussels on Morecambe beach and that paid for my first race bike.
Does it bother you that you don't always get the recognition you deserve for all your success?
I got invited to Sports Personality of the Year last year in Manchester, but I don't think anybody knew who I was. I just sat there and smiled. It bothers me for about five seconds, and then I get on with what I'm doing.
What's frustrating for me is that wherever I go in the world, people love the TT but it's like someone's holding them back and they can't say they love it. I've been to lots of sports dos and people say, "Oh, I watched that 3D TT movie and it's the greatest documentary I've ever seen." But the TT still never goes as mainstream as it should. It's like somebody's telling them it's wrong. But what's right and what's wrong in this world?
Everywhere I go people say, "Why are you so good on the roads but crap on the short circuits?" but I'm not actually that bad you know. I won the British 250cc Championship in 1999, I finished third in the British Superstock Championship in 2009 and I've scored points in MotoGP.
I can do it but I probably just wasn't quite good enough at a world level. I never quite had that chiselled sharp edge that you need. You need to be aggressive and I've never really been one for fairing bashing and diving in front of everyone. I would rather do my own calculated stuff and that probably suits road racing more than short circuit stuff.
It's a double-edged sword, though, because you have to do short circuit racing to be competitive on the roads. It's important to be sharp and bike-fit. I'm enjoying doing the World Endurance Championship with the Honda TT Legends team. We're in the top six in the world, which isn't too bad.
If was racing was safe everyone would do it. You hear Guy Martin saying the danger is a buzz, but I don't do it because it's dangerous. I want to be safe. For me, the buzz comes from the taking part, the challenge and the winning. Near death experiences don't give me a buzz, they just worry me.
I always say to myself I'm only going to push it to my level and when I'm at that level, that's it. I can't go any faster. One day it's going to go up a gear and young kids are going to make me look pretty average, but until that happens I'll keep doing what I do.
If you're a normal chap looking in from the outside, it looks insane. People think we are lunatics. But when you're on the bike, you're just riding round, doing your thing. In the SuperStock race this week the bike wobbled at Crosby and my feet came off the pegs at 180mph, but I put it out of my mind in an instant.
In 2005 I lost the front-end in a SuperStock race at the corner where David Jefferies was killed. The bike shouldn't have reacted in that way. It wasn't skill that it came back, it was just luck. I continued but then I lost the front again so I just starting cruising and said to myself, "Something's not right." My inner voice told me to stop.
I was pretty close to being off to wherever you go.
You turned 40 this year - is John McGuiness thinking about retirement?
I think about it a lot but it's really hard to think about retiring when you get to ride great bikes for top teams. Sometimes I look in the mirror at my baggy eyes and double chin and think, 'what a state,' but when I get on a bike I'm 21 again. The other day I did nine laps [of a 37.7-mile course] without any difficulty.
Normally it's an injury that stops you. You can't do hundreds and hundreds of laps without something going wrong. [Five-time TT winner] Nick Crowe hit a hare in his sidecar a couple of years ago. He lost his arm and his life's changed dramatically. But at the moment we're still firing the results in, so it's difficult to stop. We'll see what tomorrow brings.
He came to the TT in 2008 to watch the race and he and his dad were just blown away by it. I really like the man; he's really enthusiastic about everything - speedway, motocross... We've kept in touch since then. I went to Valencia with him for the last MotoGP race in 2010 and we flew together in a private jet with Adrian Newey.
There's no edge to him. He's an inspirational guy. I pinged him a text message before the race to say I was nervous and he sent me a really nice, inspirational text that I thought about before the race. It definitely helped me. I'm itching for him to win a World Championship.
I've offered to give him a backie around here one day but I don't think he'd get on, and I wouldn't blame him either.