John McGuinness on his 20-year career at the TTby Ed Foster on 1st April 2016
Royal Automobile Club talk show in association with Motor Sport.
I first met McGuinness at the Isle of Man TT in 2011. I was on the island to write a colour piece about the island race's big characters and John was top of the interview list.
Having organised the trip at the last minute the only hire car left on the island was a pink soft-top Nissan Micra. I decided to take my ‘bike helmet and hitch lifts. It was because of a particularly mad Frenchman – who had given me a lift from my campsite to the paddock that morning on his (very fast) BMW tourer – that I knocked on John’s motorhome door with slightly shaky hands.
John opened the door, invited me in and offered me a ‘cuppa’. Being relatively new to road racing it seemed odd that one of its most successful counterparts was happy to be making tea. Formula 1 this was not.
What followed was a fascinating 45 minutes chatting about the TT course and what makes it so special. By the end of it I had to keep reminding myself who McGuinness was such was his normality. To be fair, most road racers I have met are some of the most ‘normal’ people in racing. Is it because their passion is so dangerous that they behave off the track the way they do? Possibly.
Since that day in May five years ago I’ve bumped into John and interviewed him on numerous occasions and despite the number of TT wins continuing to grow he has always remained exactly the same man I met in that paddock motorhome. He was inducted into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame in 2014 and, on typical form, he had the room in stitches as soon as he was given a microphone.
“I was first put on a motorbike when I was three years old by my dad,” he told the 400-strong crowd, “and I’ve come a long way since then. I once wrote in to Jim’ll Fix It asking to do a jump with Evel Knievel, but in hindsight I’m kind of glad I didn’t. There’s only so much I’ll do for a jump with Evel Knievel…”
Yesterday we recorded the podcast (which you can listen to below) before McGuinness was awarded the Segrave Trophy – a Royal Automobile Club trophy on which is written: “The simple idea behind this Tribute to Sir Henry Segrave is to stimulate others also to uphold British prestige before the world by demonstrating how the display of courage, initiative and skill – the Spirit of Adventure itself – can assist progress in mechanical development.”
In the past it’s been won by the likes of Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Geoff Duke, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart, Mike Hailwood, Colin McRae and Joey Dunlop. The Segrave Trophy is truly a ‘who’s who’ of motor racing and McGuinness’ addition to the list of names is, in my opinion, long overdue.
How many other sportsmen have stayed at the top of their game for 20 years? Rossi has managed it in MotoGP and there were the Redmans and Fittipaldis, but the list is short. Bear in mind that McPint has stayed at the top of his game in road racing – a part of the sport which remains extremely dangerous. You don’t play on that knife-edge of control for long in road racing without a huge amount of talent.
At the end of the podcast I asked him about Macau – a street circuit where he has always been quick – and he paused before answering: “I think I’ve only been arrested there once…” Of course, the subsequent story had us all laughing uncontrollably again.
Before he accepted the Trophy from the Club’s chairman Tom Purves, a highlights video was played of his remarkable 2015 Senior TT win (below). After a difficult year in 2014 and then a challenging week up until that race in 2015 some were asking whether it was time for McGuinness to hang up his helmet. He answered in spectacular fashion and dominated the headline event. The video showed a master on the edge of control, but within his talents. It was footage that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
McGuinness was on stage soon after and gave a heartfelt thanks to his wife Becky and to Murray Walker for making the journey to be there in person. Near the end of his speech with the trophy replica in his hand he paused and, with the room expecting another story, he asked deadpan: “Is this gold? It’s bloody heavy. I bet this would fetch a fair sum on eBay.”
He says he still has a year or two left in him and I don't doubt it. He does say, though, that when he retires he'll head up to McGuinness's on the TT track – a quick left-right after Handley's Corner and before Barregarrow – with a case of beer and a few sandwiches. "I can sit there and tell the marshals how fast I used to be through there..."
John McGuinness – 2015 Segrave Trophy winner, 23-time Isle of Man TT winner and one of the most humble men you’ll meet.
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