Motorcycle road racing is ingrained in the asphalt of Northern Ireland’s North Coast, and Guy Martin is one of the sport’s most famous sons. But with his many competing passions, including a bourgeoning TV career, we wondered if the speed-obsessed Englishman might be preparing to exit the road racing career that has built his luminescent personality.
Only moments ago, Guy Martin was racing a top-end motorbike at 200 mph on public roads in front of ecstatic crowds at the North West 200. His hands and body still seem to be vibrating slightly, but from the shoulders up, all is calm and controlled.
“This should all be about Alastair Seeley,” Martin says of his Tyco BMW teammate, his machine-gun Humberside chatter tuned to its most dogmatic. “But no, it’s all about some bulls–t I’ve come out with. That’s what everyone’s talking about!”
He’s not wrong – all the back pages seem to care about are Martin’s comments on live TV the previous day. Frustrated by a series of chicanes designed to curb ever-increasing speeds, he branded the track “boring.” Additional safety isn’t top of Martin’s list of concerns. He just wants to ride as fast as his wits and his BMW S1000RR can carry him. The North West 200 is the jewel in the crown and, in terms of U.K. road racing as a whole, second only to the infamous Isle Of Man TT. For a big-name racer like Martin, Saturday is business time, with a hectic schedule of up to five races across three classes. That’s three different bikes to individually tune and adjust for a track that’s so big it could be raining at one corner and bone dry at another.
A three-bike collision during the second lap of the Superstock race sees riders airlifted to hospital, along with a spectator injured in the aftermath. At these speeds, the margin for error is agonizingly thin. As the choppers circulate and a convoy of emergency response vehicles streams past, the grid reforms. The riders pop open their visors and wait stoically, but eventually the race is cancelled. Guy Martin is possibly the only man on the planet who could describe this track as boring. This says a lot about his mood, which can shift as quickly as his bike’s gears, and also his freedom to give an honest opinion. But more interestingly, it demonstrates his overriding passion for speed and an acceptance of the danger that comes with it. This is what has made Guy Martin bigger than bike racing.
Martin exploded into the consciousness of a wider audience as the star of the docu-movie “TT3D: Closer To The Edge,” which followed his attempt to win the Isle Of Man TT in 2010. It ended in heartbreak after Martin was hit with a timing infringement, but his enthusiasm and passion for racing and speed, along with engineering, mountain biking (he races in his spare time) and motor vehicles of all varieties, proved infectious. Meanwhile, his autobiography sits on supermarket shelves alongside Justin Bieber’s; his northern feet still firmly on the ground, Martin views this newfound fame as more of a hindrance than a privilege.
“This year will be my last TT,” he says matter-of-factly. “At least I think it is. I’m not sure yet. When I drove back from the TT last year, I asked myself, ‘Did I enjoy that?’ And I knew that of course I bloody didn’t. That’s not because of the team – this is the best team I’ve ever ridden for – but because of everything else.
“I’m pretty much immune to the speed of racing now,” he continues. “You build up to it. At the North West you’re pretty immune to it, and then by the end of the TT you’re fine. To me now, the speed is nothing terrifying. It’s just what you do. The big appeal of road racing over circuit racing is the danger. You have to be so committed to the fast corners. That’s what I like.”
Back in the sanctuary of the motorhome, Martin is asked what he sees himself doing five years from now. “My job – truck mechanic,” he smiles as he runs his cragged knuckles through the trademark mop of thick brown hair, cup of milky tea in hand. “I want to take on the company I work for. I’ve never lived like a bloody rock star or anything. I’ve got a Volvo estate and a Transit van – they’re my toys. I just like messing about in my shed and putting turbos on stuff. That’s it, really.”
Martin leaves the pits on his mountain bike, in jeans and a hoodie, towing a suitcase. This may well be the last the North West 200 sees of him. But with Guy Martin, you never can tell.
The full interview with Guy Martin can be found at www.theredbulletin.com.