‘When you read the book it’s like me talking. What’s the posh word for big words? Anyway, there are none of those and it’s not mincing about either.'
From moped-crashing teenager to Junior Superstock contender, TT racer and TV star, to becoming one of the world's leading road racers, we look back at Guy Martin's autobiography, My Autobiography.
I am the son of a motorcycle racer, but I don’t see that as the main reason I started racing. My dad’s influence obviously rubbed off on me in some ways. I’d see the bikes in the shed every day; I’d sit with Dad as he worked on them; and then I’d be aware of him going away to race them. Still, I think I was too young to be really infected by it all when he was racing. The almost constant contact with bikes – my dad’s, my and sister Sally’s little TY80, and the Kawasaki motocrosser I’d own later – all made me want a road bike as soon as I was 16 and legal to ride on the road, but I hadn’t made the mental leap to believing I’d ever race motorcycles. It just wasn’t on my radar.
My first road bike
Though Dad had bought me and Sally the Yamaha TY80 for Christmas, all those years ago, he had never encouraged me at all to start thinking about racing. His reluctance was probably down to the money it cost to go racing and the heartache that came with it. He knew all about that. In 1983, a year after I was born, Ian Martin [Guy’s dad] was the first privateer home in the Senior TT on his P & M-framed Suzuki GS1000. He wasn’t shabby.
And anyway, it hardly mattered, racing wasn’t on my mind, because as soon as I turned 16, in 1997, I had my road bike, a 1991 Kawasaki AR50 – registration J121 LVL – and that was everything to me.
My mum let me take a day off school to do my CBT. I bought the bike from a lad who worked in the truck spray shop opposite my dad’s work, paying the asking price, £700. I used to see him coming and going from work on it. It was trick. It had an 80cc engine with a five-speed gearbox in it and a Micron exhaust. It was illegal to have an 80 in a 50, if you were still on L-plates, like I was, but I wasn’t bothered. Then I bored it a mil and ended up with a 93cc kit on it, cut my own ports in the barrel, fitted a KX60 carburettor and a Nikon pipe. I was always tinkering with it.
I was in the pub, The Marrowbone and Cleaver, for my sister’s 18th. I was 16, but I ended up showing everyone I was the man by demonstrating my new party piece, drinking 10 pints of stout. It hardly needs saying, I was absolutely w***ered.
I can’t even imagine being able to drink that much now.
Somehow I got up the next morning in time for my day release at college. I must’ve still been trolleyed. I’m not proud of it, but this is just what happened. I was riding my Kawasaki to Scunthorpe when I went straight through a junction where I was supposed to be turning right, and smashed head-on into a car at Barnet by Top Services.
I was so loose, totally not on the ball in any way, that I flew over the top of the car, flailed down the road like a rag doll and got up without a mark on me. I was still so, how would you say it, relaxed, that I didn’t even think to tense up before hitting the ground – and, ironically, I reckon that’s what saved me from breaking anything.
The Kawasaki, my pride and joy, didn’t fare as well. It was completely smashed up. It’s never been the same since, but I never sold it. I still have it now, in the vague belief I’m going to restore it one day. The car, a Fiat Punto, was wrecked too. It was so bent out of shape the back doors couldn’t be forced open. Luckily the young lass driving didn’t have a scratch on her.
The police turned up, but I wasn’t breathalysed. I’d had a major let-off in a load of different ways and even then, though I clearly was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I started to realise that things had started to get a bit dangerous. I was riding flat-out, taking crazy chances on every journey. Lots of people have had similar thoughts when they’ve had near misses in life and changed what they’re doing. But my idea of making things a little less risky for myself was not to start saving up for a nice little car – no, I was going racing.
My first race
I had the sense to do a trackday before my first race. It was at Mallory Park, Leicestershire, on a Wednesday afternoon. Looking back, I didn’t have a clue what a racing line was. I can’t imagine how slow I must have looked. And no, I didn’t scuff my pristine kneesliders.
I didn’t get my knee down for a year. Still, a few days after the trackday I was set to make my racing debut.
My very first race meeting was run by the Grantham and Pegasus Club and held at my local track, Cadwell Park, Lincolnshire. In the run-up to my debut Dad hadn’t given me any advice at all. And I hadn’t asked. I don’t resent that. I had to work it out for myself. Perhaps he thought I’d picked up more than I had done from going to races with him. If so, he was wrong. I could not have been more green.
Dad drove me to the race, but I turned up not knowing a thing. I was going from riding an AR50 – a hot one, mind – commuting to work and back, to racing a tuned Honda CBR600 – a 140 mph Supersport bike – for my very first race.
I scraped through the short untimed morning practice and then was told I had to blindly pick a peg with a number on it out of a bag. This was the way the club decided places on the starting grid. When my race was called, I pulled on my helmet and rolled down to sit in the holding area, under the trees, next to the café. The bikes all around me were being revved to warm up and I waited, in a fog of fumes, not knowing what to expect. I was buzzing with nerves and excitement as the previous race finished and the riders funnelled off the track, a marshal in orange overalls directing them up the narrow return road, through the trees and into the paddock high above the start line. My exact position on the grid hasn’t stuck in my mind, but I was somewhere in the middle, surrounded by blokes who had been racing for years.
I took my place, one foot on the floor, arms bent, eyes staring at the flag. As the rules demanded, I wore an orange bib over my leathers, to show everyone I was a novice. Although I don’t remember which row of the busy grid I was on, but I won’t forget what happened as soon as the flag dropped.
I got a surprisingly good start and was determined to make an impression. I truly was young, dumb and full of cum. I was in the mix through Coppice, the first corner that sweeps uphill to the looping right-hander, Charlies. Soon I was flying down Park Straight, knees and elbows tucked in to be as aerodynamic as possible, managing to pass a load of bikes, thinking, ‘Check me out!’
What I didn’t realise was that everyone else was hard on the brakes for Park, the sharp right-hander that was approaching at 100mph-plus. It was the third corner of my very first race and I crashed, taking three other lads out. Less than 60 seconds had passed since the flag signalled the start of my racing life and I had barely covered a third of the 2.2-mile circuit. My introduction.
My bike, the Honda CBR600 I’d spent weeks preparing, and all my money, went end-over-end. The impact ripped the petrol tank off and bent the forks. Luckily I didn’t injure anyone in the crash, and they were all standing when I went round the pits apologising without making eye contact. I crashed 13 times in my first year, sometimes twice in a meeting, because I definitely didn’t do 13 different race meetings that season. It was costing me a fortune.
This was hobby racing, for fun and a plastic trophy if you were lucky. When I raced with the New Era, a bigger club than Pegasus and District, I might get in the top 15. I had not bothered the podium in the slightest, but I didn’t care one bit. The next year, 2000, I had the same attitude. I had passed my driving test by then, so I could drive myself to meetings and friends would come with me. There was no pressure, just pure fun.
My first road win
I wasn’t being methodical or thinking deeply about racing. I didn’t have any mentors. Racing was just something to do. I didn’t care where I finished until about two-thirds of the way through that 2000 season, when I won the
This was a race at Cadwell Park exclusively for riders who live in Lincolnshire. It used to be annual and it’s a race a lot of very good riders have won: Steve Plater, Roger Marshal, Roger Burnett… From that win onwards a switch was flicked and I was hungry to do well. At the end of the year I went to a meeting at a miserable Snetterton held on a grim October day, with the rain coming in sideways, and won a couple of races. Keeping up my impressive record of crashing, I still managed to slide off at some point that day.
After my two seasons of club racing I was thinking differently. Now I seriously wanted to improve. It had gone beyond having a bit of fun with my mates, so I decided to make the step up to National level for 2001 and enter the Junior Superstock class I’d read about in MCN. That first Junior Superstock race was daunting. It was a popular class, with up to 40 riders trying to qualify and race. There were bikes everywhere and there was regular mechanical carnage. It wasn’t too long before the class was given the grim nickname, Junior Suicide.
I learnt so much in that first year of British championship, because everyone else was so much faster than me. I had to learn, and fast. Sink or swim. I couldn’t believe how much of a gap there was between club racing and this.
I still crashed regularly enough, but less often in the races. I’d got an idea of what I could do with the bike. I realised that just because I was getting my knee down it didn’t mean I was going fast. I could be leaning less, putting less stress on the tyres and still be lapping quicker.
The level of the competition and the ambition I was beginning to develop, a fairly simple desire to run at the front, meant I was spending a fortune. I had worked all winter, between the end of one racing season and the start of the next, doing several jobs just to save up enough to be able to race through the summer.
I was still doing my day job, which was fixing trucks obviously, but that alone wasn’t enough to pay for this level of racing, even though I was living for cheap at home. So I had to work three jobs for nearly six months, throughout the winter, before the season started. All this was just so I could afford to race my bike. I needed to do it. Club racing was an expensive pastime; National level racing was something else again.
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