Honda TT Legends rider John McGuinness first raced at the North West 200 20 years ago. In that time he has only missed two meetings- in 2001 when the Foot and Mouth epidemic led to the race being cancelled and in 2011 when world endurance championship duties kept him away from Portrush.
‘I have many happy memories of racing at the North West since that first trip in 1994.’ John said in a blustery paddock on the Coast road this morning.
‘The very first year we came I had a great day out that had nothing to do with racing at all but it sealed the deal for me about coming here.’ he recalled. ‘The race chaplain John Kirkpatrick organised a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway for the newcomers and my girlfriend Becky and me went along.
We had no money at all back then and we just had great fun in the sun with everyone else. With all the bits and bobs I have to do now we never get the chance to do things like that any more but I always go to see the chaplain every year when I come back and ask him to say a wee prayer for me to keep me safe.’
Another very special memory that the Morecambe man cherishes is being Joey Dunlop’s teammate in 2000.
‘Joey put the SP1 on pole on Tuesday’s practice session and then Thursday was wet.’ John remembers. ‘I couldn’t get to grips with the bike at all and I just couldn’t understand how Joey was able to go so fast!’
‘We wanted to test the bike but we couldn’t find anywhere to go so Joey rode it up and down past his house outside Ballymoney. I’ve told the story lots of times about how he passed a police car on one of the runs. He thought they would come after him and give him a ticket but they stopped at his place and told us to tell him good luck for Saturday!’
‘’The great thing about being at his house was that Joey showed me around the garage where he worked on his bikes and all of his silverware and stuff as well. That was really, really special.’
‘2000 was also a great year for me because I got my first win at the North West that year in the 250cc class on my TSR Honda. I beat Callum Ramsey that day and that felt good because he had beaten me lots of times before.’
The 41 year old won the opening superbike race at last year’s North West 200 race and he will be hoping to add to his tally of six wins and 16 podiums on the 8.9 mile Triangle course.
‘There is a fantastic field of riders this year so it will be very tough.’ he says ‘But if I nick the odd one I will be happy. I just hope the weather is good on Saturday.’