Like all bike fans I was stunned and saddened to read last week that Guy Martin was considering cutting back on his racing at the end of this season.
I first met Guy when he came to race in Ireland in 2003 and there has rarely been a dull moment since.
Watching him sliding his way around a sodden Nutts Corner raceway in a billowing rainsuit at the start of that season, I could never have imagined Guy would become Britain’s best-known bike racer. It didn’t take long though to realise that he was something special on a motorbike. Initially restricted to the Support class, the beginner’s events for fledgling Irish road racers, the refugee from the BSB series had talents that were very obviously superior to the rest of the opposition. Not many race squad bosses bawl their riders out for going “too fast” but at the Dundrod 150 Guy’s sponsor had a blazing row with the Lincolnshire racer after he ignored signals to slow down and continued to break the lap record in spite of his unassailable lead.
Equally apparent was how unique a character Guy Martin was. Although we could only understand about a tenth of what he said because of the speed of his delivery, we had never before encountered a rider who had so many outrageously fresh and funny things to say about the sport. An instant hit with the fans, Guy was quickly sought out by the media who loved his eccentric take on pretty much everything he encountered in life.
That may all be ten years ago now but in reality little has changed. Guy is still superfast on a motorbike and he is more than ever the darling of the media. Over the intervening years he has harnessed those talents to win at most of the roads courses he has competed on- with the niggling exception of the one to be found on a little rock in the midst of the Irish Sea.
Guy’s daredevil activities and unPCness in front of the camera provided instant television stardom, allowing him to break out of the niche world of motorcycles and become the first British bike racer since Barry Sheene to attain mainstream celebrity.
It is a transition that Guy has struggled to cope with in spite of the considerable benefits that it has brought him. The attempts he makes to avoid the constant attention he receives have become almost absurd. Instantly recognised and mobbed the minute he appears in a race paddock, Guy now tries to use his mountain bike to slip around under the radar. But even his bike is recognised and the minute he parks up crowds gather around to wait for his departure, their pens and cameras at the ready.
A couple of seasons ago I found Guy polishing his beloved Transit van beside his race bikes in a little corner of a field at the Southern 100. Hidden away and doing his own thing, the man who still gets his hands dirty working under lorries was in his element. However, it’s a trick that is harder and harder to pull off for someone so famous.
The Lincolnshire man’s popularity and fame have soared ever higher since the world watched him laying his life on the line during the Channel 4 series, Speed. Such is his drawing power that Guy is now in the position to pick and choose between a constant stream of television offers. With sponsors queuing up for a slice of his endorsement, the financial rewards for Guy are huge, making him the highest paid road racer in Britain by a country mile. But as his Tyco BMW team boss Philip Neill will tell you, his time is rarely ever his own these days.
Struggling to cope with these pressures, its hardly surprising that Guy is now considering easing the burden by cutting back on some of his racing activities. As he pointed out on Facebook last week, he still has plenty of other things that he is interested in doing in life. Lots of opportunities are open for Guy and most will pay a lot better than road racing ever could. No matter how on the edge some of the more outlandish challenges are that he grapples with on TV, you can be certain that they will be a lot less dangerous than riding around the TT course at over 200mph.
For a man who ceased to garner the major part of his income from racing a long time ago, that might now be a consideration but if Guy does carry out his threat to ease back on his racing the paddock will be a lot duller place without him.