Shame about the title, but why not call the Isle of Man TT what it is? It’s not only a good way to get the attention of the non-motorcycling reader, it’s also a fairly accurate description and a partial motivation for more than a few IOM riders. More than 230 racers have been killed since the TT began in 1911, and as a result the place is infused with a certain fatalism that can’t be denied.
Which is also a source of its rich fascination. What are these guys thinking? Broadbent’s book follows the top riders leading up to and through the 2011 TT: John McGuinness, the grand old man (at almost 40) of the TT figures large, but will a young family and tranquil domestic life be enough to allow the young lions to dethrone him? McGuinness watched his mentor, David Jefferies, die at the 2003 TT at age 30.
Guy Martin’s fame was just peaking going into the 2011 TT, complete with his own miniseries on the BBC. As talented at stirring up controversy and dissent as he is at riding a motorcycle, Martin looked like a likely winner that year. Don’t forget the Dunlops: Joey’s nephews William and Michael, the former thoughtful and calculating, the latter slightly misanthropic and with a reputation for wild riding. Both went ahead and raced the 2008 North West 200 even after their dad, Robert, was killed in practice. Michael won the 250 race on Saturday; Robert’s funeral was Sunday. “Some dickhead in a suit said I wasn’t mentally right to race,” said Michael in the book. “I said I’d never been right.”
What Broadbent’s book does better than anything I’ve read or seen about the TT is to get inside these guys’ minds, where we learn they’re not much different than most people, aside from being quite a bit more fun. Unlike big-name “short-circuit” riders who make a lot more money and as a result have to be that much less candid, real road racers tend to say what’s on their minds. A conversation with John McGuinness and his dad, John Sr., recounts the time Giacomo Agostini tried to pick up McGuinness’ mother on Douglas promenade:
John Sr.: “Lamborghini soft-top pulls up. Birds in the back. Ago’s driving and he looks over at us and shouts, ‘You want to come to party?’ I can’t believe it and I say, ‘Who, me?’ He says ‘No, not you. The girl.’
“‘You should have buggered off,’ his son tells him. ‘I’d have been better-looking and I’d have been the world champion.’
“‘Aye, you’d have had jet black hair.’”
Broadbent’s book is 360 pages of inside information, the kind you only get by winning trust and being there—not to mention lots of the sort of atmospheric content Peter Egan fans can appreciate: “Road racing was sport stripped to the bone and maw, whereas short circuit racing was, in the view of Guy Martin, all about ego and surface fluff. Martin was more into spit than polish and, with his black Relentless Suzuki leathers and livery, felt this could finally be the year. In the paddock I met three Australians who were debating why Martin had not yet won. One of the men was missing most of his teeth, had five-day stubble and a black leather jacket faded to gray. He said it was bad luck, simple as that. His friend was a McGuinness man and took issue. He said Martin was simply not good enough. ‘Great bloke and all that, but he’s had his chances.’ The third member of this band, all on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the TT, missed his mouth with a hot dog and rolled off the back of a bench. The drinking had started early.”
360 pages, 29 mostly color photos
Orion Publishing Group. Ltd.
available at amazon.com