John mcguinness: built for speed - exclusive first review
Words: Shaun pope
It's safe to say I've been waiting for this book for the last decade. It seems like all of the world's bike racers have released a book and, in Guy Martin's case, about three...
There have been good ones (Steve Hislop)
Boring ones (Hutchy, Chris Walker)
And bloody hilariously brilliant ones (James Whitham)
So come on, get to the point. is it worth reading?
In a word - Yes. But it's not without its flaws.
McGuinness makes an effort to let us know that he came from the most humble of beginnings. From fishing used tyres out of skips to filling his van with red diesel (or Ribena as he called it), to attending the North West 200 with just £90 in his pocket.
You could possibly see this as a dig at certain other racers. Possibly truck fitting ones... We'll leave that up to the reader to decide. Throughout the book John stays away from any mud slinging.
It's a bit disappointing in that aspect. It's safe to say most people like a bit of drama and gossip but McGuinness just doesn't go into any detail about current rivals or his new team mate.
Speaking of his latest team mate, there's a rather strange foreword by Guy Martin at the beginning of the autobiography. I get the feeling it was more of a marketing stunt by the guys at Penguin publishing rather than a proper request from John himself. Then again having a quote from Guy Martin on the cover will certainly help sales - the bloke can do no wrong lately it seems.
The first few chapters do little to keep the reader interested and the story plods along predictably without any knack for storytelling or any laughs. Considering McGuinness is one of the biggest characters in the road racing paddock, it's not being demonstrated in the book.
There are also some glaring errors in grammar that give the sense the book has been rushed together to coincide with this year's Isle Of Man TT races.
Fortunately things begin to pick up a little when John starts talking about his heroes, most notably Joey Dunlop.
John tells of the first time he met his idol at the 1986 TT when he was fourteen years old. John bought a picture of Joey from the shop just so he could approach his hero for an autograph. He writes
"While he stood there silently signing his autograph on the picture I gave him, I looked up at him and told him that I'd be on the podium with him one day."
A few years later his dream came true and throughout the book it's clear that McGuinness worshipped Joey. His anecdotes involving Joey, as well as his team mate and close friend David Jefferies were the highlights of the book.
John talks in detail about the losses he's suffered throughout his racing career, which highlights just how dangerous the sport is. The tributes he pays to Joey, Dave Jefferies, Gus Scott and Simon Andrews are particularly moving. He paints some harrowing scenes of carnage that are part and parcel of road racing, most recently the 190mph crash of Paul Shoesmith on Sulby straight in 2015.
He also details the fatal crash of his friend Dave Jefferies, in which he arrived on the scene of carnage seconds after the crash. John explains if it wasn't for a fan removing her red coat and waving it before the corner, he would have also been caught up in the crash. These elements of the book, combined with McGuinness' thoughts are what give him an extra dimension that you don't get to see in TV or magazine interviews. He comes across as humble and genuine, which was never in doubt to any of his fans.
The vast majority of the book involves a roundup of McGuinness' career - from the first club racing days on a knackered old KR1S, up to the present day. It was a far from smooth transition to success with lots of struggles and setbacks throughout, both financial and personal.
There were a few laughs in the book but unfortunately they were few and far between. The editing really lets it down with lots of repetition and the grammatical errors mentioned above.
However, fans of McGuinness and road racing in general will appreciate it as a document of his career.
Towards the end of the book McGuinness frequently brings up the subject of retirement. It's clear he wants to match Joey's 26 TT wins whilst battling with the ever-present threat of death.
In that sense, it makes for a gripping end because the story of John McGuinness is still unfolding and the ending has yet to write itself.