John McGuinness MBE attended his first TT motorcycle race on the Isle of Man with his father when he was 10 years old.
Attending an event that day himself, McGuinness Sr passed the torch to his son and launched a successful career.
Now 50, the English veteran and second most successful TT rider of all time, made his 100th start on the Isle of Man on Sunday.
McGuinness, who has won 23 races at the scenic island course, finished fourth in Sunday’s qualifying rounds with a speed of 125mph on his Honda superbike.
“It’s something you have to witness live,” says McGuinness. “You can’t fully understand it until you see how raw it is, how close you can get to it.
“There aren’t many places in the world where you can stand within three feet of a motorcycle going 180 mph.”
The raw nature of the event, which takes place on 37.73 miles of public roads, has always been a big draw for fans. But, unfortunately, this philosophy comes with risks.
Since 1907, when the race began, there have been over 150 fatalities on the TT course, and many more at the surrounding Manx Grand Prix and Classic TT events. Over 250 people in total have died while racing on the island.
“When you talk to people about participating in TT, it’s hard to give them advice because it’s so dangerous,” says McGuinness. “You have to carve your own path in the event.”
Considered a “real road” specialist, McGuinness has experience in many motorcycle disciplines. He competed in 24-hour endurance races such as the Bol d’Or and Le Mans and 500cc grands prix.
Yet he is best known for his performances on the Isle of Man. There, in 2007, he was the first person to break the 130mph barrier at TT, when he bettered his own lap record of 129.451mph.
In 2021, when the Isle of Man TT was canceled for a second time by the local government due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, McGuinness announced he was considering ending his racing career TT professional.
“I’ll be 50 the next time I watch Bray Hill on a superbike and I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” he told Manx Radio last year.
“People around me, family, friends, sponsors, the bike will be there if I want to. But a few years is a long time, isn’t it?
Heading into this year’s TT, where he is due to take part in the six-lap Superbike race on Saturday, you can tell he has changed his tune.
“I just turned 50 but the fire is still there,” he said. “I don’t think I will ever retire. You’re gonna have to coast me out.
It’s an apt metaphor for a life spent on two wheels. McGuinness has a sharp mind off the bike and on the bike is still setting personal bests.