EXCLUSIVE: John McGuinness on his comeback with Norton

09th February 2018
John McGuinness

“What a week! Since news of me joining Norton for a crack at the Isle of Man TT in June first broke on Wednesday morning it’s been manic. I can’t believe the reaction – I’ve been bombarded with good wishes from friends and fans. There’s a really good feeling about it and I’ve got my mojo back, I really have.


“It’s been a pretty grim nine months or so since my big one at the North West 200 in May. As I cartwheeled up the road, everything went in slow motion and I thought, ‘shit, this is it’. I really believed my time was up and wasn’t happy about it. I’d just bought a new house!

“And because it wasn’t my fault [the bike suffered a throttle electronics problem and didn’t slow down] I wondered, ‘why me?’.

“There are loads of ways of looking at it, really. I broke vertebrae in my back and a few ribs, as well as busting my right leg pretty badly, and wondered if I’d ever ride a bike again. But I’m still here; loads of my mates aren’t. There were strange emotions going round, I can tell you.

“I spent more than two weeks in Belfast hospital, with the missus changing my nappies and stuff. That’s no fun for anyone. Once I got out and had the cage fitted to my repaired leg, I had to stay positive. The pain was unbelievable and sleeping was almost impossible. I certainly wasn’t in a position to even think about if or when I’d be racing again.

“My low point was the drugs. The tramadol painkillers really messed me up. I became really nasty and short-tempered, taking it out on [wife] Becky and our friends. I needed help with everything and became bitter and resentful. I just wasn’t the John McGuinness they knew. Becky ended up hiding the drugs and I was in a really dark place for five days or so. I thought the film Trainspotting was all a bit Hollywood but that’s exactly what it was like. It was like, ‘tramadol or me?’ and Becky saved me, really. She was amazing. How she put up with me I’ll never know. 


“Once I’d got all that out of my system I started to get my energy back. I was thinking straight and making good decisions. I focused on getting better, recovering the strength in my leg and improving my general fitness with things like spin cycling.

And here we are. I’d been chatting with [Norton owner] Stuart [Garner], and a few others, on and off on the phone for a while. And the thing is, people laughed about the whole Norton thing at the beginning, but they’re not laughing now are they? What he’s done is great. I’ve been studying the bike and watching footage and onboards and it’s coming on really well. My new team-mate Josh Brookes took a sixth place in the TT last year and was lapping just shy of 131mph. And don’t forget the weather was terrible during practice week so he got very little running in, as well as missing the event for a couple of years.

“The deal suits me down to the ground. Norton is a fantastic name – I remember standing at Rhencullen, aged 20, in 1992 when Hizzy [Steve Hislop] had that epic fight with Foggy [Carl Fogarty] to win the Senior on the rotary Norton. Everyone remembers that, don’t they? It was TT gold. And look at all those Geoff Duke wins.

“Don’t get me wrong: it’s a serious effort. I’m not into making up the numbers and milking the PR, as anyone who’s ever met me or seen me in action knows. I’m 100 per cent into it. What I like is that it all hinges on a two-page contract and a handshake and we didn’t have to negotiate over the money. I’m not going to argue over ten grand here or there with Stuart. It’s not like that when you ride for a massive corporate manufacturer. I admire Stuart a lot for that. He knows that I’m best left doing my own thing; I’m no good at the end of a lead.

They’ve got a great set-up at Norton HQ in Donington. It’s small and cosy and full of passionate people. One guy, a fabricator he was, told me he could earn more money up the road but loves working at Norton so isn’t bothered. It’s got that sort of vibe about it. It just feels right.

“People want to know if I can win. At the moment I’m just a 45-year-old bricky from Morecambe with a cage on my leg, mate, but you wait until I get on that bike! I can’t wait to ride the SG7 – I just love racing bikes. I couldn’t give it all up after the way things happened last year.

“Sure, I’ve missed a year at the TT, but Hutchy [Ian Hutchinson] missed a few and look at how he came back a winner. I’ve worked out that I’ve done give or take 49,500 miles round the Mountain Course – on two-strokes, four-strokes, 125s, 400s, 600s, 1000s, Ducatis, Yamahas, Hondas, you name it. You don’t forget where you’re going. The island hasn’t changed, either. 


“Everything has to click. The preparation and set-up has to be spot on. I’ll make sure I’m as fit as I can be – I’ll never be a racing snake, but my surgeon reckoned that at present I’m healing like a 30-year-old, but he probably says that to all his patients! He said there’s no magic wand or crystal ball – I’ll either heal perfectly or I won’t. A few people have told me I need to be drinking stuff like crushed-blueberry juice. What’s that all about? Not a bloody chance! I’ve been to the chippy a few times, though.

“I’m hoping to get on the bike by the end of March or early April. It’s flexible at the moment but there’s plenty of time to get up to speed. We’ll keep the ball rolling and see how it goes. The first milestone is this bloody cage coming off in a few weeks. I can’t wait for that.

“It’s going to be an amazing year. I love the TT – it’s been my life for so long. I love Goodwood, too. The fans are as passionate as they are at the TT. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pop a few wheelies at the Festival of Speed and get back out racing at the Revival. Both events are magic and I can’t wait to do them again.

“I’ve been touched by all the support since May – it’s helped me come back from a dark place – and I can’t thank people enough.

Now, I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love most of all…

John McGuinness was talking to Henry Hope-Frost

Photography courtesy of LAT Images and Motorcycle News  

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