Sponsors are a massive part of racing. If you didn’t have people willing to give you their support, and money, you would be sat at home on the sofa with your thumb up your arse rather than out on track.
I’m lucky enough to have some brilliant sponsors: Honda, Hitachi Construction Machinery, IFS, Monster, Alpinestars, EMC, Shoei, BetVictor and Dunlop to name just a few, but with sponsorship support comes commitments. It can be product development, or corporate events where you stand up and talk for a while, which I love doing. But every now and then you get to do something completely off the scale!
This month was one of those occasions as Dunlop asked me to head down to London to take part in a fear test. I was imagining being sat down with wires attached to my head orsomething, but as it turned out that wasn’t the case. Far from it!
The test was headed up by a professor who worked with Team GB; it was all a bit surreal. I was sat down with a bunch of other athletes – climbers, skateboarders, surfers, car racers – and before the test we all felt like we were about to face the firing squad as we didn’t know what to expect. For all we knew we were about to be blindfolded and bummed!
One by one we were led into a room and told to look at a computer screen and remember a number sequence while being bombarded with images. The images were a combination of pretty horrible extreme stuff to the kind of ‘art film’ your folks used to hide in a VHS video box marked ‘1982 World of Sport.’ It was all a bit bizarre and I’m not sure what signals it was sending to my brain, but I await the results with interest. And worry, especially if I responded positively to the really nasty shit...
A few years ago I was asked to give a car journalist a pillion lap of the TT course for a PR event. This was a proper special occasion as it was on closed roads, so I thought I’d better give him the full TT experience. I don’t think he totally understood what was about to happen to him and although he was a former car racer and had tested modern sportscars, a TT lap is something a bit different. Imagine it from his perspective, he was perched on the back of a bike about to lap a course surrounded by walls and had no idea where the next corner went. All his trust was on me...
Initially I think he was trying not to touch me to hold on as it didn’t look cool. But by the time we ground the exhaust out at the bottom of Bray Hill at 136mph he was clinging on like a monkey to a tree during a hurricane! I thought I was cruising the lap, but to him it was a different experience.
I found out later we averaged 100.5mph, which isn’t bad going, but well within my limits – not that he knew this. They had to peel him off the bike and remove his gloves for him as his hands were locked solid at the end of the lap. He was broken, and I don’t think he will forget those 22 minutes for a while. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a closed circuit TT pillion lap done since.
Macau often throws up some odd shit when you are doing pre-race events for the organisers. We have raced rickshaws against the car guys, which is messy as the bike racers are always hanging after a big night out and the car guys take it ultra-seriously. And there was the time we had to draw Chinese symbols on the floor. We ended up drawing cocks and bell ends and I converted one symbol to a stick man with a hard on, which caused a bit of bother. And then there was the basketball match where I pulled a touring car driver’s shorts down just before he took a shot in front of the world’s press...
Thanks to guys like Monster I’ve met some fantastic people and been to some awesome events, not that I’m always recognized. I was doing a signing next to Ken Block and everyone wanted his signature rather than mine. He just lent over and said, ‘I remember when no one used to know me...’ What a tool! I can do doughnuts in my Transit, they aren’t that hard.
But there’s a serious side to these fun days out. Sponsors are the lifeblood of racing and we all owe them huge thanks and loyalty. Whether it be the headliners such as Monster or Dunlop or your own personal sponsors who give what they can, you can’t fault them. Occasionally you have to do things you don’t want to, but you take the rough with the smooth and it is thanks to sponsors that I’ve been able to live the life I have, travel the world and race the TT for 20 years. The one thing I will miss when I eventually retire is this camaraderie.