Sports

The Cult – Guy Martin

Guy Martin is an analogue daredevil in a beige digital world. He is the antithesis of modern sport.
February 26, 2016, 2:54pm
Illustration by Dan Evans

Our latest addition to The Cult is a down-to-earth daredevil who stares death in the face whenever he can get away from the day job. You can (in fact you must) read our previous entries here.

Cult Grade: Old-School

Despite not having met all of the dads in the UK, there is one thing that I can safely say unites them; something that deep down, they, their sons and their fathers all long for. In some form or another, dads seek simpler times.

They look back affectionately at the days of yesteryear when telephones weren't mobile and you could go scrumping instead of buying fruit from the supermarket. A time when more of the world was powered by pressurised hot water, and cogs were dominant over microchips. They look back fondly on a time when health and safety operated with a strict policy of 'ask no questions, hear no lies'.

Dads feel the same about sport. They appreciate the fine artistry of a Messi, but long for the bread and butter prestige of a Bobby Charlton. They like their athletes and sportsmen to have interests beyond Instagram and trainers, and they want them to have solid nicknames like 'Beefy' and drink pints of beer and cups of tea. Dads want sportsmen that get cut, bleed everywhere, but play on regardless. They also like humility.

Even if somewhere out there there's a dad or two that has somehow never heard of him, deep down, those dads like the idea of Guy Martin. After all, Guy Martin is not just a sportsman: he's a throwback to a time when 'things were better'. He's the part of Danny Boyle's Olympic ceremony that brought a tear to your da's eye, an analogue daredevil in a beige digital world, a whirr of metal leaving health and safety shitting its pants by the side of the road. Guy Martin is the antithesis of modern sport.

Point of Entry: Medium

Like many in TT road racing, Martin's love of the sport was passed on paternally. His father Ian competed in TT races, taking his children (including daughter Kate, the first female mechanic in the British Superbikes paddock) with him year on year around the UK, until a crash at Oliver's Mount and a subsequent broken hip led him to retirement from the sport. Following in his father's footsteps, aged 16, Guy went back to the TT as a mechanic working for his dad's friend. By 2000, he was racing.

The TT is one of the last true bastions of sporting danger, with men and women flying around rural road networks faster and faster each year, reaching speeds approaching 200mph, pushing machinery and life to the limit. Martin's sport is one that quietly accepts death and comes with the sombre motto "nobody is forcing us to be here".

Despite having competed in a variety of events – including the Ulster Grand Prix, North West 200 and other races at Oliver's Mount (where he's won a record seven consecutive meetings) – the Isle of Man TT is the race that brought Martin to the attention of the wider sporting world. His career on the island has seen him finish on the podium 15 times in the 12 TTs he has competed in since 2004, leaving him still in search of an elusive first-place finish. When staying on the island, Guy is known to sleep in his transit van and ride his bike to and from events.

READ MORE: The Cult – Simona de Silvestro

For most of the year, Martin resides in the former fisheries town of Grimsby where he rides a push-bike 20-odd miles to and from his day job as a truck fitter. It's a job he takes extremely seriously and loves doing. When he's not racing or working on trucks he's the modern Fred Dibnah, presenting TV shows about building planes or trying to beat various speed records. All of this come second to his day job, of course.

He's known for not enjoying the media attention, but you get the feeling that the kid inside him is more than willing to grind out the presenting gigs to fulfill a boyish dream of flying a Vulcan or building a barge with one of his mates. It's this same youthful drive that's led him to owning a Rolls Royce engine, shift focus to gruelling mountain bike endurance races, flirt with a move into rally driving, and even becoming the brand ambassador for Mr Porkies pork scratchings. A role presenting Top Gear would have been a great fit, but the potential extended bouts of time away from truck fitting meant the spot was turned down.

And so Martin's cult status does not come from merely getting on a motorbike and racing along the same roads that have claimed countless lives in the past. After all, many riders do that and many do it more successfully and without Martin's level of exposure. The true admiration that he attracts from sports fans and non-sports fans alike is for how he lives his life and what he stands for.

The Moment: Isle Of Man TT fireball, 2010

When riders crash on the TT, they really crash. You only need to watch what happened to Connor Cummins in the same race to see the transformation of man to rag-doll as the result of a split-second error. Martin's crash in the same race, however, seems to epitomise the man's ability to strive for speed, show bravery in the face of danger, and then laugh about it afterwards.

Prior to the crash the race is close. Martin initially leads, recording his fastest lap on the mountain course, with Cummins snatching the lead. Later on a gap appears between the leading riders and a few minutes later the race is red-flagged. Martin has crashed in the style of a Michael Bay fireball. In the split seconds coming around Ballagarey corner at 170mph, Martin loses the front of the bike. He attempts to regain it, thinks he's got it, realises he hasn't, then jumps off. He flies off, while his bike goes in the other direction and explodes. Fellow rider Gary Johnson describes the aftermath of the scene as if a bomb had gone off.

READ MORE: The Cult – Chris Eubank

Footage from the documentary Closer To The Edge: TT3D shows Martin enthusiastically musing over the crash in a hospital bed, nursing a cup of tea. At this very moment, due to the severity of the crash, he shouldn't really be alive. He lists his injuries, including a few broken ribs, a punctured lung, four chipped vertebrae and two cracked vertebrae. He then shifts from his cheeky boyish tone to one of formality, glancing at the camera:

"Part of the game boy, we all know the risks, nobody is making us do anything. All part of the game. Put me in that position again and I'd do exactly the same again."

There's not a dad in the land who could resist.

Closing Statements

"When you dead, you dead." –– Guy Martin