'The worst hour of my life - but I knew John would return to racing'

John and Becky McGuiness with daughter Maisie and son Ewan soon after his North West 200 crash
John and Becky McGuinness with daughter Maisie and son Ewan soon after John's North West 200 crash

The mindset of a road racer has been well documented in the past, but what about their partners and loved ones who wait in the pits for their safe return?

Becky McGuinness has been an ever-present by the side of John McGuinness since he started racing 30 years ago, experiencing a wide range of emotions while accompanying her 23-time Isle of Man TT-winning husband to circuits across the globe.

She is in no doubt, however, about which one of those feelings has been the worst.

"I remember the shock and disbelief from that day," Becky recalls. "When the red flag comes out, you worry about everyone, not just John."

Becky was remembering the Superbike practice at the 2017 North West 200 when her husband had the worst crash of his career, coming off at Primrose Hill and ending up on the old golf course at Portstewart after flying through a crash barrier.

He suffered career-threatening injuries, including damage to his leg, back and ribs. However, he survived the crash and has returned to the event this year with the iconic Norton brand.

"You never want to see the ladies in red, and I never would have thought it was John," Becky continued. "He always rides within his limits and that is why he has been so successful.

"I was looking behind me when they were walking towards me. I just welled up and remember breaking down."

'Crazy stuff was coming out of his mouth'

John McGuinness
John McGuinness has 23 Isle of Man TT successes to his name

Becky was informed that John had suffered a serious leg break, but that he was going to be OK. She then accompanied him in the ambulance that went straight to hospital in Belfast.

"You always know that you are in good hands and the people can't do enough for you," she continued.

"But even with the help, that hour and a half to the hospital was quite possibly the worst time of my life.

"John was in agony and was strapped in because of a suspected broken back, on top of the injuries to his leg. He was on all the drugs available and they couldn't give him any more.

"Crazy stuff was coming out of his mouth. He thought the doctor was trying to strangle him, he was trying to get me to stop him by shouting 'stop him, stop him'."

'I haven't slept properly for a month'

Becky said she always had an inkling that her husband would return to racing despite the injuries, knowing that he had "unfinished business" and didn't want his career to end with the crash.

"The injury was pretty bad and he was saying he was finished putting our family through this. I'd heard it all before, but this time I think he meant it," Becky explained.

"But then, when he knew he was going to be 100% fit, a switch flicked. He nearly made it back last year but had an injury setback - without that he would have been on a grid even though it was probably too soon for him."

Becky with Faye Ho, the partner of Michael Rutter, and Jill McWilliams, the wife of Jeremy McWilliams, at Thursday's North West 200 practice session
Becky with Faye Ho, the partner of Michael Rutter, and Jill McWilliams, the wife of Jeremy McWilliams, at Thursday's North West 200 practice session

So, now John is back to full fitness, how were Becky's nerves as he prepared to tackle the North West 200 circuit for the first time since his accident during Tuesday's practice session?

"I hadn't slept properly for a month worrying about that first lap," she admits. "It was the same for John, he'd been anxious and working up for it, and you could see he was getting more stressed as it got closer.

"I would be worried if he wasn't like that - I don't believe anyone who says they aren't like that. You can act like a robot in the paddock, but if you're not nervous of what is going on out there then you shouldn't be doing it."

Dunlop's family dynasty had an impact on John

Family is a word that keeps cropping up throughout the conversation, and Becky admits that "it's the most important thing ever in life, it's all that matters".

The couple's eldest child Ewan has an understanding of what his father does, while eight-year-old Maisie is blissfully unaware of the sport.

She added: "If John came into the motorhome after a bad session and Maisie was playing with her toys and she wanted him to join in, then the racing is put behind him, it's amazing when he sees the kids' faces.

"When Ewan was younger he was a huge pirate fan, and John would be in his racing leathers coming back to the motorhome to be a pirate with him in a matter of minutes. He's just a wonderful Dad to the kids.

"I think having kids made him stronger because he wanted to prove to his kids what he can do. I think it makes you more grounded and more stable within yourself.

"We've both come from nothing in a council estate and it's surreal that we've both been able to live our dream. No matter what happens, we've made some great memories as a family and the ups definitely outweigh the downs.

"A really big thing for John was when he rode with Joey Dunlop at Honda. Joey was John's ultimate idol and I remember he was beaming from ear to ear and when looking across the garage.

"Joey was a man of very few words, but he was a massive family man. We connected over that and I think we learned a lot from his approach. It worked for Joey and it worked for us."

John McGuinness on his return to racing at Tuesday's North West 200 practice session
John McGuinness on his return to racing at Tuesday's North West 200 practice session

Isle of Man TT record 'would be nice'

With John back in action, and with the Isle of Man TT looming, is the 'Morecambe Missile' thinking about the possibility of reaching Dunlop's record of 26 wins around the Island?

"I don't think Joey's record is something he chases," said Becky. "He has 23 wins at the TT when even getting one is an amazing achievement.

"It'd be nice, but it would also be nice to leave Joey with the record. I think it will happen eventually, maybe not with John, but someone down the line will catch up.

"John is 47 years old and he hasn't got age on his side like the others do. In saying that, I don't think he has an end point in mind either. I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth because, after everything, we're still at it, so we'll see what happens down the line."

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