Guy Martin: My Autobiography

I spotted this in the bookshop at Heathrow on the way to Canada, but didn’t buy a copy until I was on my way back to Singapore; you have to make weightsavings somewhere, after all. It’s the first autobiography of a sportsman I can remember reading in years – the last was probably Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike (possibly subtitled "It’s About The Drugs, Actually" after the last few years’ revelations). Similar to Armstrong, Martin isn’t painted to appear like a very likeable person, but there’s a lot more to laugh about here.

Like the great Brewer’s Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics, the index is itself a joy to read, with "paper round, 43" following straight after "orgy, invitation to, 79-80". The ‘orgy’, such as it was, turns out not to be some Roman affair was mass nudity and orgiastic revels, but consists of ‘Dave’ and his girlfriend enjoying themselves while Guy Martin is "sat in the buff, except my socks, on the wheel arch in the back of a Transit van eating a Mars Bar", contentedly watching. The sheer prosaic absurdity (along with the overcapitalisation of Guy’s snack) means it’s not even tawdry, although between Guy Martin and the ever-repeated rumour about Marianne Faithfull, I can’t ever eat a Mars bar again within thinking it’s a bit too erotic, thank you very much.

Then there’s the description of the Ulster race, where Guy lists every corner in incredible detail, pausing at one point to explain that the place called The Hole In The Wall is named thusly because "there’s a wall with a hole in it." Well, I guffawed. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or if Guy was just worried some people wouldn’t be able to distinguish metaphor from reality.

The persona that is projected is of a bluff Northern type, opinionated and sure that he’s right about everything. If he wasn’t racing motorcycles and fixing trucks, he’d be sitting in a pub with a flat cap on, discussing whippets and calling people twats, I assume.

But although he’d be frustrating to have around, it would be interesting. At the three-quarter point of the book, he reveals a diagnosis of Aspergers’, which might go some way to explaining both the fractious relationships he’s had with racing team owners, and his incredible focus in memorising the corners of each race course. He makes a good point near the end that although he’s aware of what might happen, he doesn’t think of the consequences – crashing is a very matter-of-fact thing that you get on with, instead of stressing about. A lot like eating a Mars Bar in the back of a Transit van.

There’s also lots of injuries, whether that’s through crashing a motorcycle at such speed that it explodes, or hitting his mouth on the side of a barge and wrecking all his teeth. This might not be a good book for somebody with a weak stomach, or not while they’re enjoying their elevenses.

Certainly it’s an easy read aside from that, and as Guy isn’t a professional racer, constrained by the PR department of a motorcycle factory, he can be as rude as he likes about people without getting sacked. I galloped through it in a couple of days.

And he almost kills himself and another bloke by over-revving the engine from a Lancaster bomber. Really, what’s not to like?

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