Neil Hodgson and John McGuinness have been good friends for more than 20 years. Both are road racers — one in a more literal sense — and both are from the north of England. They’ve both been very successful; Hodgson won the 2003 World Superbike Championship racing on purpose-built and very safe racetracks around the world, while McGuinness has won 19 races on the lethal roads that make up the TT course at the Isle of Man. Ironically, the younger 38-year-old Hodgson — McGuinness is 40 — was the first to be forced into retirement. After severely dislocating his shoulder in a motocross training accident in California in 2009, Hodgson landed on the same shoulder during Sunday morning warm-up for the opening round of the 2010 British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch and knew his career was over.
The idea was to have the boys talk about their racing careers, where they intersected, where they didn’t. So we started with Daytona. Daytona 1997 was McGuinness’ first trip to the U.S. and he thoroughly enjoyed it. He’d go on to win the 250cc race in 1999, after Luis Lavado was disqualified for illegal fuel, then without question in 2000. Hodgson rode at Daytona in 1995, but that didn’t prepare him when he returned for the Dunlop tire test in January 2005 after a dismal year in MotoGP with the d’Antin Ducati team.
“I’m not afraid to say, it’s scary as hell,” Hodgson said at the time. “I said to my mechanic, ‘In Barcelona I did 212 mph last year. And on a scale of 1 to 10 of scary, that was 1 and going around the banking is 10.’”
Winning the World Superbike...
Winning the World Superbike Championship aboard the factory Ducati 999 in 2003 was the crowning achievement of Neil Hodgson’s career. He was quickly snapped up by the D’Antin Ducati MotoGP team for 2004, but things didn’t turn out as planned.
Hodgson lives on the Isle of Man, but never raced the TT. He’s said he gets knots in his stomach watching his friends ride. Surprisingly, McGuinness, from Morecambe on England’s northwest coast, has similar feelings. The difference is that his feelings fade with each passing mile. McGuinness’ 19 TT wins are second only to the 26 of Joey Dunlop.
SR: How does the TT compare to Daytona?
Hodgson: I never wanted to do the TT because it was too dangerous. The first time I’m going around the (Daytona) banking, I’m thinking to myself, in third gear on that Ducati scaring myself on and off the throttle, thinking, ‘I never wanted to do the TT and now I’ve agreed to do this?’ But the problem was, I knew I was in third gear and I had been told that you had to be in sixth and wide open, like not let off at all. So it took me a while to get my head around that.
Did you enjoy riding it, even with the danger?
Hodgson: Yeah, I did in the end. But I think that becomes the buzz in the thrill and I’m sure the TT’s like that, having, like I said, never had the balls to do that. But I’m sure that every time you’ve done it, you think that’s amazing.
When was your first trip to Daytona?
McGuinness heads around the...
McGuinness heads around the blind Handley’s bend on his way to the Dainese Superbike TT win. “The concentration levels are always really high. Sometimes you don’t think, ‘This is great.’”
It was 1997. I went there with an Aprilia team called Paul Bird. It was a bit frustrating the first time we went because I crashed in the heat race. I was like the third or fourth fastest rider of everybody when we had like a five-lap heat race and my bike seized and it spat me off going into turn one.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, to be fair. After it seized up they chucked us out of the paddock at 6:30 or whatever, so we put it into the van and took it to the hotel. We couldn’t get the bike in (the elevator), so we had to lift it up, and stand it up like it was doing a wheelie. And we were up to the fifth floor, got the bike out, put in the room and we worked on it. Did a bit of crash damage and stuff. First time in the states, 25 (years old). I hadn’t done much traveling. We had a great time as well. We sort of treated it as a bit of a holiday. It was this completely new world. I really enjoyed it, I have to say.
You’d raced on roads. Were you intimidated by Daytona?
I was, yeah. Obviously with the walls and the nature of the circuit and the uniqueness of it, it did take quite a few laps to have the confidence to run it straight up to the wall out of turn six. That one was a little bit slower on to the banking. Through the chicane, then you just whiz straight to the wall. I walked the track and I wished hadn’t, to be honest, because that wall’s a lot bigger than it looks like on the television or when you look at it from the paddock. The track at the time, there were big holes in it.
How does Daytona compare to the Isle of Man?
McGuinness: I think it’s totally different.
Is your comfort level higher at the Isle of Man?
McGuinness: Probably not, really. You never get absolutely comfortable with racing at the Isle of Man. The concentration levels are always really high. I suppose racing anywhere, it’s probably if you have a result, the after-buzz is the best of it, then you feel great. But I don’t know, Daytona is similar to somewhere like the Northwest 200 with the big straight and the slipstream and the drafting. I mean every track’s…the TT’s another level isn’t it? You never really get comfortable with it. And even now that I’m actually thinking about it, I get that feeling in me stomach now. If I don’t think about it…it’s fine if you’re away with friends, whatever. Then someone will mention something and I get a flash of the TT and think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be going there in a few months.’
Hodgson: And it’s a constant pressure you put yourself under. And the pressure that John is under with the expectations, he’ll definitely be a jolly retired rider when he decides to call it a day.