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A good record of a fine racer
on 15 December 2004
One of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do in journalism was to write an obituary for Steve Hislop. I did not know him well - we only met a few times during the years that I covered the British Superbike Championship for Race24 - but he was always approachable, friendly and helpful, not the image always given of him by the media at large.
This was also a man who could really ride a bike. Setting a lap record - beating none other than Valentino Rossi - is an achievement. But taking the record away from a full-specification GP bike, when riding a year old Superbike? This just doesn't happen. Only a truly special racer could do that. And when he was in the mood, Hizzy was a very special racer.
So what was the man really like? Hizzy: The Autobiography of Steve Hislop goes a long way to filling in the gaps.
The book covers the standard "We were little oiks" stuff that seems to be a requirement of character-building for any bike racer to begin with, but once Steve and his brother are first introduced to bikes, the story picks up with an evident passion.
It is remarkable how Hislop kept on with his racing career after losing a number of friends and indeed his brother at such an early stage. But persevere he did. With remarkable results - first as a TT rider where his achievement in winning on the rotary Norton could quite possibly not have been achieved by anyone else and then moving into short-circuit racing where he recorded titles at British Superbike and World Endurance.
The tales of racing, both on the Isle of Man and then around Britain, Suzuka and his exploits in the World Endurance Championship are great reading and give a real feel for what it is like when you are an up and coming rider, struggling for sponsorship and living out of the back of a van, through to hitting the "big time" with factory backing and all that comes with it, both good and bad.
And the bad is something that seemed to happen to Hizzy... a lot. A constant complaint throughout the book is how he was never paid enough, how people claimed he had a fragile psyche and so on and how if things had worked out differently, he should have been getting the best rides and the same kind of money as Carl Fogarty etc. Sadly, there is no smoke without fire.
Steve had run-ins with so many team managers and owners over the year that by the end, there were precious few teams left that he hadn't burned his bridges with - something he acknowledges in the book without ever really wondering why other people (such as Fogarty, no wallflower when it comes to expressing his opinion) could open their mouths without getting fired.
Whatever the reasons, it is sad to think about "What If"? What if Hislop had been able to play the game and keep teams, manufacturers and sponsors happy? Would he have made it to the very top of the pile? We will never know. But what this book does is to show just how bike racing was at the core of this man, how it saved him from a self-destructive pattern he had fallen into as a young man. But does it show the real Hislop?
I think it does. There is a passion in the writing, especially when dealing with racing, that is obviously Steve. He had an almost photographic memory when it came to track layouts and he clearly had fantastic recall of the rest of his life... even if he didn't always appreciate the reasons why other people saw him the way they did.
Ultimately, the book is a reflection of the man himself. Passionate, motivated, but ultimately flawed. If you can filter out the complaints about money and the treatment he got and focus on the man, both racer and human being, then this is a fitting memorial to a fine man and racer.