British Superbike, BSB, Niall Mackenzie, Taylor Mackenzie, Tarran Mackenzie
Twenty years after their father won the first of three consecutive British Superbike championships, Taylor and Tarran Mackenzie became the first brothers to win British championships in the same year. While Taylor dominated the Superstock 1000 class on his Buildbase BMW this year, Tarran wrapped up the British Supersport crown in his rookie season in the class on his Team WD-40 Kawasaki. With three champs living under one roof, we decided we had to visit the Mackenzie household to discover what makes them all so fast. Turns out it's porridge.
Boys will be boys and the Mackenzie brothers are no exception. While they've always got along well, Taylor (23) and Tarran (just turned 21) have never been strangers to a bit of laddish behaviour. 'When we were little Taz once bust a wrestling move on me, flipped me on my back, and cracked my head off the toilet bowl really hard' says Taylor. 'But because he was the youngest, he'd always cry and shout “Mum! Dad! He hit me!” and I'd end up getting done for it!'
'I broke Taylor's collarbone on the coffee table one time' Taz admits.
'Yeah, I had a Gameboy in my hand and Taz wanted it so he pushed me hard into the coffee table and I snapped my collarbone.'
'I broke my mum's wrist once too' Taz adds. 'My Yamaha PW50 had three buttons on the bar – 'off', 'start' and 'run.' My mum pushed start (which fires the engine up but doesn't allow the bike to move forward) and was warming the bike up as I put my helmet on. I accidentally flipped the switch to 'run' and my mum took off round the yard, one hand holding onto the bike, and broke her scaphoid! Oh, and Taylor broke his toe when he kicked my knee once too.'
Things are slightly calmer now that the Mackenzie boys are all grown up and both British champions – but not that much. These days the mischief is mainly focused on the self-made dirt track that takes up much of mum Jan's neatly manicured garden. 'She agreed we could have half of it' Niall says, 'so I bought a harrow on eBay and we set to work making our own Mackenzie Ranch!'
The garage has been converted into a gym so the boys can train and ride every day of the year without even leaving their home near Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
Niall Mackenzie knows what it takes to make champions. He scored seven podiums in Grand Prix in an era when 500cc two-strokes were the most vicious bikes ever built and the competition was even more fearsome. Mackenzie has raced against – and beaten – all-time greats including Wayne Rainey, Mick Doohan, Kevin Schwantz, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Gardner. He is also the only man to have won three consecutive British Superbike titles. And while his boys clearly respect him and his achievements, taking the Mick is part and parcel of being a Mackenzie. 'A lot of people say I look just like my dad when I'm riding the bike' Taz says. 'But that offends me because I think he's got a shit riding style! It's just my shape and size – I can't help it!'A swift cuff round the ear later, Niall Mac delivers his end of term report on his sons' astonishing 2017 seasons. 'They're both learning and getting better every year – this is still an apprenticeship' he says. 'Taz's career has been quite clearly marked out, step by step, so I knew he would go well because he was on a very similar bike to last year when he rode in the Superstock 600 class. He ran at the front of that class so it was quite a natural transition for him. I thought he'd be there or thereabouts but I didn't think he'd win the championship! After all, the level or riding is higher and the lap times were very fast this year so it's not like he won it at a slower pace. It was a combination of many things that made the difference; his race engineer - Daryll Young - his team giving him really good kit, and Taz covering every base as far as training, riding, nutrition and preparation goes. We were hoping for a couple of podiums but by halfway through the year we knew it was game on.'
'If you'd asked me at the start of the year where I thought I could finish in the championship I'd have said top five probably, with maybe the odd podium' Taz admits. 'I finished second in the opening race but it was a bit of a strange race results-wise. But by the second round I realised I had the pace to actually challenge for the title. I started that race in 16th and had worked my way up to second and was taking time out of the leader before I crashed. But that's when I knew I genuinely had the pace.'
That pace saw him beat James Westmoreland in the final round at Brands Hatch to wrap up his first British title – making him the youngest Mackenzie to do so. Taylor won his first title two rounds earlier at 23 – the same age his dad was when he took his first British title in the 350cc class in 1984.
While Taz was competitive in the Superstock 600 class last season and in the Moto3 championship before that, Taylor has not had such a smooth ride, thanks to a series of uncompetitive bikes, poorly run teams, and sheer bad luck. 'Taylor had a lot of lean years in racing but I hoped he would keep going because I could always see that there was talent there and I wasn't alone in thinking that' Niall says. 'I'm very much aware there were lots of people over the years saying “Oh, it's not going to happen for the Mackenzie boys – their dad was alright but it's not happening for them.” But that was never a problem and we just kept on trying to do our best. Every year there's been a reason why Taylor hasn't gone so well, from uncompetitive bikes to plain bad luck or not having the right team and people around him. This year he proved that with the right bike and the right team he's definitely got the ability.
'At the end of last season he had no ride lined up for this year but he trained harder than ever all through the winter. His bike broke down so many times last season but he still kept pushing when other riders would have walked away. It wasn't the team's fault, it just didn't work out and ended up being a disastrous season but I think that was the making of him as a rider really. I always knew that with the right bike he'd be alright and he's proved that beyond doubt this year.'
Few people realise just how close Taylor Mackenzie came to retiring from racing altogether last year. Totally disheartened by uncompetitive and unreliable machinery, he had a proper sit-down with his parents to discuss his future. 'At Knockhill in the middle of last year I had the conversation with my mum and dad about quitting. At Snetterton the bike went on fire (the spectacular footage has now been viewed more than 16 million times across the internet) but Knockhill was my best track of the year so I was all pumped and ready for a good result. I had trained my nuts off in the summer break but the second I left pit lane for the first session the bike wouldn't run. Then in the next session I had an oil leak and got black-flagged and I just thought “What am I doing this for?” I was putting so much effort in and just not getting any results. My dad kept telling me that people didn't know how good I was – that I just hadn't had the opportunity to show them. But I didn't see how I was going to get that opportunity. That night he asked me if I wanted to just pack it up but there was something inside me that just wouldn't say 'yes' even though a big part of me wanted to. So I decided to see the year out and before the final race I tested Hudson Kennaugh's Superstock bike and realised I could actually ride. That was the best 20 minutes of my season. I mean, the bike actually kept going and changed gear and did what it was supposed to do! So I decided to have one last crack in the Superstock class in 2016.'
Taylor's dominance of the 2016 season was such that he wrapped up the title with two rounds to spare – not bad considering his main title rival was TT legend Ian Hutchinson. 'This year was all about getting Taylor on a solid bike that would prove once and for all whether he could actually ride or not' Niall says. 'He had to prove it to himself as much as anyone else and he's certainly done that.'
While Mackenzie Senior spots for his boys during race weekends and is always on-hand to offer advice on tactics and race craft, he admits he can no longer hold a candle to them out on track. 'We do a lot of track days together but you're only really fooling around on those. The last time I was on track with them at their actual race pace was four or five years ago and I really didn't enjoy seeing them going that fast. I didn't like it. When they're at their proper pace it's all over for me – I can't stay with them. The last time I could take them on (at this point Taz and Taylor both howl with laughter as they suspect their old man's book of excuses is coming out!) was when they were on Superpsort 600's and I was on a 1000cc Superbike! But even if you gave me a 400cc advantage now, it's not happening – they're too fast for me now.'
As a former racer, Niall Mackenzie knows only too well the dangers involved in the sport and he's never tried to brush them under the carpet. It can't be easy for him or Jan (who provided rival team Tyco BMW's hospitality this season) to have to watch both sons hurtling around racetracks all year long at 180mph. 'When they first started racing we had all the conversations about the risks' he says. 'If you're going to race motorbikes you're going to get hurt – I mean, bike racing can be fatal, there's no point denying it. But they still wanted to do it so we just try to make it as safe as it can possibly be. They've had some horrendous crashes but mostly they've been alright and not picked up any major injuries. Taz does like to lose a lot of skin in crashes though – his arse is impressively skinnned!
Although they were practically born into a racing paddock, Taylor and Taz did not show any great interest in bikes in their early years. 'As kids they just did whatever their mates at school were doing so it was all football, tennis, hockey... So I'd say football was cancelled and force them into the garden on mini bikes! No, honestly, I didn't, I've never forced them. Taylor got a Yamaha PW50 for his fourth birthday - mostly because it was free from Yamaha - but he wasn't that keen really. Later on we got a little Blata minimoto that was in really crap condition and took it to the kart track at Colne near Burnley for a race and the boys loved it. Everybody else had proper vans with big awnings and all the equipment while we had a car, a few tools, and a tartan travelling rug! It rained on the second day and we didn't have any cover to work under, no wet tyres, nothing. It was a bit embarrassing really. Thankfully a Scottish family let us use their awning and showed us where to sign on and stuff because I had no idea what I was doing. If you look at the entry list from that weekend it includes Danny Kent, Bradley Ray, Fraser Rogers, Josh Daley – it's amazing how many current top riders were there.
'Anyway, soon afterwards a box arrived in the post from Alan McIntosh who's the Polini importer in Scotland. It had a brand new Polini in it and when I called him and asked about it he said “Oh I heard you were at Colne with the crappiest bike at the meeting and it was an embarrassment. Please let the boys ride something decent!”
'But he knew what he was doing because I was soon on the phone every five minutes for spares! We all got totally hooked and I even got a van and a proper awning and everything. After that the boys gradually gave up other sports and started concentrating on bikes – so it's all Alan McIntosh's fault!'
'We realised that if we got injured playing rugby at the weekend then we couldn't ride the bikes so that's why every other sport eventually got dropped' Taylor says. 'And Taz used to just copy whatever I did when we were kids so that's the only reason he started racing!'
Although great friends, Taylor and Taz have always been competitive, and sometimes in the weirdest of ways. 'When we were younger we were really competitive' Taylor says. 'We used to have this daft thing where, if one of us ran up the stairs, the other one would have to run into two different rooms before the other reached the top of the stairs! It was a strange kind of racing. These days it's more about pushing each other in the gym and on dirt bikes so that we both get better.'
This co-operation occurs at every race meeting too, with both boys helping each other out as best they can. 'We don't really get time to spot for each other but we do help each other' Taz says. 'Mum and dad usually got to a hotel at night so it's just me and Taylor in the caravan and we just talk through everything or go and walk the track or whatever.'
While nothing is decided yet for next season, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that the brothers could both end up racing against each other in the same championship one day. The last time they did that was back in their early days of 125cc racing but with Taylor having started racing in 2007 and Taz only in 2009, they weren't quite evenly matched. 'Taylor was at the front and I was at the back so he'd often lap me!' Taz laughs 'My job then was to try and hold up the other riders once Taylor came past me!'
Niall is still looking at options for next season before all three Mackenzies decide the best moves to make. 'Taylor's ridden everything from Superbikes to Supersport and Superstock - he even did a season in 125cc Grand Prix in 2011 (after finishing fifth in only his second GP, he suffered an unbelievable 24 breakdowns). To get him on a good bike in BSB would be great but it has to be the right team with the right bike and the right people around him because we've made mistakes in that department before. The Buildbase team want to keep him next year and Taylor's keen to stay with the team so it just depends on whether we can do a deal to put him on a Superbike. If not then he might stay in Superstock. The ideal scenario for Taz would be to go to World Supersport but that's not so easy. We've talked to several teams but they need riders to bring big budgets with them so he might stay in the UK to defend his championship too.'
Whatever championships they end up racing in, Taylor and Tarran have now proved that the second generation of Mackenzies is every bit as fast and competitive as the first one. Jan Mackenzie now has three British champions under one roof. So what's the secret to all this speed and success? Is it in the Mackenzie genes? Can the skills required to ride a motorcycle at championship-winning pace really be passed down from father to sons? No. The answer, apparently, is even simpler. 'Scott's Porridge Oats' Niall says. 'That's the real secret.'
Might be worth trying some before your next track day.
Having a famous racing name is a double-edged sword as Taylor Mackenzie explains:
'It has given us some big benefits but it's also worked against us because people just think “Oh, it's the Mackenzie's – they don't need anything, they've got their dad looking after them.” But we still need the same opportunities and sponsorship as every other rider. I like to think that me and Taz have done a lot of it on our own merit, just by meeting people and trying to be decent to people. That said, we wouldn't be racing bikes at all if it wasn't for dad so there's been more positives than negatives. As to the pressures of having a famous racing dad, my dad's just my dad – I didn't know the Niall Mackenzie who raced in Grand Prix in the 80s and 90s.'
Taylor and Tarran Mackenzie are just two of a growing number of famous racing brothers. Here's some of the others:
Marc and Alex Marquez
These two both won world titles in 2014 when Marc, the elder, took the MotoGP crown and Alex won in Moto3. Marc has always maintained that Alex is the quicker of the two but he's struggled to adapt to the Moto2 machines.
Sam and Alex Lowes
The identical twins' careers have veered off in different directions but both are world class. While Alex won the British Superbike Championship in 2013 Sam took the World Supersport title in the same year. Alex now races in World Superbikes while Sam is a Moto2 race winner and moves up to MotoGP next year with Aprilia.
Pol and Aleix Espargaro
It's rare that two brothers compete in the same class – especially the premier class of MotoGP – but that's what these Spanish siblings do, Aleix for Suzuki and Pol for Tech3 Yamaha. Neither has yet won a MotoGP race but Pol was Moto2 world champion in 2013.
Eugene, Michael and John Laverty
Not just two but three racing brothers, the Laverty's have raced in almost every championship there is. Eugene currently rides in MotoGP but will switch to WSB next year while Michael has returned to BSB from MotoGP. John Laverty has now retired from racing but still helps his brothers.
Michael and William Dunlop
On the pure road racing scene, Michael and William Dunlop are carrying on the brotherly tradition set by their dad, Robert, who regularly raced against his brother Joey. Michael is now a 13-times TT winner while elder brother William has won at most other road races but is yet to win a TT.
Photos: Mark 'Weeble' Manning