Eight years ago, a 16-year-old Manxman was sat in Royal Liverpool Hospital with multiple injuries following a crash at Jurby, but moments after his 40th hour in surgery he began to search the internet for parts to repair his stricken GP125.
Onchan born Nathan Harrison laid in his hospital bed with one focus; to be allowed to leave hospital in time to see his hero John McGuiness roar around the 37.73-mile Isle of Man TT course.
Not only did he achieve that goal, now for the 2023 Isle of Man TT, he joins his hero at the most successful team and manufacturer to grace the island’s famous motorcycle races, Honda Racing, but even when he was at his lowest all those years ago, he was still fully determined he would race around his home course one day.
“In 2015 I had a big crash at the age of 16, I ended up breaking both my femurs, my left lower tibia and fibia, I shattered my ankle, both of my collarbones and my lower back… that was all from one crash,” Harrison said in an exclusive interview with BikeSocial.
“So, I ended up spending a good few months in Royal Liverpool hospital, I had over 40 hours of operations and now my left ankle is fused, so I have a right hand gear change like Hutchy.
“That helped me mature at any early age, so when I’m out on the track I do think about my riding more, in terms of pushing harder in certain places, a younger me would have done it whereas now I think about it more. In a way it has helped me, but it hasn’t helped me injury wise I’m sure I’ll pay for it when I’m older.
“Bikes were my focus at that time. Even after the crash I was sat looking for parts to repair the bike. Getting back home for TT was a focus, so I could watch the racing. Dad would put me in the back of the van, we’d drive to somewhere on the course and he would wheel me out and we’d watch the action. It gave me the drive to get back racing, I never thought I’d not ride a bike again.”
Harrison endured countless surgeries to repair his broken bones, which took two years of his life to fully recover from, but he knew at some point he’d back on a bike again, taking inspiration from the likes of 19-time TT winner, Ian Hutchinson.
But as he began to get back to full fitness and achieving his dreams of becoming a TT racer he was hit another earth-shattering blow, one that would potentially change he life forever.
Nathan was told his Mum had been diagnosed with life threatening cancer, meaning she was forced to stop work. After numerous trips across to England, countless visits to Noble’s Hospital and even trips to Spain for specialist treatment, Nathan was determined to give him Mum something extra to fight for, the sight of seeing him roar down Bray Hill.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, taking two wins at the 2019 Manx Grand Prix and producing a solid TT debut in 2022 where he finished all five races he started and achieving a top 10 finish in the Milwaukee Senior TT with a best overall lap speed of 128.094mph.
He would then impress even more during the 2022 Manx GP, taking second place in the Classic Superbike race, taking the best lap of the race on his final lap, achieving a speed of 126.326mph onboard the Greenall Kawasaki ZX-R750.
However, even in the darkest of times for the Harrison family they take the positives out of it and turn them into motivation, with Nathan’s Mum joking that she ‘better still be here’ come TT 2023 to see her son achieve his dream of racing for Honda Racing.
Nathan and his Mum (left) enjoying his 2022 ManxGP success
“Obviously my Mum is a proper strong lady, she’s going through one of the worst things you can go through in life. But at the end of the day when I put my helmet on and go racing she wants the best for me.
“If she can be there, she’ll be there, providing her treatments go well and no doubt when I go out for the first time she’ll be there. She can’t believe it, she didn’t really understand it when I first told her, she said ‘so you’ll be in the big red and white truck?!’, so for her to see it will be great, she’s a put real positive spin on it all.
“She is going through a rough time, but as a family we take the positives out of it and make the best of it. She’s a strong person, and if it puts a smile on her face then I’m happy.
“She does have an on-going joke, she keeps saying ‘I better make it to TT so I can see you set off on that bike.’ She has that motivation, I keep saying it but she is a strong women, she has that fight. She’ll be there come June, I know she will, and I know I’ll get that hug from her before I set off.”
Family is everything to the 24-year-old from Onchan, with Dad, Dean, doing everything possible to give Nathan the best equipment to go and show his talents. Brother, Glenn, a former TT-racer himself, turning the spanners to ensure is right for his younger brother, as well as others jumping in to put him in the best position.
And he joked that his Mum ‘doesn’t know half of what has been put into the racing’ in the past, going on to say that it’ll be a long time before he’s paid them back for their faith placed on him. But he hopes that his new deal with Honda Racing is a nice way of saying ‘thank you’ to them all.
“I think it’ll be a long time paying them back with the amount of money I’ve cost them, but in a way yes. Mum and Dad are made up for me, but without them I wouldn’t be sat here talking about this opportunity I have.
“It’s them that have got me here, it’s them that put thousands of pounds into me over the years, put it this way Mum doesn’t know half of what has gone into it. But for them to see this makes me happy.
“Obviously, I’ve done my riding on the track, but they’ve provided me with the right equipment to do that. It’s more of a thank you really, for them to see this and witness it is special.
“Dad will always be involved, it keeps him busy, it’s how it’s always been. He’ll still be there in some way, but it will be a bit of a change for him. He now won’t have the worry of ‘has this been done’, he’ll now be with me, living it and watching it all unfold.”
Honda Racing are the most successful team at the ‘rock’, with hundreds of podiums and many famous victories thanks to likes of Joey Dunlop, and of course John McGuinness. But is that history transferring into added pressure for Harrison?
“I’m not feeling the pressure yet,” he admitted. “I think I’m too laid back for that. I’m not that type of person to take pressure on, especially with the mentality I’ve got, it’s been drummed into me from an early age to go out and enjoy myself.
“I’m here, I’ve got the opportunity, Harv has told me there is no pressure from Honda’s side of things, they want it to be a long-term plan and they want to help improve me. I’m relishing the opportunity, it’s all new to me, with John as well he’s said he’ll take off any pressure where he can, and he’ll help keep me calm.
“Everybody feels pressure before the start, but it’ll be no different to me, with my mindset and the way I am I’ll treat it as going around the best course in the world, on probably the best bike at the TT, and I’ll be enjoying it, I’ll be loving it.
“Harv will be massively important as well. He’s already told me that if I am feeling any pressure to tell him, talk to him and he’ll do everything he can to release that pressure. There may be things off the track he’ll push me on, training etc etc, but on track he’s said to talk to him if I am feeling it, which is fantastic to know. I don’t think I will feel it, just with the way I am like I say, but it’s great to know that if I do then I have Harv and John to help me.
“John has said to me that over 20 years ago he was joining Joey Dunlop as a teammate, and then 20 years I’m joining John as a teammate, so if I can follow in both of their footsteps I’ll be doing alright. Harv has said to me this is a steppingstone, he’s not expecting me to win a TT in 2023, or get on a podium, he wants me to learn, improve myself and improve with the team. But if I can be here in 20 years’ time with someone like me as I am now then that is my ultimate aim.
“To be getting called upon for the factory Honda team, they’re the most successful team around the TT course, it’s the team that everyone wants to ride for, the Fireblade is the most successful machine around the TT, joining John as his teammate, it’s just a dream come true for me.
“It’s the truck that I always used to follow when I was a kid, I always wanted to follow John, I wanted to be John McGuinness, so to be his teammate and hopefully learn a thing or two from him will be fantastic, I’m just in dream land.”
What are the next steps for Nathan Harrison? Where does he now go as a ‘factory’ Honda rider? Well, he has a lot to learn before his second Isle of Man TT, he must understand how the Fireblade superbike works, a machine he’s not yet ridden, and does he feel he could be the first Manxman to win an Isle of Man TT?
“I’m going to Spain on my own bikes at the start of February, to blow the cobwebs off, get up to speed and get back into the groove. Then when I go to the proper tests I’ll be aiming to get as much time on the superbike, I’ve never ridden one before so it will be good to know where I am. The chassis, the swinging arm, the engine, everything will be different. So as much time as I can get on it will certainly help ahead of the year.
“I’ll be happy to get my first run down Bray Hill in June, I always get myself prepared for that bit as I find it as the only scary point on the course, so when I get past it I’ll be much happier on the superbike. It’s the only part of the course that gets me, is from the top of St. Ninians to the bottom of Bray Hill, but that first lap on my home ground onboard the full factory Honda superbike will be a very special moment.
“Being Manx it’s what I want to do, it’s a long-term goal but I want to win a TT, it would be a dream come true. That is why I race bikes, to win a TT in the future, I don’t know when that will be, but if I do get there, I honestly don’t know what I’d say.”