Nerves, anticipation, excitement, exhilaration – it is that time of the year when all of the old feelings return for former Preston motorbike racer Alan Jackson Jr.
The world famous Isle of Man TT Festival gets under way later this month – where bikers from all around the world converge to compete for the title of the fastest.
Run on a time trial format and over different classes and categories, the public roads around the island are closed for a fortnight as riders reach death-defying speeds of well over 100mph.
Famous Sports Illustrated writer Franz Lidz once called the spectacle “38 Miles of Terror... a test of nerves and speed that may be sports’ most dangerous event”.
For Jackson the small island situated in the Irish Sea has very much defined his life.
The son of three-time winner of the TT, Alan Jackson Sr, Jackson grew up watching his father compete at the event.
And despite being only a couple of weeks old when he first visited the island, there was probably never any doubt that he would go on to follow in his old man’s footsteps.
He went on to compete at the TT for many years, winning the 750cc Production Class in 2003.
The 38-year-old also achieved success at the island’s other famous racing event – the Manx Cup, which takes place in August.
He broke the outright lap record for that event in 2004 – a mark which stood for 10 years.
However, two years later his racing career was finished when he suffered life-changing injuries in an horrific accident on the island.
Injuring both legs badly, Jackson spent four months in hospital.
It was after that unfortunate episode that the New Longton man decided to focus all of his attentions to running Jackson Racing, a motorcycle road racing team which has gone from strength to strength in recent times. Working with some of the best riders in the sport over the years, such as serial TT winners John McGuinness, James Hillier and Ian Lougher, the team is hoping to make its mark once more at this year’s event.
“It’s that time of the year isn’t it,” said Jackson.
“It’s a bit of excitement, nerves, not knowing what’s coming – there’s a bit of everything really.
“The Isle of Man holds some good memories for me and my family. Don’t get me wrong, there are some bad memories as well.
“My dad raced over there. He was triple world champion and won the TT three times in 1977, ’78 and ’79.
“He also won the Manx Grand Prix in 1979.
“My dad had some great years over there and that’s where we – me, my brother and sister – all kind of grew up. Me and my brother Andy followed my dad into racing.
“I think I raced for the first time at the age of 17.
“I won the production class in 2005 and I also held the lap record at the Manx GP.
“You always try to remember the good memories and try to put the bad to the back of your mind.”
The TT has unfortunately witnessed 252 fatalities among competitors over the years and, although his accident happened at the Manx GP, Jackson knows only too well of the dangers lurking for every rider on the island.
“The island does get a bad press, but things can happen wherever you go. You can step outside and get run over by a car.
“Everybody knows the risks before you go.
“The sport is selfish. As soon as you click your visor down and set off down Bray Hill at the start, you don’t know what’s waiting for you.
“There is a nasty side to it, but hopefully everybody comes home safe.
“But the atmosphere, the adrenalin you get is something else.
“It’s not legal is it really. You’re riding through a village like Kirk Michael.
“Normally, there’s a 30mph speed limit – there are houses at either side of the road – and you’re going 100-plus mph through there.
“It’s insane isn’t it really?
“But the thrill and the buzz that you get from it is unbelievable.
“It’s almost like a drug – it’s addictive. Once you go once, you can’t help but go back.”
Jackson, who works on the team alongside his father and brother, revealed the team has slightly changed tack this year.
After working with established stars in the past, the team decided to set up an academy last year.
They are looking to the future of road racing, helping the next generation of rider to develop safely into race winners of tomorrow.
Craig Neve is the team’s first rider to compete at the TT under the academy banner and he will be joined by more experienced riders in Dan Kneen and Steve Mercer.
“It sounds daft and a bit crazy how it’s worked out, but after the TTs last year we came away thinking, ‘Where does the next crop of fresh talent come from?’,” said Jackson.
“John McGuinness – the absolute legend and hero who has rode for us before – He was injured and we were thinking if John doesn’t come back or Hillier doesn’t come back, what do we do?
“We kind of got our heads together and launched this academy idea. That is where Craig comes in. He’s a good lad who wants to learn. He listens to what you tell him and every time he rides, he seems to be making progress.
“We are working closely with Craig to try to put him in that shop window so that in a couple of years’ time, he gets picked up by one of the factory teams. Youth is a feeder to the future.
“The academy idea is kind of working well – Craig is taking on board what we are saying and he seems to be moving forward during every session.
“If you look, John McGuinness is still injured so he’s not going to be there, Bruce Anstey is not so well at the moment.
“So it’s sad that these boys are not going to be there this year, but the TT will still be carrying on.
“So we need to bring through some fresh talent.
“We had two riders in the academy to start with, but we have just parted company with one – Daley Mathison.
“We also have Dan Kneen, who is the established rider on the 600.
“Dan’s had some good outing this season.
“We have been to Anglesey, which was a club race.
“Dan won the 600cc races and Craig was second.
“He’s had some other good results. He is at that point in his career where everything seems to be falling into place if that makes sense.
“His fitness levels, his bikes are good – he’s in a good place himself.
“Dan’s in the Supersport again and he could have a good result at the TT.
“We were keen to maintain a strong presence in the 1000cc races at the Isle of Man and so we’re delighted to welcome Steve back to the team.
“We’ve worked really well together in the past and enjoyed some great results, particularly in 2016 when he finished in the top 12 in four races at the TT and recorded a whole host of personal best laps.”