From a small workshop in Silsden, West Yorkshire, Danny Horne builds motorbikes to compete in the world’s most iconic motorcycle road race, the Isle of Man TT – a race that is considered to be the ultimate challenge for both rider and bike.
“I think I have the best job in the world,” says Danny. “Road racing is an amazing sport to be a part of and nothing compares to watching a bike that you’ve built win races at the TT.”
As he gives a guided tour of the bikes he is currently working on, watched by his faithful dog Amber from her seat on the workshop sofa, it becomes clear why he is held in such high regard by the road racing community.
“I do think that being a Yorkshireman helps. We tend to be straight talking and I think people appreciate that. What you see is what you get. If you’re honest and kind you’ll get the support, whether that’s from the team owners, sponsors or the fans who come and see us at race meetings,” he says.
He credits his dad with encouraging his passion for motorbikes and giving him the kick-start he needed that set him on the journey to where he is now.
“As a kid I remember going out with my dad and brother on our scramble bikes up to The Flappit, near Keighley. I was only five at the time, but that’s where it all started for me. It was motorbikes and rugby in our family and I always knew that I’d make a career out of one of them.”
“I didn’t expect to do that well in my GCSEs and although I had a fair bit of success in the rugby, it wasn’t going to be for me, so my dad got me an apprenticeship at Colin Appleyard’s workshop in Keighley and that’s where my love of working with race bikes really started.”
The Appleyards are well known for bringing on race mechanics and riders and have always run their own race teams, which is where Danny met racer Jonny Rea and moved from his beloved Silsden for the first and only time.
“I’d been working with Jonny as part of Appleyard’s Red Bull Rookies team and when he had the opportunity to race with Honda, who are based in Louth, he was able to take his own mechanic and he asked me to go with him. Working for Honda was a great experience and I learnt a lot, but I missed home so after a season with them I decided to set up on my own and work from here.”
Moving back home worked out well for him and the list of people that he has worked with since he set out on his own 12 years ago include British and World superbike teams. However it was the move from circuit to road racing that proved to be the most influential for him.
“I had the opportunity to work with the late Martin Finnegan, an Irish racer who became a great friend. I can honestly say he was the most enjoyable rider I’ve ever worked with. He introduced me to road racing and I learnt a lot from him.
“In 2008 I had my first superbike wins at the TT with team TAS Suzuki and TT racer Cameron Donald.
“Nothing can prepare you for the feeling you get when you see the bike come over the line and take the win. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Another of his more memorable experiences include working with former road racer and TV personality Guy Martin. He gives a wry smile.
“Working with Guy was certainly interesting. He was very ‘old school’ and we spent a lot of time working out of the back of a van and attending small road race meetings across the UK. It was different to what I was used to, but I really enjoyed it.”
During his years working with Guy, he was also involved in the making of the film TT: Closer to the Edge. The feature documentary focuses on TT riders and their efforts to win what is considered the world’s most dangerous race. “Being a part of the film was a fantastic experience. I’ll always put myself forward to be a part of things like that. I want to promote the sport in a positive way.”
For the past five years Danny has been chief mechanic for the RC Express team and is responsible for looking after the bikes and managing the team. “My team bosses are based in Bristol, so they trust me to get on with things here and I respect that. We are a small team and when we go racing it feels like a family. I’ve worked for teams in the past where it became ‘just a job’ but working with these lads doesn’t feel like that.”
He also believes that the relationship between the mechanic and the rider can be the key to success in a race, particularly the TT where they won’t see each other for almost 40 miles until the first pit stop.
“Trust between us is essential. For a rider to set off flat out down Bray Hill without checking a nut or a bolt on the bike is massive. I will always go that extra mile to make sure that the bike is as good and safe as it can be and if they know that they’ll ride more confidently.”
However Danny is only too well aware of the dangers of racing. In 2006 his brother Matthew was killed at a circuit race meeting at Mallory Park in Derbyshire.
“My brother was a great racer and a club champion. He’d decided to retire from racing but when I started to have a go I think his competitive side came out so we decided we’d race together as a team – I even bought us matching Arai helmets.
“Sadly we never got the chance to make that happen, so everything I do now is to make him proud. I like to think that he lives on in the passion I have for building the best race bikes that I can.”
This year has been a particularly difficult year for road racing. The team’s rider Ivan Lintin is still recovering from a crash that killed popular Driffield rider James Cowton in July.
“Ivan’s crash on the Isle of Man really hit home for me and losing James in the same accident was deeply upsetting for all of us. I will always love the sport and trying to stay positive when things go wrong can be tough, but you have to come to terms with it.”
In answer to those who believe the sport is too dangerous and should be banned, or the bikes restricted he says: “I don’t think you should restrict road racing. Life is all about developing things to go better, bigger and faster and there are risks in all walks of life. Instead I’d like to see more money invested in air ambulances and race marshals.
“I take the dangers seriously and I like everything to be meticulous. You’re working at the highest level and I think it’s the added pressure of the danger that makes this job so exciting. You just can’t have one without the other.
“I don’t know if I see myself as an ambassador, but I love talking about road racing and sharing my passion for the sport.
“I’m proud of the fact that TT winning bikes are being built in a back street workshop in Silsden.” He smiles proudly as he raises his ever present mug of Yorkshire tea in a toast to his home town.
To find out more about his work you can follow him on Twitter @danny_horne and for racing news visit www.rcexpressracing.co.uk