Some sons inherit a watch from their dad, or maybe his golf clubs, or, if they’re really lucky, a nice house and a hefty bank balance.
Taylor and Tarran Mackenzie got something far more valuable – a money-can’t-buy genetic predisposition towards stratospheric speed. Oh, and their old man’s fans.
“We seem to have inherited all dad’s fans,” laughs 19-year-old Taylor. “I love racing at Knockhill because it’s my home track – all my earliest memories are from here really – but we also love it because we get so much support here. When Dad stopped riding, a lot of his fans just seemed to transfer their allegiance to us, which is just one of the many reasons why it’s so good to be racing here.”
Nor are we talking just a few fans. In a 20-year career, during which the three-times British Superbike champion established himself as arguably the greatest Scottish motorcycle racer, Niall Mackenzie built up a huge fanbase. Now, 12 years after he retired, many of those fans will be at Knockhill today hoping to witness the emergence of a Mackenzie motorcycling dynasty.
Niall will still be there, but this time his role will not be centre stage; rather, it’s to oversee the development of his two young sons, both of whom are shaping up to be proper chips off the old block.
Taylor, fresh from a year touring the world in MotoGP, will be competing in the 600cc British Supersport Championship, which is the level below British Superbikes. His younger brother, 16-year-old Tarran – known to everyone as “Taz” – will be flying the family flag in the British 125cc Championship.
They are there on merit, too. Both have provided independent verification of their promise by becoming Red Bull Rookies, which is to bikers what the BRDC Young Driver of the Year award is to aspiring young Formula One drivers. Or, as Taz, right, describes it, “like the X Factor for motorbike racers”.
The Red Bull scheme is open to any young riders: thousands apply online, sending in their results, with Red Bull selecting 150 to try out for two days at Jerez. Half are eliminated on the first day, before ten are chosen to go and compete in eight rounds of the MotoGo series in Europe, with everything paid for, including identical bikes and equipment.
“It’s an amazing shop window on the motorsport world,” says Niall. “If you’re picked then you’re one of the chosen few. Both my kids got in so I can die happy because nothing matches up to getting into the Red Bull set-up and they did that completely on their own merits.”
Not that either son seems unduly worried by the idea that they might be getting a leg-up from their dad. Taylor has very few memories of Niall’s racing day, except for his dad spraying champagne in his eye from the winner’s podium, while Taz never saw his dad race. “Everyone thinks that there must be pressure to live up to what Dad achieved,” says Taylor, “but the only pressure I get is from myself really so his success has never really affected me. Out on the track there are so many things to think about that stuff like that just doesn’t cross your mind.”
It’s perhaps little surprise that Taylor and Taz’s focus is completely absorbed by the high-octane racing. Taylor’s average speed around Knockhill is around 95mph, with his bike hitting 160mph on the straight; Taz’s 125cc bike will lap at 85-90mph and hit a top speed of 140mph.
In fact, rather than his boys feeling the heat, it is dad Niall who has the most time to fret. “When I stopped racing I knew it was time because I’d been racing for 20 years and was ready to have a rest,” he says. “When we [the family] made the decision to go racing, I was quite excited because I love motorbikes and motorbike racing, but the day they actually went out on the track that’s the day I realised what my parents went through.
“You live in fear because you know they’ve got to go out there and make all the mistakes. You know that, unfortunately, they will get hurt because they can only learn by crashing, and you hope it’s never too serious. But there were a few moments in the first year when my wife and I wondered whether we had made the right decision.
“The worst moment was when we went testing in Spain and an experienced rider who should’ve known better wiped Taylor out in front of us. He broke his collar bone and was stuck in a hideous hospital in Spain and, as a parent, you’ve got no control. There’s nothing you can do to help, so there were a few heartfelt conversations.
“But you can’t suddenly say: ‘Actually, we aren’t going to go racing anymore’ because they would be devastated. We made them aware when they started racing that they can walk away at any point if they’re not enjoying it, but that day doesn’t seem likely to come any time soon.”
Indeed, both sons are set on a career as professional motorbike racers. Taylor’s appetite was whetted last year when he competed in the MotoGP, travelling around the world and working in the same pits at Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. “I was at school up to the halfway point of the season so I was racing in Qatar at the weekend and then Monday morning I was back at school and everyone was saying: ‘I’ve just watched you on TV!’” says Taylor. And whether or not the two boys deliver the success the Mackenzie fans crave today, few would bet against them making many more television appearances and following in father’s footsteps for many years to come.