Allan McNish (part 1)

Allan McNish from his beginnings in Dumfries has joined the world elite of motor sport. With a list of distinctions as long as any race track, to pick out some of the  highlights from which his place in motor sport folklore is assured:-

•Twice winner of the world’s most prestigious sports car race, Le Mans 24 Hours
•Three times winner of Sebring 12 Hours
•Three times ALMS champion
•Four times winner of Petit Le Mans
•Raced in Formula 1
•The 2008 recipient of the Segrave Trophy
•President of the Scottish Motor Racing Club

The above is just a small selection of a very big choice.

Now living in Monaco and with a jet set lifestyle as determined by his occupation, McNish was approached with a request that he may be able to fit us in for a telephone interview when his schedule allowed. We were delighted to be given a response that he would speak to us face to face on his next visit back home to Dumfries. A man used to living his life at whirlwind speed, fortunately for he was more than happy to slow down to speak with us. The interview was fulfilled on Sunday 30th August.

From this interview it was very clear that McNish is a man who retains a very, very, strong sense of where he comes from despite the trappings of the massive success that he has enjoyed. He is quick and unequivocal to acknowledge the assistance he was given by others from the area in which he grew up to help him get to where he is today. Clearly with the super-sophisticated science of the sport he is in, he was never going to be short of brain power. Sure enough he didn’t disappoint. Allan McNish spoke to us at length with great enthusiasm about Queens, football in general, Dumfries, motor sport and pretty much anything and everything.

(This and all other images of Allan McNish used in this article are provided courtesy of Martyn Pass at Audi UK Motor Sport)

“I was born in Cresswell, in 1969 unfortunately, which means there’s a big birthday coming up in December. Basically my whole family have been in and around this area. The sort of furthest West is where my dad was born and that’s Lairdmannoch out towards Kirkcudbright, and my mum’s from Parkgate, so that side of it, we’re all from this area.”


“I was at St Andrew’s originally, and then up to St Joseph’s. I went to the tech college for a year. I hear it’s just been knocked down though, I hear it’s completely flattened now out there. I’m going to have a wee run out later on to have a look. I did Business Studies there which was more a case of actually finding something to do than any sort of great desire from my point of view to be honest.”

“If we were to speak to some of your teachers at school, what do you think they would say about you?”

“Not quite as interested in his studies as he was in other things. It’s quite funny as actually I kept in touch with a couple of the teachers especially from St Joseph’s, because they were really good to me, because they allowed me to go away and didn’t really complain too much if I was leaving on a Friday and late in on a Monday, going away to kart races, whether it be in the UK or even abroad. I think they sort of understood that maybe I was better somewhere else than academically. So in that side of it, I think they actually gave me a bit of scope to either make or break myself if you like. But in terms of at school, especially St Andrews, they would have said, “Talks too much, talks too much, no focus.”

“Speaking to you as an elite sportsman, there are a lot of attributes that are transferable between different sports. When you were at school what were you like at other sports?”

“I wanted to be good at football, like every kid, especially in this area. I really wanted to be good. I was sort of semi part of the team, the school team at St Andrew’s. I was sort of half there but not really there be honest at St Joseph’s. There was a boy called Jason. Jason was just naturally talented, absolutely stunning, left footed, really, really good. He had trials with Everton but he injured his knee. That was the sort of dawn of realisation for me that actually, I wasn’t that good. And I wasn’t necessarily that good at other sports. I was good, I was OK, but I wasn’t exceptional like Jason was at football. And karting was the one thing that I was sort of, I would say, a step above that. And that side of it, it wasn’t a sport that I was doing at school, I was doing it outside of school, a sport I was doing at the same time. And that was the one thing that I sort of would say I excelled at through all of my life, not just necessarily sporting-wise.”

“But just to come back a wee bit; The thing you’re saying about different sports. I do think that all of the stuff that we do, and the work that we do and the lessons and the basic principles, it’s the same for this business as it is for any other business, for sport or whatever. The clear goals are the same and the principles of how you get there are the exactly the same. It just happens to be mine’s at 200 miles an hour in a racing car.”

"So of the things that are transferable between sports, I would have thought for example you must have an incredible determination to win?"

“I think first of all, any sportsperson has got to have a natural talent. They’ve got to have the opportunity to find that talent. I’ll go back to; if St Joe’s hadn’t allowed me the opportunity to go away I would probably never have been able to achieve the success I did in karting to be able to go on from there. I was given the opportunity to find it. Then you look at the fact that you’ve got to have determination, there’s no question about it. But you’ve also got to have the, I would have said, an element of ability to be able to develop the talent. There’s lot of kids around in every sort of sport, I would have said, at a good regional to national level, a lot. But there’s only a few make it to international level. You’ve got to be able to develop that talent, take it that stage further, recognise what’s important and what’s not, who’s important, who’s not, because the further up you go, certainly in my sport, which is as much a business as a sport in some respects, it’s not about who you know but how you know them.”

"What were the relative strengths of your game when you played football?"

“I was fast. I could run quick and I was on the left wing and my right foot was equally as bad as my left foot,” McNish laughed. “I’m right footed and right handed but I was equally as bad with the left so therefore they stuck me on the left wing. Aspirations, I would have liked to have been able to play football, I followed football, there’s no question about that, I didn’t necessarily ever believe I was going to be playing for, well, Nottingham Forest was my sort of big team, that I was ever going to play for Forest or something, picking up European titles and things. That was the sport that I followed, that was the sport that I practiced, that was the sport I stuck out the logs at the back of the house and tried to dribble in between them and things like that, to make myself a wee bitty better at it and hopefully one day maybe get in the team.”

(Allan McNish taking victory in the Audi R15 TDI at Sebring in Florida, 2nd April 2009)

“I’m led to believe, by one of the guys at the club,”

“This is a bit worrying,” laughed McNish interjecting…

“No, no, it’s OK, no left fielders, it’s all good natured stuff. I’m led to believe that you were spotted at Palmerston a few years ago with one of the Franchitti brothers?”

“Well both actually. It’s funny, I was just watching Dario’s race from Chicago this morning just before I came here. It was from last night and I didn’t want to look at to find out the result, but he was lying third and he’s bobbling for the lead in the championship at the moment. And Marino is on pole position in Canada for his sports car race out there. But both of them were down in Dumfries, it was actually a week before I got married. Graeme Cross, a very good friend of mine, his father is probably known to some of the people at Queens because he was a scout for Rangers.”

“Billy Cross that used to run Maxwelltown Thistle?”

“Exactly. Graeme is Billy’s youngest son. Graham and I were at the Tech College together, that’s how I know him. In fact I’m going running with ‘Dodd’ just about 10 minutes after we finish. Anyway, ‘Dodd’ had organised a wee sort of shenanigans, so we wandered off to Queens to start our entertainment of the day. It was quite funny because I remember the Bovril’s still bloody good. And it was cold, it was December, about December the 10th or something, cause I got married on December 16th, 2002. The absolute total passion that is still round about Palmerston, and certainly from our side it was good value, there was about ten of us. When ‘Dodd’ told us about the game and everything I thought, ‘That’s a brilliant idea.’ I don’t get back to Dumfries very often and when I do get back it’s nice to look around and see some of the things that have changed and everything else.”

“I remember, and this is probably when I was six or seven, the big sort of beat of the town when Hearts were coming to play, I can’t remember the year or anything else about it but it’s just that little thing, I remember that the talk of the school and also everything else, and it was obviously the older kids at the school, that Hearts were coming to play at Palmerston. This is the sort of little parts of snippets of what makes you growing up, what makes your memories and everything else. The first time I went to Palmerston for example, was when I was probably about eleven years old and Scotland under 18s were playing there. That was the first time ever being at the place. There’s a lot changed but there’s not a lot changed, in reality the whole feeling is exactly the same. I’ve been since then a few times. Not as often as a lot of fans, there’s no question about that. But I’ve been a few times on the route through since that time around 1980.”

“2002, Andy Goram was in goal in that game. Andy sort of parried a shot, and to be honest with you, we were sort of the opinion that it was a pretty pathetic shot and he parried it away, and we thought we’d voice our opinion, ensemble. And he turned round, obviously’d heard the sort of crows from our little conglomerate, and started, ‘Hey, yous, if you think you can do better…’ Brilliant; Crowd entertainment? The fact is there’s crowd participation with the players,” gushed McNish laughing through his comments as he enjoyed the nostalgia of the event, “It was excellent, and I was quite impressed actually, that first of all he could hear over the noise of everything else, and secondly of that he came back with a remark. Then we saw him later on, he was up the town later on afterwards. We said ‘Hello, no offence’, nothing too dramatic.”

“Was he OK about it?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” enthused McNish with calm assurance.

“From this point of his career, he wasn’t at the height, he was a fantastic goalkeeper before, he gave Rangers a few titles and he also helped Scotland on the way, but at that point I think he was using his experience, not necessarily a drive to get to the top. You see it with a lot of sports people when they’re coming toward the end of their career, they can do one of two things; they just shut off and are not interested, or they use their experience to maintain their desire for the sport they’ve grown up with and their total life is with, and I think at that point he was using his experience. However, I’m sure you get to that point where suddenly you just realise this isn’t for you and you close the door, which he did later on. The thing that impressed me about Andy, was the fact that he was very good at cricket. He was really, really good at cricket. Having that multi talent, I was good at karting, but I wasn’t very good at football, I was OK at squash, I was OK at this, OK at that.”

"Did you try cricket?"

“No I never, I was already into racing when I first went to the cricket club here in Dumfries. There’s other sports which I’m pretty good at, but I never pursued them to a point to an international which he was for Scotland with cricket. And that impresses me that Andy’s got the ability to be able to get to that position of international ability in two categories.”

Having spoken with us at length as mentioned above, Allan McNish part 2 and Allan McNish part 3 will follow soon.