This time last year Steve Hislop was walking into doors, unaware that he had two broken bones in his neck following a spectacular crash here. One year on, and in the twilight of his career, he is finding that the door to unprecedented opportunities is wedged permanently ajar.
Riding as one of the permitted wild card entrants from the domestic British championship at the showpiece event of the World Superbike championship, which is again expected to attract more than 100,000 fans to the Kent circuit, Hislop was the casualty of a first-corner shunt.
Hislop landed on his head and was knocked unconscious before being sickeningly flung through the gravel trap. Shadows on the X-rays were initially attributed to a previous injury and it was not until Hislop realised that he could no longer push with his left arm that a specialist discovered two vertebrae had crumbled away. In the meantime, Hislop had already attempted to compete in two British championship rounds.
"Particles of bone had lodged in the nerve ports and were chafing away at the main nerve to the arm. I could pull doors open but I couldn't push away, so I was actually walking into them. I wasn't in pain, I just had no strength in my arm. When the specialist discovered the real problem, I was booked in for an operation within days. And he told me 'Until then, just be careful. If you trip up it could kill you'," the 38-year-old Scot recalled.
Those chassis repairs, to insert a titanium plate into his neck and rebuild the vertebrae with bone taken from his pelvis, were entirely successful. He now leads a two-horse race for the British championship with John Reynolds by 20 points and is riding better than ever before.
That theory was backed up by the evidence of the first day of qualifying. Hislop was occupying the position of provisional pole until Neil Hodgson, shaved a fraction of a second off his fastest lap in the closing minutes of the afternoon session.
Having broken the Brands Hatch lap record when the British championship visited in May, Hislop and his adversaries enjoyed a clear early advantage. However, those times were set in somewhat cooler temperatures and the stifling heat has affected the set-up of his bike, to the point that Hislop was less than happy with his day's work.
"I'm not confident with the bike on an attack lap. I want to feel that the bike is there under me and not in the dirt. But everybody else is playing catch-up, so it makes us look good for a wee while. And the pressure is off me because it's not the British championship."
As well as being at the top of his form, Hislop finds himself in the rare position of being at the peak of his marketability at such a late stage in his career, having spent the majority of racing life in the less lucrative road racing scene. With his MonsterMob team exploring the possibility of following the path of Neil Hodgson's GSE Racing team from British into World Superbikes, Hislop's desire to prove the doubters wrong is intense.
"I have been written off so much and people have said that I will never come back. They say 'Hizzy is all right for half a season then he falls apart.' So I thought 'Right I'm going to show you,'" added the 11-times TT winner.
His own recent experiences, however, provide a poignant reminder of the perils of attempting to overstay your welcome in the sport. "I have a point to prove and I haven't got much of a career left, but I don't want people to be saying 'Look at that silly old bugger still riding round in his mid-forties. I used to say that about Ron Haslam and Joey Dunlop. Ron called it a day, but Joey got caught out."Reuse content