Interview: Alfie Smith reflects on his GP career

Alfie Smith has some good memories when he looks back at his Motocross career having rode at the highest level – the MXGP World Championship. The Brit had an exciting opportunity with Italian team, JK who ran Aprilia machinery at the time and took it with with both hands.

The young Brit got to travel the world doing what he loved – racing Motocross bikes and at the highest level. Since hanging up his Motocross boots, Smith is still involved within the sport as he now designs and builds Motocross tracks.

We caught up with Smith to discuss his Motocross career and much more.

Gatedrop: Let’s go way back, how did you get into the sport and what age were you when you first got on a bike?

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Smith: I was 3 when my dad got me a QR 50, he made a sidecar that he sat in at first to help me get comfortable with the throttle, brakes etc then after a while took it off. Then I went on to a PW50 riding it around the local fields near where we used to live. My first actual race was when I was 6 at a track called Bletchingdon.

Gatedrop: What age were you when you started thinking, I’m quite good at this and when did the penny drop you could make a career out of it?

Smith: Well the idea of being a pro was more of a dream back then. I would have been around 10 years old on a 65cc and on Greg Hanson’s racing team and started doing quite well, so all through the youth it classes it was my goal. I went on to 250cc at 14 years old. I was real confident at first but that turned out to be a hard year and I soon found out that going in to the adult class is a completely different level. The next couple of years I had a lot of ups and downs but progressed and got some good backing from sponsors that helped a lot and some of the teams showing interest in me was probably when I thought I could maybe  make something out it.

Gatedrop: Half way through 2010, you signed with JK Aprilia – how did this opportunity present itself to sign with the team and race GP’s?

Smith: I actually went out to Italy in the off season before 2010. My dad and Clinton Putnam drove us out there for me to try the bike, but it never came to a deal that time. Riccardo at JK Racing then got in touch with Clinton and Claudio a few months later and with me turning 17 and being able to drive myself, the move to Italy was made a lot easier, so we took the opportunity and went for it!

Gatedrop: Do you remember your first GP – what was that feeling like? Nervous or just really excited?

Smith: Yes, I remember it! Lommel, what a tough day that was! I was so excited, with a lot of family and friends making the effort to come and support me but I was very nervous.

Gatedrop: How was the Aprilia bike to ride – did you like the bike?

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Smith: Yes, I liked the bike and for me that was the first experience of doing all the bike set up and testing so I got comfortable with it fairly quick. It was definitely different to all the other 450 bikes I had ridden prior to that but it rode well and had a character of its own. I loved the sound of it, and thought it looked so good too!

Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Gatedrop: The JK team were Italian, how was it communicating with them and what was your time like with the team?

Smith: At first it was difficult with the language barrier, but I felt at home straight away as they were so accommodating. The pit boarding was interesting on the first outing too. But I loved the experience of being with them, it was like a extended family.

Gatedrop: What was it like racing the MX1 World Championship – the field was stacked and there wasn’t much track prep in those days which meant tracks got really rough.

Smith: It was a experience like no other, I was racing what I had dreamed of doing for so long and against riders I looked up to, it all felt surreal at first! Yes,it was stacked and the tracks were challenging, also the races were a little longer than they are now, but it was the world championship – it was never going to be easy.

Gatedrop: The JK team then signed you for the 2016 season when they switched to Yamaha – you got injured so didn’t race much but it must have felt great they wanted you once again!

Smith: Yes it did, and felt like we picked up from where we left off the last time I rode with them. Also I dropped down to the 250 class which was exciting. I had Alex Snow as a team mate and we had a real good off season training & getting prepared for 2016, bike was good, team was great, everything felt 110% but I got injured at the first GP in Qatar, I was absolutely gutted!

Gatedrop: Looking back on your career, what races/memories stand out the most?

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Smith: There’s a lot but I guess I used to love the home GP each year at Matterley Basin although probably Fermo has to be top, I had my best result there and had some good battles there, loved the track and it was also a home GP for the team I was racing for so there was great support there too.

Gatedrop: You now build tracks I believe, how did this come about and are you enjoying it?

Smith: Yes, ever since I’ve left school I’ve worked with or around machinery so if I wasn’t out on a bike I would have been in a machine. So I put the two together and build the tracks now! Yes I enjoy it a lot.

Gatedrop: I believe you were part of the track crew at Matterley Basin – how was that and would you like to be part of the track crew at every GP if you get the opportunity?

Smith: It’s good, I always loved riding there so the next best thing for me is working on it, preparing it! And I’m not sure if I would want to every round, but would like to do a few where maybe I could put my own work to the tracks.

Gatedrop: What’s your thoughts on MXGP these days? It was very stacked when you raced and I think it’s even deeper these days!

Smith: I agree that MXGP class is unreal now.

Gatedrop: Seeing as you build tracks now and are involved from that side, what’s your thoughts on the job MXGP do with the track preparation these days? They certainly seem to be doing a lot more which means the tracks aren’t getting as rough or as technical from when you rode – what’s your thoughts on that?

Smith: It’s hard to say from only seeing it on TV. I used to actually prefer that they left the track when I was racing, the track changing and deteriorating each lap is all part of racing motocross in my mind, but saying that I can see the logic in grading or fixing some of the bigger jumps if they are getting real bad and dangerous, on the whole i would prefer to leave it and just add water if its needed.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Pics: Nigel McKinstry