Interview: Gordon Crockard through years part one (1995 – 2001)
Gordon Crockard has had quite a career.
With multiple Irish titles, three British titles, GP winner and third in the world on a privateer machine, a member of the factory KTM team and a brief spell doing GNCC in America as well as racing in the Australia, Crockard has experienced it all in his career.
Unfortunately he also experienced the bad times with numerous injuries including nearly losing his life in 2009 at Hawkstone Park following a first turn crash. Happily fully recovered, Crockard is currently using his vast experience and logical explanations to successfully coach kids in the ever expanding Honda EMX150 championship.
This interview is Gordon’s thoughts on every stage of his fascinating career that took him from privateer British championship competitor to a multiple GP winner. It’s a long one, but it is well worth the read with some incredible stories and insight from every situation that you can imagine and some that you wouldn’t!
The early years
My dad didn’t take me racing until I beat him! We used to ride in a field, there was a group of us and Graham Jellie was a good friend of mine and we both starting riding bikes at 9 and by the time Graham was 11 his dad was taking him racing and Graham was finishing fourths and fifths because I used to go and watch.
My dad wouldn’t let me race, he said what is the point of going racing when you can’t even beat me! Whenever you can beat me you can go to the races. He had a bike and it was like a bit of Saturday sport we went down the field and we both had our bikes but until I caught, passed and pulled away from my dad he wouldn’t take me racing and I did one day and fair play to him he sold his bike straight away and we went racing. That was 1990.
I didn’t do much British championship racing. We did the likes of the YMSA Super national, an International in Scotland we did races here and there but we didn’t sign up for all the rounds. My dad didn’t want to sicken me either, he had seen so many schoolboy champions get to the age of 16 and be totally burnt out of the sport and right when you get to 16 and get into adult racing you also discover girls, alcohol, cigarettes and get a car. You are hit with all these adult themed methods of enjoying yourself and motorbike racing doesn’t seem that much craic.
So I was well preserved let’s say, I rode my bike loads and I loved it but I wasn’t sick of racing because I hadn’t been doing loads of racing. When I got to the adults that’s when it sunk in the whole meaning of riding bikes. There was prize money and I couldn’t get my head round it, if I won three grade B races at an Ulster championship I got 90 quid! And for a 16 year old kid getting £90 in your hand every Saturday for riding your bike is mega – I was still in school! So I really cottoned on that the faster you went the more you got.
In 1995 I went into the Adults and also the Schoolboys because I had a dual license in 1995 (in Ireland). I rode Grade B mainly against 250s but the rule was then you had to ride a 125 in the adults if you wanted to still do schoolboy races and we did. My dad and I wanted to do some British schoolboy races on the 125 so we did the Semi-finals then we had the ACU finals and that was great.
So that year I won the grade B championship on a 125 and there were a few club races that we went too were they mixed the A and Bs together so it gave me an insight into how I was going against some of the A riders. I remember one race at Herrons’ farm in Leitrim and Davy White was racing and he was a good top five Grade A rider and I remember being on Davy’s pace and being inspired and thinking I might be near the front of the As the following year.
At the end of 1995 I got selected to ride the Coupe de L’Avenir in Belgium and for that race we knew we would have to ride a 250 to be competitive. So Stephen Russell leant me his bike and it was a 250 Yamaha and I did a bit of practice down the field then went to the last round of the Ulster Championship which was at Bells Hill.
I won the Grade B championship by the time the second race was over and we asked the club if they would give us permission to race the last Grade A race and they did. So I rode Stephen’s 250 and Alan Morrison was riding at that time and Alan came out of retirement every year just to win it. I think he won it six years on the trot. It was really cool he just used to rock up once a year and win the race and sort of drive out going, ‘Yeah boys, I’m still the dude.’
But we raced in the last race and I beat Alan and it was mega! Again that was a big boost for me going into the 1996 Grade A Ulster Championship.
I got a job in Russells motorcycles at the end of ’95 when I was 16 and again we parked the motocross bikes at the end of ’95 and got the trials bikes out. I was in Grade B in Irish trials championships. It helped big time, it taught me the importance of practice and to discipline myself whenever it’s just me on the bike so it helped me a lot.
Russells sponsored me a 250 and the goal was to win the Irish and Ulster championship. At the time I was 16 and I was racing against Brian Steele, Trevor Cubitt, Adam Lyons, Philip Neil was still riding. They were all riding British Championships but I wasn’t.
We stayed away from the British we didn’t have the money. My dad’s attitude was like, what is the point of going to England to get beat when you can stay here and get beat! That was the way he looked it at it, he said, ‘once you win everything here and there is no-one that can beat you here then we will go find you a race where someone else can beat you.’
I won the Irish and the Ulster that year and I believe I am the first person to ever do that at my first attempt and I believe I am the youngest person to win them as well.
I got selected to go to the MXDN at the end of the year in Jerez and that was brilliant. I went to U21 again and I think I won races at it, I think I was racing Cedric Melotte and he was on factory Suzuki at the time.
I had to qualify for the British championship so I had to ride in the clubman championship so went and did that but it was a real inconvenience because we would have raced on a Saturday and then had to drive all night to get to these races on a Sunday. It was just the system then that’s what you had to do.
In 1997 we did the British Championship and that went good I think I finished 7th in the championship. I won the Ulster and Irish Championship again, was on the Nations team again and the Under 21 team again.
Moving from here and going to race in England was a massive step, it went really well and I had a podium at Hawkstone. We did some GPs as well, I think we did five GPs, I scored points in Roggenburg the final round. It was a brilliant year I really enjoyed it.
I was getting more sponsorship and at the GPs then we had start money and prize money and that was paying us for diesel and boats and we could live off it. We were away as a family and it was awesome, my mum, dad and my sisters, we were all there.
The way it was going then was I was making more money in prize money than I was working in Russells 9-5 so it was pretty obvious I would be better off going racing. I was getting enough free product to pay for things I was getting free boats from Stena Line and then with the prize money it was giving us money to live off so I could see it was smarter to go racing than live off a regular job.
For 98 Honda came on and give us big sponsorship with bikes and parts. That’s whenever we made the change from living at home, having a job and racing. I lived in England and raced GPs and British, that was the birth of CAS Honda.
It was a small wage but you had qualifying money and prize money then I had a sponsor who paid for accommodation so it was ok, I didn’t have any outgoings.
The way the GPs went that year was that the GP grid had went from 40 to thirty so I had actually struggled to qualify. I hadn’t learned how to do a one lap flyer. The Belgian GP was the first Grand Prix I had actually qualified for that season. I nearly retired that year because it had gone awful.
I had made so many changes, I had moved to England and away from living with my mum and dad, I had changed from Yamaha to Honda and Honda’s bike that year wasn’t good. McGrath left and wouldn’t even ride it. I had a mechanic for the first time and he was quite unstable, but there were so many things that were really difficult. And trying to race bikes when you are not really that happy is a difficult thing to do.
I just wasn’t qualifying and I went away and got a lot of things sorted out, I came home and got my confidence again at lower level races and winning races. I taught myself to fall in love with the sport again and I did that. I changed the mechanic and we got it sorted.
So the GP, it was deep sand and in a wee village, right were Josh Coppins and Ben Townley used to live.
I went to the parc ferme and had taken two left hand gloves so I had to run down in full motocross gear on a hot day running in sand and got the right glove. I was so pumped up and I holeshot the race and I knew people would be watching and this was the first Grand Prix that I had qualified for (in 98) so I wanted everyone to see so I came unto the start straight at the end of the first lap and they had a big screen so I could see myself fist pumping to everyone – I was so happy!
So we got that year turned round, I had been to the absolute bottom, I hated motorbikes, hated England and hated Hondas and everything about it was terrible but we came back and regrouped and started to build from there.
I won the coupe De L’Avenir which was brilliant and we had the Nations at Foxhill at the end of the year so it was good.
I stayed with CAS Honda for 1999 and we had a lot of good things happening. I got a new mechanic and a new place to live with a friend in Northampton. I re-organised myself and got myself happy. We had a good year I was fourth in the British Championship and at Farleigh Castle at the last round I won all three races which was again a really good way to go into the winter really positive.
I thought it would be great to do that next year every weekend!
But in 99 I wanted to be a contender in the British I wasn’t far away, it was a really tough class that year, you had Jocke Karlson, Rob Herring, Paul Malin, Paul Cooper, you had some really top boys that were at the front in GPs.
The GPs that year were ok, I had a couple of sixths at Ernee which was a real boost. Ernee was good for me because it was soil and stone, I was familiar with it, we would go to other places that were really tough because I had never ridden on that sort of dirt before and didn’t know how to ride it. It was a big learning year for me. We qualified for all the GPs except the first one at Talavera, it was a completely new type of riding, big hills, hard pack and fast track that was really different to anything I had ever rode before.
I got to Budds Creek for the final round and stuff so I finished 13th that year and had some small injuries as you always do but I didn’t miss any races. We didn’t do the Nations that year because it was in Brazil and Ireland didn’t send a team.
I nearly won the Weston Beach race on a 500. The race had been cut short by half an hour because the tide came in, I had been catching Knighter as he had no goggles on and it was annoying because I really thought I could have won it.
In 2000 I got the mechanic I wanted, Nick Moores. He had been Princey’s mechanic in ’99 and he was overseeing my engines and motors but he wasn’t my mechanic and I really wanted to work with him.
So I got him and straight away I told him I want to be British champion this year and it was surprisingly easy, it gave me a serious amount of self-belief. So I remember saying to him very early in our relationship that if I won the British I would give him £1000 and he didn’t take me seriously and I knew he didn’t. How I know he didn’t was because whenever I paid him, he had totally forgotten about it and I wished I hadn’t mentioned it! (Laughs).
Nick was the only guy who could give me the bike the way I wanted it. He understood my language when I told him what I wanted from the bike and he had the ability and knowledge to provide it. Nick was huge contributor to my success. I only won GPs with him mechanicing for me, I won two British championships with him, I would have won three with him, but I got hit by a stone and broke my nose and missed all three races that day.
But in 2000 the new bike was brilliant, a new chassis, it was really good. I had Rob Herring as a teammate and Rob was and still is a big inspiration, he was a hero of mine and having your hero as your teammate was just awesome.
We went to California and unfortunately Robbie crashed in typical Robbie style on the first day and broke his wrist doing some absurd jump. It was a terrible shame and he never really recovered from that he broke it so badly.
We had a great time in California and we came back and had really good practice. I prepared solely with the intention of being British champion, that was my goal, that was it. Although I was riding GPs all my thoughts and all my energy was going into riding the British.
Amazingly, I went to the first GP of Talavera thinking I might not qualify and was prepared for that blow because I hadn’t qualified in ’98 or ’99. So I was thinking this could happen again and don’t worry.
So I qualified in 23rd and it was a big relief. Then I holehot the first race and won it! It was remarkable, I had no idea that I could do that.
How I got so good was because I was practicing to be British champion and in all of my preparing to be British champion it had made me good enough to win at world level. But I hadn’t went into that race thinking I was going to be world champion or win the GP, that wasn’t what I was thinking.
I got the start and was wondering how far back I was going to drop I just thought, ‘go, go, go!’ It felt like I was practicing, it really did because I had done so much practice, a serious amount of practicing and it was practice with a purpose. The whole time I was practicing I had a goal to be British champion, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t let go and that’s what was driving me.
It was dead funny at Talevera because I just kept seeing the gap getting bigger and bigger on the board and I was thinking. ‘What is wrong with these guys? Why are they going so slow?!’
I wore the same goggles in race two, back then we had roll-offs because you didn’t have laminate tear-offs because back then if you put on six it was like looking through a milk bottle! I had roll offs with two tear –offs and I just set them in the sun to dry for the second race and I think that’s the best part of that story because I hate doing goggles!
But it was a massive surprise, I didn’t feel like I did anything special. I rode the second race much better. I ended up fourth but I didn’t get a good start and also got my leg caught in the back wheel but kept going and kept going and that gave me the overall so I was leading the world championship and it was bizarre.
I came away from it but my attitude didn’t really change, I thought that wasn’t going to happen every weekend, just take that as a bonus because it’s not going to be that easy. But it gave me an insight into what it’s like to be a top world racer because the phone rang off the hook with potential sponsors. You just get spoilt.
It was a big monkey to get off my back to get on the podium again in Kester, I was third. I was worried because I didn’t want to be known as a one GP winner. At the end of 2000 we had a run of GP podiums and it was absolutely fantastic.
I also won at Grobbendonk and it was under totally different circumstances, it was in sand and I didn’t holeshot, I had to catch and pass guys. It for me was really good.
It has a funny story as well, it rained on Saturday like crazy on Saturday during the 125 races (it was triple header) but it flooded completely and all you could see were the markers. We were like, there is not going to be a motorbike race tomorrow, so we all went to the beer tent! I wasn’t going to bed I would say until one or half one, now I wasn’t drunk but we were out.
We woke the next morning and the fire department had been pumping the water out all night and the track was rideable so the race ran! It was such a surprise!
We did the Des Nations at St Jean D’Angeley and had a great race with Greg Albertyn I think I was fifth or sixth.
The British championship was really tight with Paul Cooper but we were great mates.
I was too young to hire a car so I used to fly with Coops and he would drive the car. This was just after Scott Ainsworth was killed at Apex who was my teammate who was only 27, Harry Ainsworth’s son (team owner).
It was only two days before the GP at Namur and Namur was an iconic track for me, I had been there as a boy watching Thorpe, Malherbe, Jobe. So Demaria holeshot the first race and I was second and I couldn’t catch him and that was annoying! So the second race I knew if I beat him I knew I would win the overall and I really, really wanted too.
I got away and I had to pass a couple of guys and Paul Cooper was I think second or third and there was a really sharp corner that went up a steep bank, you had to go down low to get the run up it. I had sat behind Coops for too long and I could see Demaria was getting away and I just straight lined the corner and hit Coops. Unfortunately I knocked him off and he even fell into the fence and down the big bank!
We were sharing the hire car and I was like, I don’t think he is going to take me in the car – I am going to have to take a taxi! But Paul being the brilliant guy he is took me, but we didn’t speak, there wasn’t a word spoken in the car and then we just got out!
But I didn’t even catch Demaria that was the other annoying thing, he won it and I was second.
Cooper and I had a good relationship but were neck and neck in that British championship. There was a round cancelled at Torrington that year and Coops and I didn’t live that far away from each other in England. So we went to London together to the Ministry of Sound on the Saturday night, him and I and a few friends and we had good craic!
The following weekend we were at Farleigh for the last round, it went really well, I won the race and won the title.
I had tendonitis in my arm at the time because we had done so much racing. We had done 16 world rounds 8 British rounds and I also won the Ulster championship that year.
The MRA said to me that if we work with you with our dates would you ride them all and I said yes. I had to miss one round but still won so that was brilliant.
I ended the World championship in sixth, I won two GPs and won the British championship and the Ulster championship and had a very good Des Nations.
I was 21 at the time and had a lot of interest within the industry and I had a manager come on board Jake Millar and I had good sponsors and private sponsors. It was a really good time of my life.
I had the opportunity to go somewhere else but I wanted to stay with Harry and I wanted to stay with Nick. The GP had changed format and it was down to no money and the British had foot and mouth disease.
Jussi Vehvilainen was my teammate and he was very focused and it was good for me.
We came back from California to England and foot and mouth. It was a nightmare the British rounds were being postponed and cancelled, it was down to five rounds and there was nowhere to practice. It was really difficult to get somewhere to ride. I remember having to drive to far all the time to ride it difficult that season.
The GPs had one moto, it didn’t suit me, it wasn’t what I wanted. The races were shorter and I liked a longer race, my riding style meant that I could still be fast even when I was tired. Whereas other guys ride with a lot more intensity which means when they are tired they can’t ride fast. Whereas I had a riding style that even when I was knackered I could still be quick.
I had taught myself to be like that because out races were 45 plus 2 laps. They were long races I have results sheets from GPs that were up over 50 minutes. That is a long time and you can’t ride like a lunatic, you just can’t. You have to structure you’re pace and I was able to take advantage of that because of my style.
2001 was again a good year. Pichon was phenomenal, annoyingly, he just had outstanding speed , frightening.
In qualifying he was always on pole and I was always garbage, I was qualifying in the teens and he was very good at starts.
I won two GPs I won at Genk and at Uddevalla in Sweden and we had a load of podiums and stuff. I loved Roggenburg, it was my favourite track but I crashed on the first corner and came right up through to get second.. Federici was gone out front but I had to pass a bunch of boys on the last lap and Reed was one of them. It was a good race but it was frustrating situation with one moto because if things like that happened you were up against.
Chad Reed was getting good and I lost second place to Chad. He came on really strong at the end and it went to the final round and it was a mud bath. I fell off like four times and I lost it by one or two points.
It was incredibly frustrating, I had some sucky races in places and I paid for it. It was a horrible feeling, a horrible feeling. Another very annoying thing that day was Fred Bolley who was the reigning world champion but he was having a crap year and he was nowhere and Bolley was moving to Yamaha, he had fallen out with the team.
He was fourth in the race and I had fallen off so many times riding like a lunatic trying to get ot the front. It isn’t racing but it would have given Honda second in the world championship, but they just needed to signal Bolley to move over and we will be second in the championship and they didn’t. It really pissed me off.
I don’t remember the exact figure, I left the event quite disappointed and felt like I had failed. I counted up the loss in bonus money and it was nearly 70k. But yeah I finished third and went to Des Nations in Namur. It was the year of 9/11 and the Americans didn’t come.
Nick my mechanic surprised me by getting me a CR500 to ride and I didn’t know I was riding it. It was actually Jocke Karlson’s bike from RWJ the aluminium Honda ones. So that was a good event and we had good fun there.
The British championship still wasn’t settled, Carl Nunn was the main challenger, Carl was I think leading the championship, and I had to win three races at Torrington and I did. So I won it for the second time on the bounce which was fantastic. Nunny was going well that year he was on the Huskies.
Click here read part two of the interview!
Interview: Jonathan McCready
Pics: Nigel McKinstry