Interview: Tinus Nel reflects on his memories in the Motocross world

Our final part of the interview with Tinus Nel is here as the South African reflects on some good memories he had whilst in the Motocross GP paddock and he also discusses why the the Vangani team stopped.

Gatedrop: Any funny stories/good memories with the riders you worked with?

Nel: Oh, plenty, some of them even suitable for publication …

– Grant Langston’s dad, Gerald, has a glass eye. So one evening, during our first trip to Belgium, we were driving back from practice in a borrowed van. Gerald saw an intersection in the small Belgian streets almost too late, and slammed on the brakes so hard that his eye popped out. Then Grant, cool as you like, quipped: “Dad! Keep your eye on the road!” Grant was always sailing close to the wind with his dad, and if his dad for instance said, “Grant, don’t jump off the roof into the pool,”you knew exactly what was going to happen next.

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– Tyla Rattray, who, as I said, has an impish sense of humour was practicing at Hammarsdale in Kwazulu Natal, and between motos was laying heavily into whatever -ade energy drink was at hand. “Don’t drink too much, ” I warned. “You’ll get a stitch.”  With mock seriousness, he studied the label on the bottle, thrust it out to me and said (with his teenage lisp) “look, it says no stitches added!”

– We were off to a European championship event in Bulgaria with the 13 metre Vangani truck. We had just crossed the German border, when Wayne, who was driving said there was a car flashing lights at us. “Don’t worry,” I said. “You know how the Germans are.” We had overtaken a slower truck and German drivers were sometimes quite adamant when noticing perceived violations of the law.  A few 100m further, he said “there’s another car flashing lights at us.” I could not understand, because we were now by no stretch of the imagination in violation of anything. Then a car with Dutch plates came past, the driver waving frantically, and I thought we’d better stop.  A good thing we did, too. The truck carried a huge gas bottle which was mounted on a frame underneath.  The frame had broken, and the bottle was bouncing on the road, hanging by the hose which was spewing gas, and the metal bottle creating sparks for all it was worth.  We very nearly got to Bulgaria in double quick time.

– At  Latvian round of the European championships at Limbazi, Enrico Oddenino crashed and was down for nearly a lap. By the time he got up, Marc de Reuver, who had was leading, had nearly caught up. The Italian started racing to not get lapped, or unlapped himself, I can’t remember 100%, which was a bit naughty, but also not, because he was one of the fastest on the track.  De Reuver was visibly getting hacked off in a big way.  All along with him being focused on Oddenino ahead of him (who was not holding him back), Kevin Strijbos was sneaking up from some distance back, and pipped him at the post.  The post race semi-confrontation was quite funny to watch.

– After that same race in Latvia, we were parked on the docks at Riga waiting for the ferry. It was blazingly hot, and Tyla Rattray was shirtless washing down his bike. A seagull thought that a KTM made for good target practice, and dropped an ice cream-sized bomb on the bike.  Tyla shouted something at the seagull in something resembling Latvian, and leaned over the bike to clean it all up. The seagull’s mate, not to be outdone, caught him one square on the back of his shoulder, and then the languages sounded more like Latvian and Russian mixed.

– I was on my way to the Munich bike show, I think with Tanel Leok. We took the train in Germany, and the cheaper tickets are valid there for passengers up to 14 years old. “How old is your son?” the lady asked me in German. “Fourteen,” I said.  Tanel was quiet, but when we walked away, he elbowed me in the ribs. “I’m fifteen,” he said. “And I’m not your son!”.  So he had caught on to the German. Like I said, a smart kid.

Tinus Nel with Tanel Leok.

– We were at a European championship race at Asti in Italy. Donald Terreblanche, Shannon’s father had gone to the showers on the bike. Coming back to the paddock you get a concrete incline. Just about there, the towel round his neck caught on the sprocket, and as he throttled up a bit, it pulled him off the bike. It was all in slow motion, like a slapstick movie, his feet lifting off the pegs and him being pulled backwards off the bike. Fortunately he wasn’t going fast.

– Another experience was not from motocross, but from my involvement with musicians, which is something I gravitated to after the MX forays had finished. Adam Boyd, a good friend of mine, is the front man for a rock band called Wake to Wonder, who incidentally toured to Europe and played at a GP and a few MX events.  Anyway, after a gig in South Africa, Adam and some mates went for an early morning snack at a 24 hour outlet. Now bear in mind that here you have a musician, dressed in skinny jeans and pointy leather shoes, probably more than a bit sozzled, after a night of hard rocking behind the mic. There was more than the usual amount of activity at the fast food, and it turns out that there was a 5km fun run taking off from there.  After a dare or two, Adam entered for the run and actually completed it, in his stage gear.  That was one of the most rock and roll things I’d ever heard of.

– We were at a European Championship event at Castelnau de Levis in France and Marvin Musquin was on it. There was also an open class Elite race and he raced in that too. He was giving the big boys, like Yves Demaria some big headaches. So, obviously, this is something that makes you take note. I told Shannon and Donald I’d like to meet – and congratulate him, but we could not find them in the paddock anymore. A way up the road, when we pulled in for fuel, we saw their camper standing there. It was a rickety old van, and they were clearly racing on a limited budget. I walked up to the passenger window, and here’s Marvin Musquin sitting on his mother’s lap! I mean he’d just taken the battle to a MX3 world champion, but he was still a little boy at heart.

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– Everyone warned us to be very alert about your bikes and stuff in France, for miscreants were known to steal bikes right out of the van while you were sleeping. At one international event, this was brought home to us in stark reality. First off, Yves Demaria arrived at the race with no gear. Whilst he was tanking, someone had stolen his gear bag from the car. SO he raced with a mix-match of borrowed gear that weekend.

We had some Belgian youngsters with us who were fans of the team and also great entertainers in own right. They were only mid-teens, but great jugglers, fireblowers and all kinds of entertaining acts. So after qualifying, they put up a bit of a show in the paddock. They roped Stefan Everts in to join, where they would juggle flaming batons to each other past him. He had just bought a grilled chicken which looked well scrumptious, which he put down to join in the act, When he was done, he turned around, and someone had stolen his chicken from behind his back with everyone right there.

Jenya Bobryshev had a huge crash at the race and suffered a collapsed lung. He was a great member of the team, always full of fun, and with a dry sense of humour, so it was particularly painful to see him suffer so. Off to hospital we went, and when I returned to the track, we found that my computer had been stolen from my truck. Triple whammy for the weekend.

– The following story flows forth from the stolen computer saga. As South Africans, we pretty much had to have a visa to cross the street, so in order to streamline visa applications when we had to cross many borders, I had two South African passports, which made it much quicker if you had to get 4 visas or so for a single trip. One of my passports was in the computer bag that was stolen, but I still had the other. What I did not know, was that the stolen passport had my valid Schengen visa in it, and the passport I actually had, had a Schengen visa from the year before, which had expired.

SO a month or so after the French saga, we were coming back from an Italian event and were stopped at the Weil am Rhein border post of Germany, near Basel. It was 5 am and I was sleeping in the back . Donald Terreblanche told me that the border official had said the visa is expired, and me, still blissfully unaware that I had the wrong one, argued the point. So here we are, 5 am at the German border with no visa. I asked the official if Donald and Shannon could go across to have breakfast at the truck stop about 400 m inside Germany, and I would wait with him until the Belgian embassy opened, and we could sort it out. In the most trusting gesture you could imagine, he let us all cross, and said we had to return at 8.

Nel with Shannon Terreblanche

We returned at 8, and after a few frantic calls to the Belgian consulate in South Africa where I had gotten the visa, my status was confirmed, and the German immigration officer then and there gave me a renewed visa for 2 years! TO be honest, quite contrary to the typecast idea that we might have, I have always had good dealings with German officialdom. This holds true for the German Federation, promoters like ADAC, immigration authorities, customs authorities, and local authorities, since we actually lived in Germany for a year.

Gatedrop: The team stopped, why did that happen and do you miss being in the Motocross world?

Nel: A number of things. I’d gone to Europe mainly to give Tyla an opportunity of getting into the world scene, and by 2008 he was world champion, so it’s pretty fair to say that we’d gone some way along the way towards achieving our objective there. Other riders that I had worked with, like Shannon Terreblanche, Matiss Karro, Evgeny Bobryshev and Jeremy van Horebeek were all in good teams.  Believe it or not, but running a team at that level can pry resources out of your wallet with a great deal of enthusiasm, so I wasn’t to keen on effectively restarting a new story with dwindling resources. There is also quite a bit of backstabbing and subterfuge in the industry, and it can be quite an ungrateful pastime on occasion. And then, to top it all, I was actually getting homesick for South Africa.  So with all of that combined, the decision to cut it happened fairly quickly.

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I do miss the good days, the camaraderie, the tension of qualifying, the elation of good results, and even the slump of setbacks, yes I do.  I still follow it keenly, and keep an eye out for emerging talents all the time. It is pleasing indeed to see a career develop from early on.  If you look back, you will see that I had for instance done forward-looking interviews with riders like Tim Gajser and Jorge Prado quite a bit before they became household names.  I also follow roadracing, which includes MotoGP, Moto 2 and Moto 3. Some of the best racing, though, you will find in the emerging talent series, like the Repsol CEV Moto 3 Junior World Championships, the Red Bull Rookies Cup and the European Talent Cup. One of the Spanish riders that I followed through Red Bull Rookies Cup and Repsol CEV, Xavi Artigas, had an astounding ride at his first Moto 3 GP that he entered for as a wildcard. He actually lead the race, and eventually finished third.

The memories came washing through in delving into the archives to answer these questions. We’ve met a great many people, and my life has been immeasurably enriched by these experiences. There are too many people to mention and thank, riders, parents, sponsors, supporters, organisers, media people, all of these I remember fondly. Perhaps getting a book done is not such a bad idea after all.

On a number of other riders Tinus has worked with
Nel reflects on his favourite races
On running the Vangani Motocross team
On Ben Townley, Tyla Rattray and Infront

Interview: Andy McKinstry