Alan Carter: Light in the Darkness Part 3
Welcome to the third and final part of our run of excerpts from Alan Carter’s incredible book Light in the Darkness. this time Alan talks about moving to Grey Horse Farm, old friends and a first class mechanic cast aside for glorified gofers, Kenny riding
Our final instalment of the breathtaking book by Alan Carter. If you’ve not read the book by now, do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy. It’s one of the most honest, revealing, disturbing and enlightening motorcycle race books you’ll ever read. Details of how to get your own copy of the book are included with this article.
Our Kenny had purchased a rundown old pub with some land off Taylor Lane, Bradshaw, just south of Halifax. It had been empty for many years with only an old man living on the grounds in a ramshackle old caravan, so my brother had a lot on his plate having to rebuild it more or less from scratch. When he’d finished the renovations early in 1983 the stone-built house at Grey Horse Farm looked fantastic. He had his own workshops and also carved out a motocross track with a proper speedway starting gate, on which we’d occasionally race each other. It used to piss him off that I’d out-trap him every time, although he’d soon come flying past like a madman. Around this time things were changing for him on a large scale. Out would go Richard Pickering, one of the best speedway mechanics in the country, along with most of his childhood mates who were there for him in his early days. Richard was older and smarter than Kenny and very meticulous. He’d been Chris Pusey’s mechanic and had been around. The friends he discarded included Graham ‘Dunny’ Dunn, who was his best mate, and Gary ‘Gaz’ Docherty, a former neighbour of ours from just up the road in Brickfield Lane. As far as I was concerned he brought in glorified gofers, people like Phil ‘Ollie’ Hollingworth and Bryan Lamer. I’m not saying they weren’t nice people, but they weren’t capable of looking after the number one rider in England. Kenny needed a solid team around him, just like Bruce Penhall had, not a circus act. It just goes to show that Dad and Kenny were so much alike – tyrants, dictators or whatever else you want to call them. I just couldn’t believe what he was doing but, like Mal, you could never tell him anything. At times he was just pig-headed beyond belief. Kenny could see, and so could everyone else, riders and fans alike, that Bruce had a slick operation and there were no weak links in his chain. So what on earth was Kenny thinking? I’d always wanted to be the ultimate superstar, to look immaculate with everything looking great. I really loved the way Bruce conducted himself, the way he spoke. He was just first class. But I thought Kenny’s machine preparation was shoddy by comparison. I worked for Kenny as his mechanic at one meeting and took a close look at his bikes. Some of the bolts holding them together
were a complete joke. I noticed a 70-80mm bolt through the back mudguard, when it should have been no more than 35mm in length. It was nearly touching the tyre and I thought, if this tyre was to expand, as they do, it will rub onto the bolt and could lead to a puncture. I pointed this out to Kenny, but he took no notice. The bolt came loose after every race and I had to wind it back in, but there were no washers or a locking nut. It was shoddy. As a rider, I was operating on a much higher level than Kenny, supported by some of the best people in the world of road-racing. So, from about 1984 to until his death in early 1986, Kenny was riding crap equipment – well, good stuff but badly put together. I think this also had something to do with the broken legs he suffered which wrecked his world championship dreams in both 1984 and 1985. This period became a downward spiral in his career. Sure, Kenny still had moments of sheer brilliance, just like Michael Lee did, but he should have had a top manager and a brilliant back-up team to push him on to become world champion. But I could see it all slipping through his fingers and there was only one person to blame – himself. My own preparation for the start of the 1984 season was not the best either. I’d missed all the winter training in the US at Kenny Roberts’ ranch and was still fearful of Dad calling round and giving me a good hiding, or bumping into him in the bank or somewhere else around town. It was a bit unnerving for me. I’d trained hard on my body and I was in good physical shape. I just wasn’t as strong, mentally, as I would have liked. I flew to South Africa for the first GP of the year. Kenny Roberts had arranged for us all to stay at his rented private house in Johannesburg. On meeting up, Kenny was keen to see how fit we were, so he organised a four-mile running race involving myself, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson, who had been Kenny's team-mate on the Marlboro Yamaha 500s the year before and was also a very good buddy of Wayne’s. I was right there with them at the halfway point but, to be honest, I was knackered. I don’t know if it was the altitude or them being super-fit – probably the latter. I stopped for a few seconds to catch my breath and, not wanting to be outdone, flagged down a pick-up truck carrying a load of trees and hitched a ride back to Kenny’s place. The driver drove me to within about a half-mile from the finish when I jumped off and ran into the house in first place. You could hear a pin drop, everyone was astounded that I’d kicked Wayne and Eddie’s ass. But my moment of glory didn’t last long. As soon as they got back they said: “You cheating little prick!” I was busted but I still gave the team a great laugh. It didn’t take long to become clear that although there were two riders in the Roberts team, only one was receiving 100% support while I was basically given a standard bike for the year. But no Yank was going to beat me without a fight. I was the youngest ever GP winner, I’d had a year’s world championship experience and this was my fourth season riding 250cc two strokes – proper racing bikes. Wayne did fantastically well to qualify in fifth place for his first GP but I grabbed fourth spot to show him that I was the main man, not him. It pissed down all morning on race day and I was like, ‘get in there, this is going to be an easy win.’ Tyre choice was easy – I went for 100% full wets, while all the Europeans picked intermediates. I was gone like a bullet out of a gun, pulling out a 10sec lead and the race was in the bag, but then it stopped raining. Once the sun
came out the track dried in just a few short minutes. My tyres began to overheat and they fell to bits – I was down to the steel belt by the end of the race. Basically, I kept losing the front end. I would normally have pulled into the pits but I carried on and finished 10th on the basis that one world championship point was better than nothing. But I just couldn’t believe my luck, as yet another GP went begging. As a manager, Kenny Roberts treated me fine, although the team he ran in that first year was cliquey. There was Kenny’s mentor and former manager Kel Carruthers, the 1969 250cc world champion, plus Wayne, Eddie, the tuner Bud Aksland and another guy working with them called Bruce. Kenny liked to let his hair down and socialise with the rest of us. He was funny, a bit of a piss-taker. One day, Rainey said to him: “Hey Kenny, look at that blackbird.” And Kenny said: “It’s a crow, dickhead!” He once came out of a bar in Holland with Eggis, my mechanic, and a few other guys and crashed their car into a number of other parked vehicles before doing a runner. The cops paid us a visit the next day but our team manager, Paul Butler, who is now the race director for Motogp, sorted it. I wish I could have ridden for Kenny Roberts later in my career, after gaining more experience. My only disappointment with him came years later, when I was trying to get a ride and hoped he might be able to help me. I phoned his home in California and waited on the line to speak to him, only for the person who answered my call to hang up. That hurt. Maybe he never got the message? I’ll probably never know.
Gold for Kenny
Love-hate with the Americans ... the wild west ... Kenny's fit for nothing ... and all this for a mankie ham sandwich.
KENNY had his sights set on qualifying for his third individual World Final. Once again, he narrowly failed to win the British title that year but at least he collected his first FIM World Championship gold medal when he and Peter Collins won the World Pairs Final at Gothenburg, Sweden in June. Kenny scored 15 points on the night, with Peter getting 10. This was a great pairing on paper. You had PC, the most experienced top guy in England, partnered with a young upstart in Kenny, and they pulled it off by winning the title just one point ahead of the Aussies. Kenny and PC could have gone on to win several more World Pairs titles together but they fell out big-time the following year, which I'll talk about later. It's a hame Kenny never developed a lot of close relationships with his fellow riders. Many times he'd overstep the mark in team events by focusing on himself instead of the team, which didn't gain him much support from the others. It's different when you're racing for yourself in individual meetings where you have to be selfish to succeed. Maybe Kenny carried a lot of insecurities from his childhood, which certainly wasn't the best. Personally, I find it hard to trust anyone and my close friends have often told me to relax a bit and chill out more. His well-publicised so-called hatred of the Americans was blown out of proportion, though. Kelly and Shawn Moran had no problem with Kenny and all three were good friends. I think it was Bruce Penhall and his close circle of rider mates, including Dennis
Sigalos and Bobby Schwartz, who Kenny didn't like, because they were Bruce's mates. Kenny just cut them all off and that was it. Kenny sold things from his souvenir stall at The Shay that were, let's say, not very appropriate. Badges that said 'Stuff a Yank' and 'I Hate Americans' and other distasteful anti-american items. Bruce badly damaged his own reputation in the eyes of the British public when he deliberately finished last in the 1982 Overseas Final, a World Championship qualifying round at London's White City. He poodled around at the back, pulling wheelies, so that the other three riders in the 'race', Dennis Sigalos and the Moran brothers, would finish ahead of him and collect the vital points they needed to reach the next round. t was a joke and things like that would piss anyone off and did him no favours with his fellow riders. The fans, even those from Bruce's British League team Cradley booed him and they were not happy at all. Kenny would never have done what Bruce did that day. Maybe Kenny could relate to Kelly and Shawn, who were just like down to earth Yorkshire kids, whereas Bruce and rest seemed to come across as being a bit more upper crust-types above him. I mean, when Bruce came in after a race he looked like he’d just been on a film shoot, not ridden a hardfought speedway race, and it was the same with the American road-racing star Freddie Spencer. But when I finished a race I always looked like I’d been shoveling Yorkshire coal for 10 hours. I loved the Yanks in road-racing. They all had a winner’s attitude, were larger than life, fitter than everyone else and set a great benchmark for me to beat them. They were always 100 per cent prepared and on top of their game, so they raised my game plan too. All in all they were great stuff. Speedway’s World Championship has been run along grand prix lines since 1995 but in those days the World final was still a one-off, one-night meeting and the hardest thing was qualifying for it. There were so many rounds held all over England and other parts of Europe, you knew that if you’d made the final 16 you really were one of the best riders in the world. Kenny won several championship qualifying rounds along the way but always seemed to come up short on the big one, the World Final, and most important meeting of all. It happened at Wembley in 1981, Los Angeles in ’82 and again at Norden, Germany, where the final was staged in 1983. Let me tell you the story about Norden, which began like a scene from the wild west. We set off with some heavy artillery, led by big and intimidating men like Mal Carter (The Daddy), John Silcox, a well handy guy who was Dad’s sales manager at Pharaoh, and Peter Garside, a giant of a man, plus a few other heavies and all of Kenny’s mechanics. We boarded the Holland-bound North Sea Ferry at Hull and everything was going great. We all booked into our cabins and then it was evening dinner – a feast fit for a king. There was an amazing buzz on the ship, because it was half full of speedway fans. After dinner we all hit the bar and the disco and things were going sweet as a nut. The drinks were flowing and I was dancing with some girls when this big German guy pushed into me. It was no big deal at first but when he knocked into me again, that was when Mal said “hit the bastard”, so I gave him a big right-hander. Before you know it, everyone was fighting, it was sheer madness. We were only going to the speedway final, not to watch Bruno v Tyson. One of Kenny’s biggest fans got a right roughing-up by one of our team and had a black eye in the morning. The poor chap thought he was only coming to watch Kenny win his first World final, not get a pasting on a ship, but he was fine the next day and we all shook hands. Departing the ship at the Hook of Holland, we were all rounded up by the Dutch police who wanted to form an identification parade to catch the instigator of the trouble. The German pointed out me as the ringleader and the cops stood there in amazement, laughing at this parade of menacing looking men that made Vinnie Jones look like Peter Pan, so we were all allowed to carry on our journey to the final we nearly missed. In the fight we all lost our gold chains — about four grand's worth back then — and I nearly broke my wrist punching the giant German. After checking into our hotel at Norden we went to look at the track, which was in the middle of nowhere — a million miles from the class of Wembley and the LA Coliseum. The track itself looked OK, though, and Kenny was flying again. With Penhall now retired, my brother was odds-on favourite to win the vacant title. He was looking great and once the bikes were set up it looked a foregone conclusion that he was going to win. But on arriving at the track on race day, we immediately noticed they had put about a million gallons of water on the track. It was a right bog and meant setting up the bikes for these conditions became a lottery. Many people will tell you the track was especially set-up for the German star Egon Muller but to be honest, I just don't know. All I can tell you is that I've never seen a guy win five races so easily. He made everyone
else look like they were on the old two-valve Jawas because Egon rode fantastic that day on his GM rocket ship to win with a 15-point maximum. For Team Carter it was the same old, same old . . . fantastic in practice followed by a very poor race meeting — another fifth place for Kenny with 10 points. For the third year in a row he was fifth in the World Final. Now trust me, that's unacceptable when you go there thinking you're going to win. Kenny was absolutely gutted to the bone. And little did we know at the time but due to badly broken legs in the following two years; Norden '83 would be his last World Final of his very short life. It's heartbreaking for me to think that two of the most naturally talented kids ever to race bikes, both with fantastic support in our early careers, never became world champions. The great three times world champion Kenny Roberts said: "It's not easy to become a world champion regardless of your talent." Never a truer word has been spoken. Not that Kenny was down for long after his failure in Germany. Back home, he tried to prove to me how fit and strong he was, which gave me a laugh. I was working out in my gym when he phoned to say he was on his way round. I fully loaded my bench-press with weights and had a practice go before his arrival. I could just manage to do one rep with about triple my body weight on the bar. "Let's have a go then — OK no prob, let's go for it," he says. Talk about funny. Well, he puffed and panted then gave it his all — but the bar didn't even move off the stops. I'm like, 'come on then' and he said: "I'm just, er, er, warming-up." Warming-up, my arse. So he tried again and screamed out loud to try and get some extra power into the bar, but it still never moved. "Get out of the way, you lamo," I screamed at the top of my voice before doing one rep. I could only do one because I'd piled on about 10 times more weight than I'd normally push. I knew I could do it after the practice I had before he turned up. Kenny's face was a picture. Despite another desperate attempt, he still couldn't even move the bar holding the weights and had to finally concede that I'd beaten him again. I worked hard on my fitness, doing benchpressing, curls, tricep pull-downs, leg work and use a treadmill. I'd usually spend at least an hour in the gym most days and also did a lot of running and cycling. Kenny did nothing to maintain or improve his fitness. He ended the '83 season on a winning note by taking victory in the Brandonapolis individual meeting at Coventry — it was three times World Champion Ole Olsen's farewell to British speedway and all the top blokes were riding. I remember it for different reasons. Kenny rings. "Fancy coming to Coventry, Al?" Which translates to 'basically, I'm f*****, no-one else can come, so can you help me?' "Yeah, no prob," I said.. That was my problem. All I could ever say was 'yeah, no prob' because I was too nice. On many occasions I should have told him to piss off and hung up but I didn't, and I'm still the same with people today. "Get to my house for one," he says. "OK, bye." Ten minutes later, he's on the phone again. "Can we use your van?" "Yeah, no problem, bye." Another 10 minutes goes by and the phone rings again. "Oh, forgot to tell yer, fill it up and I'll give yer the cash back when we get there." Talk about a tight bugger, he squeaked when he walked. He was about as tight as a duck's arse, and that's water-tight. As you can guess, Lord Kenny slept all the way to Coventry but I'm OK. I'm thinking how cool I look and how all the girls will be after me 'cos they sure won't be chasing Pizza Face. On arrival at Brandon Stadium the cheeky t**t pulls out a pair of £3.50 overalls that looked like they'd come from Wilkinson's and tells me I'm his dope-and-oiler for the night. I'm like, 'great'. So King Kenny scores a 15-point max and I'm like 'get in there, son', while looking forward to a nice slap-up meal after the meeting. No such luck. In the dressing room after racing he rips in half some mankie ham sandwich and says "have a swig of me orange pop if yer want." Dad always said he had two sons — one a miser and the other a poseur. And he was right. I got home from Coventry without grub and it cost me £30 in fuel to chauffeur the Brandonapolis winner there and back. What a deal that was. The next time Kenny rang asking me to come with him to Wolverhampton, I said: "My name's Tommy Tucker, not Silly F*****" — and hung up.
Photos: Don Morley
Eddie Lawson and Kel Carruthers, Yugoslavia, 1986.
1984 at the Belgian GP. Above left: Kenny Roberts at home with dad and wife Pam.Below: Rainey and Paul Butler on the back row of the grid. Italy, 1984. Above: Carter in trouble scrapping with Fernandez and Wimmer at the Austrian GP, 1984.
Rainey and Butler look puzzled by Carter’s quick time.
Right: Buddies, Alan and Wayne. Kenny Roberts relaxing at Spa, 1984.
Above: Bruce Penhall, speedway star.
Rainey looks on as Carter gets ready to head out in Italy, 1984. Rainey, French GP, 1984. Roberts Team Manager Paul Butler.
Carter chases Pons and Sarron. South Africa, 1984.Inset: Carter smiles, Rainey thinks. 1984, France.