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

Classic Racer - - WHAT'S INSIDE - Words: Alan Carter

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.

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