Hodgson in the hot seat
for the ride of his life in his sidecar Chris Walker takes Neil Hodgsonar, before Hodgson returns the favour
Chris Walker and Neil Hodgson were once fierce enemies in the fight for a BSB title, but now they are sidecar teammates. The EX-WSB champion-turned TV pundit agreed to have a crack in Walker’s British championship sidecar outfit... but only if he could drive with Walker in the chair too. What could possibly go wrong?
‘I’ve taken two journalists out so far and only one of them fell out’ CHRIS WALKER
‘I’m not going to lie to you; I’ve had three large poos this morning,” explained a seriously nervous-looking Neil Hodgson to MCN, seconds before getting in to the sidecar with former arch rival Chris Walker.
It’s been 16 years since the two British heroes fought like cat and dog for the British Superbike crown in a title battle that is still regarded as the greatest the series has ever witnessed.
While Hodgson is now a Motogp TV pundit for BT Sport, Walker continues racing after making a shock switch to the British Sidecar championship this year. Their hatred of one another may have mellowed as they both grew older, but their rivalry remains just as intense. In the pub earlier this year at the MCN London show, Walker dared Hodgson to jump in the chair of his Kawasaki-powered sidecar – a dare that Hodgson reluctantly accepted.
“I told Neil he’d have to come in the sidecar at some point and I could tell he really wasn’t keen but didn’t want to say no!” said Walker. “In the end, we came to a deal that saw us agree that if he would ride on the side of me, I’d then let him drive the thing while I’m sat in the chair! I might be used to racing these things now, but I haven’t done a passenger lap since I went on the side of Mick Boddice in 1996 and that scared the crap out of me!”
Having heard of the deal, MCN helped make it happen along with MSV and where better to bring the former archrivals together than Oulton Park, the circuit in where Hodgson and Walker had their now famous last corner clash all those years ago? (See next page.)
“While Chris and I have got on for a lot of years now, we were proper rivals back in the day. We really didn’t like each other, I mean really didn’t like each other and even now we can’t agree on who was at fault in that incident at Lodge all those years ago!” said Hodgson.
“In February when we raced each other at the MCN Show, we knocked lumps out of each other and if I’m being completely honest, I might have been out of order and a bit over aggressive on him and he wasn’t so bad towards me so I came here thinking he owed me one! I was fully expecting today to be payback time and I would deserve it too! As we set off down pit-lane I was terrified as I didn’t know what Chris was going to do to me!”
Rolling back into pit-lane after a three-lap stint in the chair, Hodgson was shaking his head while Walker, visor up, was laughing. Taking his helmet off, a red- faced Hodgson was buzzing with excitement.
“This feels so wrong! I genuinely thought he was going to have me out of the back of that. Ten years ago he’d have made sure I fell out; it seems he’s got a bit more mature in his old age!” laughed Hodgson.
“It was more slippery and smaller than I expected but the worst thing was that you don’t really know where the handles are! I was trying to move and all of a sudden he accelerated and I went for a handle that wasn’t there and instantly shat myself in panic!
“I didn’t have a clue how quick he was going to go or what he was going to do! All I knew is I could get f**king hurt doing this, so when I lost my grip I proper panicked because it’s not a joke, it wouldn’t be funny for me if I was off the back at 100mph! The arm pump is
insane, you go from having absolutely none to having full arm pump, but it is an incredible feeling.”
While Hodsgon was clearly relieved to get back into pit lane without falling out, Walker maintained that he never had anything to worry about!
“I know Neil was scared of what I might do to him, but honestly it’s not like that now! Ten years ago, I’d have been more up for scaring him as there was a long period where we really didn’t like each other. It might have made a funny story if he’d been out the back but I’d have felt bad!
“I revved it a bit over the start finish straight and braked real hard in to Hizzy’s to give him the sensation of what it’s like, but I didn’t want to lose him! You have to respect the bike, it’s 200bhp and weighs 250kg and having lost a journalist earlier this year I know full well how they don’t work without the passenger!”
After a few adjustments to the sidecar, including moving the rear brake pedal a little further back so Hodgson could just squeeze into what Walker calls ‘the bathtub’, and the duo were back out on track with Hodgson in control.
“Driving the sidecar is a completely different world,” Hodgson confessed after completing his stint. “It’s much more physical than I thought, my arms are still hurting and I train, so it’s not like I’ve done nothing but I found it really difficult.
“The position is cramped and totally alien and nothing from riding a bike transfers across so I genuinely can’t believe how well Chris has done to finish second in a British Championship race. There’s no front brake and that made me really uneasy as on a bike I’d never ever use the rear brake so it was a completely weird concept for me having nothing to go for with my right hand!
“It feels so much quicker because you are lying on the ground. It felt bloody quick for me and he was taking it steady! I did smile when we went around Shell Oils as the corner speed is phenomenal, if you could carry that sort of corner speed on a bike you’d be unstoppable!
“I’ve always respected anyone who races and I’m not one of those guys who hates sidecar racers, but I definitely have a heightened respect for them after this, both the driver and passenger!”
That famous race
Sixteen years ago Hodgson and Walker were two young, hungry riders desperate to make a name for themselves. They went head to head on equally competitive machinery in what went on to be renowned as the fiercest fight so far in the series’ 20-year history.
Their rivalry and title fight re-ignited their careers on the world stage, with Hodgson going on to become a World Superbike Champion in 2003 while Walker remained a fans’ favourite as he continued to race in both the World and British series after losing out on the 2000 British Superbike crown.
The last time Walker and Hodgson were on track together at Oulton Park was back in 2000, where their rivalry would be put to the test in a tantalising battle for the lead.
After Hodgson had stormed from the back of the grid to win the opening race, Walker was determined to stop him in the second outing and the result was one of the most outrageous battles in British Superbike history.
The pair came together multiple times, but it was one collision that defined the result as the duo collided at Lodge (the final turn) on the last lap while fighting for the lead. A stewards’ inquiry ruled Hodgson at fault, but to this day the pair still bicker about who was to blame.
‘All I knew is I could get f***ing hurt doing this, so when I lost my grip I proper panicked’ NEIL HODGSON
‘It’s much more physical than I thought, my arms are still hurting’ NEIL HODGSON
“We were trying to make a name for ourselves back then and we’d do whatever it took to win,” explained Hodgson. “Sometimes that meant being dirty and that’s where we were!”
Walker added “Back then we had to be tough to compete against one another but when we look back now, that determination to beat him and his determination to beat me defined our careers and we both went on to become fairly successful, especially Neil with winning a World Championship.
“Braking into Lodge in the sidecar I did have a flashback to that day 16 years ago. We were arch enemies but over the last decade we’ve become closer. We don’t see a lot of one another, we don’t live in the same part of the world and he travels the globe doing GPS but I enjoy watching him on the telly and I hope he fancies a sidecar race one day!”
Hodgson and Walker haven’t been this close together since they were crashing into one another in BSB
The flushed faces of two middle-aged men who’ve just experienced a sidecar
‘Just shove yourself in a bit further Neil, then we can get going’ A few last words of advice from Walker before the outfit hits the Oulton circuit Hodgson looks like he knows what he’s doing, but under the visor he’s screaming
Don’t worry, Hodgson isn’t actually being sick over the side of the machine Now it’s Walker’s turn to get a taste of his own medicine at Oulton Park Hodgson has a new respect for Walker’s rookie results in the sidecar world Flashback to 2000 and it’s hammer and tongs between Walker and Hodgson Professional sidecar passenger Justin Sharp gives Hodgson some vital survival tips as he tries to squeeze himself on to what can only be best described as the tea tray-sized platform.