In the latest episode of Last On The Brakes, the official podcast of MotoGP™, former WorldSBK Champion Neil Hodgson sat down for the hour with Matt Dunn and Fran Wyld to talk about what life is really like in the paddock. In particular, the now BT Sport MotoGP™ pundit revealed what it was like walking into the Grand Prix paddock having just turned 18 and won the British Championship the year previous.
The Brit made his full World Championship debut in 1993, starting at the opening round in Australia. From there, the paddock moved on to the Shah Alam circuit in Malaysia, something Hodgson says is most comparable to the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. Unsurprisingly for a lad from Burnley who two years earlier had been on his foreign venture to Spain, the heat and humidity of Malaysia felt like a million miles away from Lancashire.
"Termas is a unique place and racing wasn’t like that even in the 90s," said Hodgson. "I started racing 125s back in ’93, the only place that felt a bit like that was when we went to Malaysia. Because it’s Shah Alam circuit, which is the old circuit we used to race at and it was really rough around the edges. It was me and my Dad that went there, I had won the British championship the year before so my Dad really encouraged the move up to Grands Prix, no point in staying and defending the title, got to try and race against better people. It was different back then, you could do that. But it took a lot of effort.
"Anyway, we turned up at Shah Alam, where there were only a handful of garages and behind them, there were these metal huts. We were as low as the low could get, a small 125 team. And in these metal huts, talk about no air-con! At the time I was 18, and the first time I’d even been abroad was when I was 16 and that was to Spain! So to be in Malaysia, 600 degrees and in a metal hut, I was thinking, ‘my God this is rough and ready!’
"It was like… it’s funny, I have a picture on the wall that says ‘dream BIG’, and weirdly looking at it I just think yeah, it was a dream. A dream. Because, I was a builder, so I left school, no qualifications, and I was a builder. I did that for three years. In the last year, I won the British championship, so I had to stop being a builder - thank God. And so, we went Grand Prix racing but I couldn’t believe it.
"All I wanted to do was ride my bike, but once I finished, not even a 5 minute debrief as I didn’t know what I was talking about, I just wanted to go out and watch the 500s as it was Schwantz, Rainey, Doohan. So I was out on the service roads watching from the barriers, walking around the paddock just staring at my heroes and outside the back of their garages, they’ve come out, say ‘alright, mate?’ - ‘yeah, yeah..’ Just trying to get them to look at me! So, it’s so strange looking back thinking ‘how lucky was I at 18-19 years old doing that?’ Great memories."
For more stories like this, head to MotoGP™'s YouTube channel or your usual podcast provider to listen to the latest episode of Last On The Brakes, the official MotoGP™ podcast. Plus, don't forget there'll be a brand-new episode of Last On The Brakes with an extremely special celebrity guest released on Monday - don't miss it!
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