Interview by Jeff Perrett, Photography by Paul Bliss
Interview by Jeff Perrett, Photography by Paul Bliss
There’s something different about Gordon these days.It’s difficult to put your finger on but he certainly doesn’t seem to be the happy-go-lucky ginger haired hotshot he once was when he arrived on the GP scene back in 1997. Of course he’s still got his Celtic roots in bedded in his head but that sense of casual abandonment about the magnitude of what he could become has been drawn from him. He now seems like a man that’s found exactly what he was looking for, a man that has found his soul.
Already it seems a generation away but something phenomenal happened to Crockard as it did in the world of motocross at the outset of the millennium. From out of nowhere the young Ulsterman won the opening round of the 250cc World championships at Talavera de la Reina, a few hundred kilometres outside of Madrid. Considering he was even trying to get a tow behind this writer during qualifying at that event two years earlier, failing to make the cut, it was an amazing achievement.
Many believed in Gordon at that time, many still do, but on that day in particular he made a firm and solid statement on his potential and in doing so had given the world of GP motocross something to think about. It was the manner in which he won that opening GP that had left the top teams with something to think about. Very quickly he got into the lead in the first heat and set some blistering laps, pulling away from the entire field. Then at around the mid way stage Frederick Bolley got into second after Pichon fell and started to chip away. It was then that you thought it was all going to be too much for the young CAS rider but he showed metal and grit and pushed on again to win comfortably, punching the air as he crossed the finish line. People who knew Gordy the best knew that win was capable but for the rest of us, well we just didn’t realise the potential was that great. Personally speaking I was gob smacked but even more so when he went out and backed it up with such a controlled, assured third position in race two to win the overall. That was the day that I realised Gordon Crockard wasn’t just a half decent rider from Northern Ireland giving it a go, that was the day it became obvious he was far more than that. Crockard the star.
So what has happened since then for the man adeptly name ‘Crockstar’? Well frankly, a lot that’s for sure, and certainly more than what scrapes the surface. Deep down in his mind there has been questions and doubts, so much so it’s digested down to his soul. “That race at Talavera changed everything, like maybe ‘that’ goal changed everything for Michael Owen in the world cup. It was a big change in my self-belief and what I could do. It made me realise that anythingis possible and gave me the stature and desire to go on and win my first British championship” expresses Gordy as we sit in his motorhome outside the Belfast Odyssey arena awaiting the kick off to the international supercross. It certainly was a defining moment in his career, no question as he went on to follow that up with another British Championship for Honda and the CAS team and finished third in the world in 2001.
Midway through that season Crockard had the teams right in the palm of his hand and knew he had to capitalise on their interest if he was going to make the grade and bring a very popular World championship back to the green grass of home. “I moved away from Honda to seek more technical assistance, I wasn’t happy with the level of Honda’s input to beat the factory Kawasaki’s and Suzuki’s. Basically it just wasn’t happening through CAS and Honda so Nick Moores (Gordon’s mechanic) and myself went to factory KTM. They wanted to conquer the world with their 250 two stroke like they had with their 125 and we thought the odds of that were very strong but basically we thought wrong. In my opinion they never got the bike right. Dobby didn’t do anything on it, neither did Langston, Bierer, myself, nobody did. It just wasn’t right at all so basically I just lost a season and loads of momentum and went into 2003 trying to prove a point and get back on track before I became too old.”
Gordy left KTM a frustrated man and returned to the comfort of the CAS Honda nest that he flew. Being under the wing of Harry Ainsworth was just the nursing back to health Gordon needed at the time. “I had a good year back at CAS but I had a lot of knock and bangs that upsets a run on a championship. I had so many small injuries. Broken fingers, dislocated shoulders, broken nose, all niggling injuries that hurt me a lot. Not in physical pain but in the emotional strain of trying to push through the constant set backs. It was hard to take because I felt I had good speed at the GP’s. I won the British open championship again and was really happy which was some consolation but I felt it could’ve been so much more. I got my injuries out of the way in the off season, got Nick back working with me and felt like 2004 was going to pick up where 2001 left off.”
Once again though it failed to live up to the promise of that seemingly distant breakthrough year for Gordon. After all the smiles of another British championship with CAS, another contract with them in the bag and months of solid training out in California, it all came tumbling down in a stark contrast in the mud and rain of Canada Heights at the opening round of the British championship. Crockard would not retain his title. “I got a bad start which is bad enough at the best of times but in horrific conditions like that it’s even worse. I got my foot caught in a rut on the first lap and that was it, game over in a nutshell. I wrenched it and wrecked all the ligaments and cartilage in my knee and had months of surgery and time off the bike, it was horrible and the start of a downward spiral that
I believe I’m only just coming out of.”
If things we’re bleak for Gordy they were about to get worse as his relationship with Harry and CAS broke down. Within the political world of sponsorship and media coverage, teams, contracts and PR Crockard was to get caught up in a pretty nasty crossfire between him and the team that had always supported him so well. “The injury dragged me down as I couldn’t believe all that work had been flushed away after the off season Nick and I had put in. I was feeling low inside but trying to stay positive to the people around me. Then I had a big fall out with the team over an energy drinks sponsor, then an even bigger fall out because they weren’tpaying my wages. I felt masses of stress. All of a sudden my sport was an awful thing and by the end of 2004 it was a very sad time for me. My confidence was extremely low.”
I asked Gordon if that experience in his life could compare to a teenager of the psychedelic generation who looks back now on the promiscuous double decade of the sixties and seventies and a time you can never really return to. “Oh aye, It’s a closed book because we fell out and that’s sad. It’s a sad end to a wonderful time in my life that has given me great memories. I want to look at photographs of me in CAS gear and think ‘oh yeah those were the days’. I don’t want to look at them and go ‘those guys shafted me’. It would be great to sit down with Harry and reminisce but that isn’t going to happen. I’ve always said mates fall out over girls and money, we fell out over money. I learned a lot, maybe at the time I took it far too personal but I was young and I’m not a businessman. I’m a lot wiser to the world now.”
A change of colour the following year didn’t bear much fruit for the twenty-seven year old from Newtownards. He left Honda for the blue of Dixon Yamaha and continued to go through the mill. “ I struggled with everything. The suspension, the bikes, the change of a new team, just everything. Then I broke my wrist, which was probably a result of all those factors and that just added to the problems. It was an ever-decreasing circle and I felt it getting tighter, like it was difficult for me to breathe. It was the road to nowhere, it was a misery story that would make an onion cry. The broken wrist spelt out to me that I had a lot of problems and to
get over that I had to dig deep to get motivated and recover. To do the physio and to get back out on the track as soon as possible was tough because if I hadn’t of done that Gordon Crockard would be retired and that would be it, the story would be over. I had to really do some mental searching. Did I want to keep racing? Was I racing because I need money to live? Was I racing because it was easier than going to work each day? What the hell am I racing for here?! I had to really question myself and do some self analysis. I thought ‘I finished third in the world and I’m not really happy with that, so lets get on here and have another stab at it.’ I really wasn’t enjoying it but what else could I have done? I didn’t want to quit even though I had my doubts I’d ever get back to where I was.”
If fighting an inner battle wasn’t enough for Gordon he had to keep his head above water and his emotions in check as around this time he started to come under attack from fans. His name started cropping up on motocross forums with armchair racers all over the UK taking a pop at him, sometimes even directly. “I had a call and it really got me revved up, I think the guy did me a favour. This private number called my mobile and the guy started mouthing down the phone, ‘my granny could ride better, Crockard you’re crap, you’re a has been.’ I was just listening trying to work out who it was and I could hear all these people listening in background. Then I’d hang up and they’d call back and do it again. I thought to myself well there you are, if I was doing well they’d be asking me for my shirt. The forums are incredible. I never go on them but friends tell me what’s being said. I don’t care what people say but some people are nasty. What’s it got to do with them anyway? it’s me and my weekend and that’s who I have to live with every day.”
Being shot down in flames is something Gordon has absorbed with a certain degree of dignity. He’s kept his head down, partly because his confidence has dragged it down but through it all he’s never documented the reasons too publicly instead choosing to try and solve theproblems he’s had. “I race the bikes for myself and sometimes I’ve questioned myself if I wanted to do that anymore. It’s normally when I’m about to go into another winter of training. Just before you throw yourself into something you question it, I guess it’s human nature. It’s just all about that commitment because you have to ask a lot of yourself. I’ve had some major highs in motocross and to think about matching those is a long way away. It’s like losing your virginity. You’re never going to win your first GP or British Championship again. Am I striving to rematch who I’ve already been? Am I striving to rematch an experience that I’ve already had? Because I’m not interested, it’s like going to watch a film for a second time. I’m after that ultimate experience.”
So what of the year just gone for Gordon? Was it the start of a Rocky style comeback from a man that refuses to except he’s fulfilled his potential? Certainly there were moments of the ‘old’ Gordon Crockard out on the track last year but he’s still very different from what he was back at the start of his GP career. As for showing glimpses of what we all now know he’s capable of Gordon is a little bit miffed. “When people say to me ‘we need the old Gordon Crockard back’ that drives me crazy because I’m not the same person, a lot has happened to me and that’s what shapes your personality. The events and occurrences that go on in your life adjust who you are because you have a different perspective on things, like now I need to recuperating some speed and confidence. Now I may come across differently because I know what I want and time holds the key. I’m older now and that brings a degree of urgency to what I want to achieve. Time is running out, I can’t afford to be held back anymore and I’m focused more than ever. It’s easier when you’re on top of the wave, look at Tommy Searle. To read in a magazine that you’re going to be the next world champion is inspiring, you’d get your running shoes on and be down the street with smoke coming out the back. Some people said that about me and now I hear I’m a has been, suddenly it’s not so easy to put on your running shoes. I work on positive feed back. I think 06 proved that.”
“I had an okay year, really what I was looking from it was to get my speed and confidence back because those were the two things that I didn’t have. I wasn’t confident but that’s returning. I was worried about my knee, my wrist, I was worried I was slow because of that. I was worried I was too old, all these doubts that were forming a physiological barrier. This previous year I’ve started to beat down those barriers and got some good results and made my way back into the top ten at some GP’s but not consistently. I would like to get those results on a regular basis for 07 then I’ll be edging around the top five in the world
So it’s been quite a good year with the Wulfsport Honda team but once again things turned sour between the team and their rider right near the end. Gordon is a huge pull across the Irish Sea, especially being the home-grown hero at the Belfast supercross so for the recent event he decided to capitalise on that. “Let’s say you have a local plumbing firm here in Belfast and you want to get your name out as being the best plumbers in Northern Ireland, sponsoring me to ride around with logos on my jersey in the Italian GP isn’t going to help them at all. At the time I had the opportunity to sort a deal out with Eastwood bookmakers to race that event so that’s what I did.” For Gordon and his temporary new colours it worked out well but it came at a price as it caused a disagreement with his team boss of 2006, Roger Magee. “I never had a contract with Roger. We had an agreement for the World and British championships. After the MXDN my mechanic was paid and all the stuff returned and that was it. We were negotiating a deal for 2007 but that didn’t happen. Roger got his nose out of joint because I didn’t ride in his colours at the Odyssey. I was under no obligation and he didn’t like the fact that I was shrewd enough to sort out a monetary deal to race there.”
Clearly there’s another chapter in the career of Gordon Crockard closed but he seems ok with that. If anything it seems to have given him more clarity of exactly what he’s after out of motocross and probably more importantly life itself. “I can’t race without some sort of security. Going into the year without a penny to your name doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind. At the end of the race you’re counting up your points bonus to see if you’ve got enough money to get through the week. I think I’m of a standard that can command a wage. I’ve known Rowley (Paul Rowlands PAR Honda boss) for sometime and we’ve got together and sorted out a good package for this year. If I can keep getting those results that I had last year on a consistent level, that’s the target. In my mind I don’t have those question marks in my head anymore and I’ve got the drive because I think I can do it.”
Spending half an hour chatting with Gordon made me a believer that indeed he can do it too. In his own words he’s got the monkey off his back. There’s two ways you can go with life, you can give it your all and ultimately become content within or sit back and have the sour taste of regrets. I can’t see Crockard having many of those.