Chris Carter has been a journalist, broadcaster, commentator and friend of the star names of international motorcycle sport for more than 60 years.
We asked Chris a few questions about his career ahead of the publication of his forthcoming book.
High/low points of your career?
My good friend, former Motocross World Champion, Jeff Smith, told me over half a century ago that he was a very fortunate man, because he was paid to do his hobby. He was right.
People have paid me for over 60 years to travel the world and watch the world’s top motorcycle competitors in action. Fans would have had to spend a fortune to do just a small amount of what I have done.
The high points have been witnessing the triumphs of my many friends in different branches of the sport. The lows have been the heartbreaks and tears those friends and their families have suffered over the years. Road racing, in particular, can be a very cruel sport.
Best rider/race featured in the book?
It is so difficult to compare competitors in different eras. Road racing has had Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Jarno Saarinen, Kenny Roberts, Valentino Rossi and now Marc Martinez. They raced at different times, on different bikes against different opposition.
It’s the same in motocross. Jeff Smith, Dave Bickers, Joel Robert, Roger de Coster, Graham Noyce, Ricky Johnson, Stefan Everts, Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael were supreme at times.
Who was the best? You take your pick.
The best race? I have seen thousands, ranging from club races to GPs. Impossible to pick any out.
Best/worst travel experiences?
Easily the worst trip I ever made was my first trip to Macau in the mid-70s. The Pan Am flight was cancelled and we all had to return to Heathrow 24 hours later.
The plane landed at Frankfurt, and we were kept on board for four hours before being allowed back in the terminal. After another four hours, we took off for Hong Kong. On arrival, however, we found we had missed our jet foil, and had to take the slow ferry to Macau.
At the hotel everyone in the group was allocated a room … except me and French road racer Bernard Fau. “Very sorry. All rooms gone,” said the elderly, Chinese night porter. But when Bernard and I grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him bodily over the counter, he suddenly remembered one!
The whole nightmare took well over 24 hours from leaving Heathrow. The flight was Pan Am 004 – renamed Pan Am 007, and definitely licensed to kill!
Many years later, a first class trip with Emirates to Hong Kong and then on to Thailand was easily the best.
Several people come in for a bit of a drubbing (eg Barry Sheene) – was the book an opportunity to get things off your chest?
There are many Barry Sheene fans, some of whom will not agree with what I have written, but that’s just tough. Sometimes you discover another side of someone’s character when you get to know them well.
I criticize other riders, too. Maybe it is a case of getting things off my chest, but perhaps it is more taking the opportunity to telling the truth.
Having done print, radio and TV work, which would you say was your preferred medium?
TV can give you an audience of millions, but for me all the radio work I did with the BBC was the most rewarding. The listener, perhaps out driving his car, cannot see anything. Your skill with words will give them the story, or not.
You must talk all the time. If people are flicking through stations and find silence they will move on!
The book largely concerns incidents from your professional life – was it by design or coincidence that you omitted more personal anecdotes?
Motorcycle sport is my life. The stories, all of them, are personal.
Do you still follow motorcycle racing? Who are the ones to watch?
I am still very much a racing fan.
No one is indispensable, and that is particularly true in motorcycle sport. Superstars come and go, but there is always someone to replace them. The Italian, Marc Martinez, has been a breath of fresh air in the sport, but Valentino Rossi, now a veteran of 36 years of age can still beat him.
Watch out for the young British crop: Danny Kent, Bradley Smith, Scott Redding and the Lowes twins, Sam and Alex.
No regrets at all. I have had the good fortune to have be on the inside for many, many years. I have had all the excitement, but none of the danger.
This book is a wonderful collection of anecdotes – some tragic, but mostly humorous – documenting Chris Carter’s fascinating and unique life spent at the heart of motorcycle sport.
Chris Carter at Large – Stories from a lifetime in motorcycle racing by Chris Carter and Richard Skelton is published next month. Click here for more information about the book.