MXLarge interview - Dave Thorpe
Interview Thursday 16th August 2012 By Geoff Meyer
Training camps are something that helped develop three time world 500cc champion Dave Thorpe into a winning machine, but there was one moment in those early years that stands out in his mind. He had dreamt about being a GP rider, a world champion, but on this day he knew for sure that he had what it took to be a Grand Prix winner. The first major step for Thorpe came when he was just a young boy and he came up against Englands top 125cc riders of that era Roger Harvey.
During a special training school put on by Kawasaki the two came together, one the old warrior, the other a young pup ready for any challenge. It was a defining moment for Thorpe and one that gave him the belief that he could make it in the sport he so loved.
"When I was 13 of 14 Kawasaki had a week long training camp at Hawkstone Park. My parents used to let me go there, I would take a one man tent and they would pitch it up for me and I would stay there on my own. They used to have a residential coach on each day, usually a top UK motocross, who would do guest training. Roger Harvey came one day, and he was a GP rider at that stage. I think he was like sixth in the world, he taugh us through the day and at the end of the day we could ride around the track with him. I remember following him and he came by me, I tried to tag onto him. I was on a 125cc and he was on a 125cc. We did a lap of the track and we got up to where there used to be a tunnel. I remember thinking to myself I am still behind him, he can't be trying, I saw him look over his shoulder. The next lap we got to the same point and I was thinking to myself he is bloody trying. I managed to stay with him for two or three laps, I couldn't sustain it, he was of course far stronger than me. I remember going to bed that night and thinking I could do it, I could with a little work do it. Roger was in the Grands Prix and a top rider. I remember so clearly thinking to myself, I can do this, I can do it (reach his dream)."
"Another thing that was so funny was in a British championship round. Roger was riding for a Yamaha and he was leading. He was really old school and in one race I came up behind him to pass. Now he was very good at making sure you didn't find a way past and I was screaming and yelling at him. He came over to me after the race with his big smile and said that if I was lapping him he I could scream and yell all I wanted, but if we were in the race then I should keep my mouth shut. A little while later we met again and this time the roles were reversed and he was following me. He began to scream at me to let him pass, I can't remember what happen in that race, but I walked over to him, pointed my finger in his chest and told him that sam story he had told me. Of course he still have that big smile, Roger was a good guy to race against and also a lot of fun."
Thorpe still loves motocross, gets to the odd GP, or British championship round, and he watches most of the rounds on mediazone or television. He knows that being a fan gives him a good perspective on how the sport is now. He has been a racer, a team manager and now a trainer and he can pretty much look at what is happening in the sport from all angles.
"When I watch on the TV and look at the tracks, they are getting knarly know, which is good, because they were working on them for a while there and not letting them get knarly. It's a shame everything is built now, the old natural terrain circuits are slowly being pushed aside. I mean with the big trucks and progress of the sport, it's difficult to stay at the old circuits. It is very professional now, and thats the way it's got to be. I mean if somebody put a blindfold on you, and took you into a motocross paddock, it would be Superbike or Formula One event, it's unbelievable how much better that it. It should draw in more people and more sponsors."
"I would never say a rider has it easier now, because at that level of motocross it's never easy, it's tough. If there is a good group, and that is what we have at the moment, then they will all improve, and that is what we are seeing."
One rider who Thorpe possibly puts on a level above everyone is Stefan Everts. Thorpe has ridden in the strongest era in the sport, the days with four or five riders held two or three world titles at a differant time. The time of full-factory machines and record crowds. Still though the finesse that Everts has the motivation to continue to race after so long in the saddle really gives Thorpe a huge respect for the Belgian legend.
"When you look at the youngsters of today, MX1 they have Strijbos, Ramon, de Dycker, they are pretty good riders, but when Stefan leaves it's going to be tough to replace him, but those young guys will also improve once he is gone. Look at MX2 there is a good bunch of riders. I watch the GPs on television, I am a big Stefan Everts fan, and to watch him racing, and he is on another level, for him to remain so focused and keep motivated that is amazing, it's another reason why he is one of the greatest riders out there."
"I wouldn't say Stefan has not had the same competition as me, but he is just doing what he needs to, why push yourself if you don't have to. It is always difficult to pit riders against others, but I think Stefan is the complete deal, he is good in everything, as was Eric (Geboers), Georges (Jobe), Andre (Malherbe), they were also good in everything, it would be a tough battle had Stefan been in our era. If you could pull guys like De Coster, Robert into the mix, so many other great names into the picture, wouldn't it be wonderful to put all of us together."
"You have names like Carlqvist, Geboers, Malherbe, Jobe, Stefan, Smets, all those guys I put together. I think Smets also had competition (despite many saying he raced in an easy era), he is an out and out racer. it could be true about Smets as it was for me. We were not technically the best, but what we didn't have on the technical side, we made up for in heart and the desire, he would be in with me for sure."
The history of the sport is something that Thorpe feels strongly about. His place is very important to him, but he also knows that so many great riders before and after him have contributed to make our sport so great.
"I grew up watching guys, reading and learning from all of the older riders. If somebody pulls an old magazine out and asks who a rider is, I generally know who it is. For me, I came in at the end of the De Coster era, and I followed him as a child, he is for sure up there with all the other greats, but I think in the years to come nobody will ever capture the imagination of the people like Stefan Evert has. When he came into the sport he was a boy, I was at the top of my game and I got the chance to watch his developement, I don't ever see anyone doing what he has done on a race track. I don't agree with comparing Ricky Carmichael to Stefan Everts, it's a different world. I mean there is no faster guy in the world than Carmichael, but if you look at the european scheduel, so many differant countries, differant terrains, so many differant things to deal with. I mean it's really two differant worlds. Obviously Carmichael and Stewart are for sure the two quickest guys in American and there is a good case to say Stefan is the best ever in europe, but you just can't compare the two."
As for racing on the roughest circuits in the world Thorpe got a big kick out of doing events in Switzerland, France and other countries, even more so than racing at home. It was the open spaces and fast speeds that got his adrenalin running.
"I loved racing on the continent, I was the opposite to how it is now, I loved it, when I rode on the bigger circuits in France, Switzerland or whatever I always felt like it was me, I was a big race rider and I usually rose to the occasion in the bigger races, like the GP series. I couldn't live in another country, I was always the first person to be on the plane home and he last person to get to the races, but I loved the speeds and technical layout of those circuits on the continent."
We asked Thorpe about the present situation with British riders, he was not short in coming forward and rated both Billy Mackenzie and Tommy Searle highly. He knows what it takes to reach the top and he can see in these two riders that they want it. Both are racers, riders who might take a chance
"I think if we knew how to get to the next level, we could make a lot of money. I mean there are a lot of riders out there who are technically very good, physically very good, but don't make it. It's about the make-up of the person, that extra pressure, how do you deal with that, and I can tell you, once you win the pressure is huge, because your expected to win again. It's the whole package of keeping fit, mentally strong, keeping everythin together. Once you throw in a few wins the other riders come a lot more aggressive to you, it changes everything for you. I think somebody like Billy (Mackenzie) he has it, he has all the parts, but whether they have all pulled together, that remains to be seen. Look at Tommy Searle, the thing I like about him is he is technically good, but he is a fighter, he has heart British people will love him. I watched him as a boy growing up in the youth, and in the British championships. He has good people around him, a good team, and he has James (Dobb) helping him, James has been there and knows what it is all about and right now Tommy is very competative. He has as good a chance as I had or any of the young riders who came into the sport and really wanted results. He is a racer and a racer always survives, he never switchs off, he gives it 100% and that is a good thing to have as a young boy."
His legendary status will remain forever, hear his name and memories come rolling back, so many fans, from so many countries enjoyed watching DT race, and for Thorpe himself it's all about putting in the hard yards and the rewards will come. His beloved British fans, they came from all parts of the country, followed him around the world and never ever stopped their love for this great British sportsman. It would be easy to say that Thorpe was the most loved British motocross rider in the history of the sport.
"The good thing about being a British sportsman, and the British public can see that you are giving your all, then you get a lot of respect for it, for the rest of your live more or less. Look at Nigel Mansell, the British people still love him, Fogerty, Barry Sheene the British people will support them, what the British people won't warm to is somebody who is a premadona, the British mentality will not warm to that at all. I think all the fans I build up in France and Belgium and Holland, they could see I was giving it everything I had, if people think you're a racer, and your out there to win, then they will support you, and I was a racer. Sometimes if it meant rolling my sleeves up and getting on with it, I would."