In 1983, Alan Carter of Halifax became the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship’s youngest ever winner, after a thrilling ride in the 1983 French 250cc Grand Prix – a weekend that will be remembered as a contrast to Carter’s emotions. In a time when the north of Britain had been seemingly forgotten about, there were big hopes. Sadly, Carter was never allowed to fulfil his massive potential and due to a number of reasons, never became the World Champion that he and us fans know he should’ve become. In an incredible interview held at Knockhill on Sunday evening where I spoke to Alan himself, he recalls the tragedy that rocked the family as well as the infamous 1986 British Grand Prix, which proved worth fighting for in more ways than one.
In 1986, I raced on a Cobas, built by Antonio Cobas. He was an incredible engineer but the biggest problem we had was that the team couldn’t speak english. I’d had the same team for the previous three seasons but when I went to Cobas in 1986, I ended up with a team full of Spaniards. Looking back on it now, it was funny and brilliant but obviously at the time it was stressful and annoying. They also liked a couple of bottles of Rioja during their Siesta times. That wasn’t very useful because when they came back, none of them could remember what they had tightened up and what they hadn’t, so I spent most the time on the floor after my bike seized up!
The problems started in Belgium. I was sat behind Sito Pons in 2nd, with Donny McLeod 3rd. I thought that I’ll just wait behind him and pass him on the last couple of laps and take the win. Unfortunately, my bike went onto one cylinder so my plan went out the window. I should’ve come out of the Belgian Grand Prix 1986 finishing at least 2nd, but I actually finished fifth, not too far off Dominique Sarron in 4th. I came away from there extremely pissed off.
What happened now was that I trained like crazy for Silverstone: I was going to win the British Grand Prix. We used to have Thursday practice which wasn’t timed and then Friday and Saturday practice which was timed. To us though, Thursday was timed, as we had someone doing it ourselves and then find out where we was. When I came back, I saw that I was top of the time-sheets. I was absolutely buzzing!
On the Friday, I went into the first turn – off the back of a 5th gear Woodcote back then – and the bike seized up and chucked me off. The crash bashed me up a bit and obviously knocked my confidence, even though I was a professional. I had a pretty poor qualifying but luck was on my side, because it absolutely threw it down on race day, by that point I thought a win was guaranteed.
After about five laps, I took the lead but the rev counter had stuck to about 7,000 RPM. We used these Tony Dawson rev counters which were good when they worked but in reality they were a bit hit and miss. So now, I’m racing a two stroke which has a very narrow power band and can only change gear through listening to the engine because my rev counter had become irrelevant. Because I was focused on the engine, it took the edge off my performance so me and Dominique Sarron swapped places a few times. On the final few laps, I started to catch Sarron again and people said that I probably wouldn’t beat him, although I thought I could. 2nd place at the time didn’t mean anything to me because I wanted to win so much.
I started to reel him in and closed down the gap, which was approximately 2 seconds. As I came out of Stowe corner, I knew that if I had a chance of winning, I needed to get a good run. When I arrived at Club corner, time was running out but I was still a believer. I got on the power a fraction early, the rear came round on me and I crashed out of 2nd place in the British Grand Prix. It was all my own fault and there’s no questions about that.
Amongst all of the panic and the pandemonium and confusion, I picked the bike up and the only damage to it was the clutch lever. I managed to wedge the clutch lever back – like you can – so I could rejoin. I only needed to use it once to start the bike because I still wanted to finish. Everything was going fine until this marshal came along. Obviously he was concerned because I was at the side of the track and he didn’t want me to be taken out by someone who might crash like I did. However, he came up to me and knocked my arm, which then knocked the clutch lever which made me f*****g livid! I went to throw a punch at him and completely lost the plot! I ran back to the bike and tried restarting it but I didn’t realise that I was trying in sixth gear, so it wouldn’t go anywhere. I ran 50m with it but I was absolutely exhausted. I was 45 minutes into a Grand Prix so I just put the bike down and collapsed at the side of the circuit and that was it. It was all over.
I finished 17th in the world championship that season. It was the same year that my brother, Kenny, killed himself and his wife. He was my manager, my best mate and my best friend. He was World Pairs Speedway Champion with Peter Collins in 1983, he was a double British Speedway Champion in 1984 and 1985, winning the 1984 championship with a broken leg. He was controversially excluded in 1982 from the Los Angeles event which ended the year. He clashed on track with eventual champion Bruce Penhall. It was the best racing I’ve ever seen.
All in all, I felt robbed at the time. I knew I could’ve and probably should’ve gone on to win world championships but it wasn’t to be. I was on a short list of four riders for a factory NSR Honda. The others were Dominique Sarron and Carlos Cardus – I can’t remember the other guy. It’s been hard for me though. My brother killing himself after he murdered his wife, my mum killed herself at 15 and I’ve buried my daughter. I urge anyone to read my book and see for themselves just how hard it’s been.
I think me and my brother were very poorly managed by my dad, who was like a cross between a gypsy and something out of a Guy Ritchie film. However, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have ever raced. He was the best motorcycle coach there ever was; I raced for Kenny Roberts and he was shit compared to my dad. I wanted to let people know – through writing a book – why I never became a world champion. People need to read it to get the full insight but also because it will make them appreciate life a lot more and open their eyes.
You can buy the thrilling and compelling book from Amazon, here