Hodgson hooked on speed and adrenalin

Jon Culley goes behind the scenes, and discovers the best British prospect since Barry Sheene

For a young man about to embark on the most important 48 minutes of his embryonic racing career, Neil Hodgson seems remarkably relaxed. To any home motorcyclist, the British Grand Prix is the most important date on the calendar, but for Hodgson its significance goes well beyond the desire to uphold national honour.

This 21-year-old Lancastrian is among the disadvantaged in his sport, competing with a low budget private team on hopelessly unequal terms against the multi-million pound resources of the factory teams, whose riders routinely win every race going.

But like every ''privateer,'' Hodgson dreams that his talents will earn him a place among the big guns; and there is no better platform from which to catch important eyes than Donington Park.

It is no fanciful dream either. This is Hodgson's first season at 500cc - the Formula One of two-wheel racing - and yet he has already been identified by Barry Sheene, Britain's last world champion 18 years, as having the potential to emulate his own achievements.

But in the modest mobile home that serves as his race day base - easy to miss among the rows of gleaming pantechnicons and motorised hotel suites assembled by the factory outfits - he seems oblivious to any pressures, even with the start only 90 minutes away.

"I am nervous really," he says. "This is the worst time, when all the practices are over, the bike is all ready and there is nothing more to do."

He knows, too, that it will only get worse, especially when he sits astride his pounds 180,000 team WCM Yamaha for the first time on the grid. "I always have half an hour or so immediately beforehand to think the race through and get all negative thoughts out of my mind.

"But sitting on the grid for those four or five minutes before the warm- up lap is awful. You feel numb, your eyes start watering and you cannot seem to grip the clutch. And yet you've got to go round to warm up the tyres and the discs; otherwise you discover the brakes don't work."

Once the green light shows and the simultaneous roars of 30 engines fill the air the nerves vanish and adrenalin takes over.

"That's why I do it, really," he says. "It is difficult to describe to a non-racer but the sensation of speed, of being in control of a wild beast that can carry you along at 200 miles per hour, it really is like a drug.

Outside tensions are building, too. To the unfamiliar eye there still seems much for Mike Webb and his three-man technical team to attend to but the dismantling and reassembling of the machine is routine preparation.

Meanwhile, interested parties are making for their vantage points. Team sponsors and guests assemble in the hospitality suites overlooking Craner Curves, but conspicuous by their absence are Hodgson's parents. The anonymity of a grassy public bank, with no need to restrain feelings, is their preference.

His father, Mark, who runs a small business in Burnley, himself raced at club level. It was he who taught Neil to ride a scooter at four, introduced him to moto-cross at nine and persuaded him on to a road machine when the distractions of youth were threatening to curtail his interest in the sport. It was Mark, too, who talked the former Rothmans Honda star, Roger Burnett, into helping his boy get a start in 125cc racing, in which he became British champion at the first attempt in 1992. Burnett's PR company now sponsors Neil and manages his affairs.

The race starts badly but finishes wonderfully for his client, who almost comes to grief at the Old Hairpin after five laps, wobbling along the grass right in front of Mum and Dad, but recovers to finish seventh, four places higher than his grid position and as the best British rider, overtaking the faster, factory Yamahas of Spain's Juan Borja and the Frenchman Bernard Garcia, with some brilliant riding in the closing stages. He is mobbed by British fans, yearning for a new champion, as if he has won.

Back in the paddock there are all sorts of emotions, father Mark is a picture of understated pride; mother Maureen beams with maternal joy but is relieved that her son remains in one piece. Burnett, meanwhile, reflects that the career of Britain's brightest world championship prospect has taken a major step forward.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
Life and Style
tech
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'