Back in 1992, a Northerner by the name of Carl Fogarty took British motorcycle racing by storm.
The then 26-year-old was hardly an unknown back then, but it was to be the year that the Blackburn rider made his big breakthrough. As the son of former TT racer and Grand Prix privateer George Fogarty, young Carl had grown up around bikes. His career had started out racing 250cc bikes, before a badly broken leg saw him switch to bigger machines. Between 1989 and 1990, he won three Isle of Man TTs. He was also a three-time Formula One world champion, although that series was largely seen as an obscure and irrelevant championship that had originally been introduced when the TT lost world championship status.
When that series ended in 1990, Foggy found himself without a competitive world ride. He’d done a good job as a stand in rider for Pier Francesco Chili in 500cc Grands Prix, scoring three top 10s at the end of 1990, but his Honda Britain ride in 1991 was on board an aging RC30 in the still developing Superbike World Championship. Foggy finished seventh in the 1991 series, never standing on the podium but recording a string of top 10 on the obsolete Honda. Despite that, he still couldn’t secure a factory ride for 1992. So he bought his own bike and became a freelance motorcycle racer. It was a decision that was to change his life.
Looking back on the decision to sink his savings into buying a customer Ducati 888 racer, the bike of choice in superbikes, he says: “I believed in my own ability and knew how good I was but you needed the bike to prove that, which I suppose is still the case with today’s riders. I raced a bit in world superbikes in 1991 with Honda and the bike was way past its sell by date but I was still around the guys that were winning. I was finishing around seventh, eighth, ninth places and I believed that I was better than these guys, I really believed that I was. Having said that, nobody believed it. So when I went out and bought my own bike the year after, and won at Donington, they believed it then!”
Fogarty’s big breakthrough came on April 20, 1992, when the Superbike World Championship headed to Donington Park in Leicestershire. Foggy had had in inauspicious start to his Ducati career, posting a 10th and 12th place finish in Albacete two weeks earlier, but for the British round he burst onto the scene with a pole position and, after crashing out of the first race, he went on to win by almost three seconds from a who’s who of superbike legends including Raymond Roche, Scott Russell and Doug Polen, riders who, like Fogarty, would all be crowned as world champions in their career.
“I should’ve won two that day, but that’s another story,” says Foggy. “It was the one race that put me on the map. It was always difficult to break through and prove how good you are. Whatever we did that year turned to gold, I couldn’t do anything wrong, and because of my success that year the factories came knocking. I signed for Ducati and the rest, as they say, was history.”
Fogarty finished ninth overall in 1992 and only had one more world superbike podium finish, a second in Assen at the end of the year, but by then the die had been cast. While showcasing his talents in world superbike was the priority for Foggy, running his own team wasn’t cheap. To pay for it, he signed to race for Kawasaki France in world endurance racing, and for Yamaha UK at the TT. He also rode a private Yamaha as a British Grand Prix wild-card, shining there too. It was a full campaign for hardworking Foggy, and it didn’t go unnoticed.
“It took a lot of sacrifice for me to do what I did,” he continues. I don’t think it’s been done since. I rode everything that year to pay for the world superbike campaign. The world endurance title funded the world superbikes – we won every race except Suzuka – and that gave me the funds to run my own team. We did the British Grand Prix and were running fifth when we went down on some oil, from John Kocinski’s bike I think it was. We won Macau, did the TT, got the lap record there.”
That 1992 Senior TT was considered to be one of the finest ever, with Foggy squaring up to former team-mate Steve Hislop. Both found themselves in a similar boat, riding less than competitive steeds to pay the bills, and although Hizzy took a legendary win on the rotary engine Norton, it was Foggy who got a lap record on the OW-01 Yamaha.
“I love the TT,” he continues. “It’s probably the closest race to me. I have so many special memories, not just of the TT but the Isle of Man in general. My holidays as a kid was at the Isle of Man. My dad raced the TT and we’d spend two weeks there – a week off school – in and out of the arcades, and it’s an emotional trip down memory lane for me.
“I always wanted to race the TT, always wanted to win the TT and I did that. Always wanted to be the fastest guy around there, and I achieved that too. To win a world superbike race and to set the fastest lap at the TT in the same year is never going to happen again. “
His 123.61mph lap would stand for seven years, although he would never return as a racer. By 1993 Fogarty was a factory Ducati racer, focused on winning the Superbike World Championship. With Sky TV putting its weight behind the racing, and Foggy’s often bitter rivalries with his competitors, it was a glorious time for British bike racing – with Foggy the sport’s biggest star since the great Barry Sheene.
“It was a different era and I was lucky to be involved in that golden era of world superbikes,” says Carl. “This new championship had become so, so big. GPs had stagnated a bit really and it was the biggest four stroke championship in the world.
“Obviously now it’s not, there’s MotoGP. It was a great time to be there. We were seeing the biggest crowds in racing, and not just in Britain, there were massive crowds in places like Germany, and Holland and Italy – it was just crazy and mad to think how big it was.
“The TV, with Sky, what they did and the adverts with me were really big. It was bigger than Grands Prix and when Doohan was gone it was left to guys like Criville, who was behind me twice at the British Grand Prix as a wildcard.
The time to be in superbike was then but with the emergence of MotoGP it has struggled to find its feet since then.”
One criticism raised about superbikes today is that the riders are just too nice. Fogarty’s public display of dislike towards his rivals, particularly the American riders Colin Edwards, Scott Russell and John Kocinski was pure theatre. He also had a bitter rivalry with Kiwi Aaron Slight, and famously named his pet pigs Aaron and Colin in ‘honour’ of his great rivals.
“Rivalries help,” adds Carl. “You need that, but you can’t invent it. All the guys now, they are fast guys, talented guys, nice guys who all get on with each other. It’s funny how people don’t want that. They want people to hate each other. Maybe I took it a bit too far but it wasn’t just me, they were all as bad as me! Kocinski, Scott Russell, Edwards, Gobert…. There were some really strong characters who weren’t afraid to say what was on their minds!
“Maybe it’s an era now where you can’t do that. Maybe it’s not the guys’ fault that they can’t do that because it’s not politically correct, because sponsors demand that you say the right thing. I don’t know but since the Rossi era started that’s the way it has gone.
“You know, I’m so jealous of the racers from the 70s. I wish I had been around then, with a fag on and a can of beer on the rostrum, with a bird under your arm like James Hunt and Barry Sheene! We couldn’t do that when I raced and probably the guys today couldn’t get away with what we did. It’s how the world is changing. It’s become very politically correct and that’s not a good thing in my opinion.”
Fogarty is, of course, the most successful world superbike rider of all time with 59 race wins and four world titles achieved during the 1990s. Injury forced Fogarty to retire during the 2000 season and he became the high-profile face of the Malaysian Petronas superbike, running the Foggy Petronas Racing team. The bike was woefully underpowered and unreliable, and the project was a disaster. When it folded at the end of 2007, Fogarty turned his back on the sport and went through some dark times in his life as he went through the process of becoming an ex-sportsman.
“For a lot of years I didn’t want to watch it. After the Petronas thing I’d had enough of racing and didn’t really follow it in ‘08 and ‘09. I spent quite a bit of time with a mate who was dying of cancer and he encouraged me to stop trying to forget about who I was and what I did, but to celebrate it instead. I did some TV stuff and I love watching racing and bikes now. I watch BSB, I watch world superbikes and I watch MotoGP, but there was a period where I didn’t want to watch it at all. You can see how retired sportsmen struggle with depression like Frank Bruno and Paul Gascoigne. You can see how you can lose it when you can’t do what you’ve always done.
“I don’t miss it now, in fact in some ways I can’t think of anything worse. I know how sick I felt on a Sunday morning and how much effort and dedication it took to win races and world championships. I’m happy to sit back and watch the boys do it.”
These days Fogarty has transformed from the selfish ‘win-at-all-costs’ racer who polarised opinion to a genuine national treasure. In 2014 he demonstrated his competitive instinct and a more caring side to famously win the nation’s collective heart when he appeared on the ITV reality TV show ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’. Fogarty won the show and since becoming ‘King of the Jungle’ life has become a whirlwind again for King Carl.
“I have been crazy busy in the last few years, after the jungle thing,” he says. “I do a lot of work as an ambassador with Triumph Motorcycles. I love being with them. They’re cool guys with great products and I really enjoy doing shows and so on with them.
“I’ve done a little bit on TV and was commentating for Eurosport at Donington Park. It’s funny doing TV because racing has moved on from my era. It was mechanical back then but this is an electronic era. I don’t really like it. I’m sick of hearing about electronics. It’s the one thing that spoils bike racing for me…”
And where the old Foggy would go off on a rant, today’s Carl leans back and smiles. Heaven knows what the Foggy of 1992 would have thought of that.