Twenty years after four-times World Superbike Champion Carl Fogarty was forced to retire, he remains a motorcycling legend. But he has now evolved into a people’s champion and he has found new joy in motorcycling.
Celebrating the start of the third decade since he quit the sport that made him a household name, he has agreed to continue as an ambassador for Bikesure, the bikers’ bike insurance broker.
Taking a coronavirus enforced break from his busy schedule, Bikesure caught up with Foggy for a Q&A session. He spoke about his success on the track, his premature retirement through injury, his MBE, being crowned King of the Jungle and how he has rediscovered his love for bikes and biking.
Foggy’s fantastic racing record
Dad George Fogarty was a motorcycling champion and there seemed to be only one path for the young Foggy: “I was surrounded by bikes and bike racing and it had a huge influence on me and the choices I made.
“From the age of seven I would stare out of the window and say that I wanted to be World Superbike Champion. I was always going to ride bikes and race bikes and I was just lucky that I seemed to be pretty good at it.”
Pretty good at it? That’s a bit of an understatement from the modest Blackburn boy. Foggy was aggressively competitive and was renowned for his frighteningly quick corner speed. That helped make him one of the most successful World Superbike racers of all time. As well as his four outright championship wins (1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999) he racked up the second highest number of race wins at 59.
Such is his fame that he even has a road named after him — Carl Fogarty Way — in his home town of Blackburn.
The crash that ended Foggy’s career
Most motorcycle racers don’t talk about “if you crash” it’s “when you crash”. Carl Fogarty is no different and he remembers every crash he has ever had, apart from the one that ended his career.
It was Phillip Island when he clipped privateer Ducati rider Robert Ulm’s rear wheel and was flung headlong into the tyre wall. He suffered multiple injuries, including a serious shoulder fracture which failed to heal well-enough to allow him to race again.
It was in the rain-sodden second race. Foggy had made, by his standards, a poor start, but he was making good progress working his way through the field when the accident occurred.
“I remember every crash I ever had, apart from that one. I can recall all the others and work out what happened, what I could possibly have done to prevent them
“But I have no memory of the crash that ended my career. I remember the previous race well. It was the race of my life. I felt like it was the best I’d ever ridden.
“I don’t remember it but I saw the footage of the crash. I saw myself clip the guy in front. I went over and skidded into the tyre wall with my head and shoulders taking the heaviest impact.
“It was a freak accident and I was lucky to be alive. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that. All I remember is coming around a day or so later in the hospital.
“I stayed in hospital for around six days. I should have been in a lot longer and I would have been if I suffered that sort of accident these days. I came out of hospital asking myself, ‘why me’ because I really did not know why the accident happened.”
How long did it take Foggy to recover from his near death crash?
“I smashed my shoulder and suffered a bruise on the brain so I was in a very bad way. I remember sleeping and being extremely tired for the best part of six months.
“I was treated by the brilliant Professor Andrew Carr and his team at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
“Eventually I got a little energy back but it took a good two years for my shoulder to fully repair. Even then I only had 75%-80% movement in it. That’s fine for normal life but it’s just not good enough for the unique challenges presented by racing a superbike.
“It was inevitable really. I could have never got back to the level I had been at, I had to call it a day.
“I remember reading about it in the papers – everyone was so concerned that Carl Fogarty had announced his retirement and I couldn’t believe I was reading about myself, an ordinary guy from Blackburn. Everyone was so concerned about it, more so than me it seemed.”
How did you fill the void left by superbike racing?
“I’d already had a lot of success. Four world championships and lots of wins and podiums. I think that level of success probably made it easier for me to accept that my racing career was over.
“Other people were shocked and upset about it, but it was different for me. There was always so much hype and expectation when I raced, then when I had to call it a day, it was almost a relief. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. As soon as I announced I was going to retire the pressure lifted.
“Everyone else was worried that I was no longer racing but I didn’t really start missing for a good two years.”
How did Foggy get involved with Petronas?
“In 2002 the Petronas deal came through and I was asked to build a racing team for the following year’s superbike world championships. I surrounded myself with good people, great people. Building and managing the team took all my energies.
“Foggy Petronas Racing was a five year deal and the last race was in 2007. I had enjoyed the whole experience and would have kept going but couldn’t.
“I looked for a new sponsor but nothing was doing and that’s when I decided to sell up and chill out.
“I took it easy for a while and spent a lot of time with a dear friend of mine who was very ill. I learned a lot from him and took much from his positivity before he passed away.”
What effect did the MBE have on you?
“I’ve never thought about MBEs and such things. Going to Buckingham Palace and meeting the Queen was amazing, but it’s way out of my comfort zone.
“It was 1998 when I received the honour and obviously I was still racing. That’s all I wanted to do, race motorbikes and be world champion, not hobnob with royalty.
“Obviously, 20 odd years down the line I look back with pride, but you have to remember I’m just a normal guy from Blackburn.”
Talking of royalty, how did you become King of the Jungle?
“They first asked me to do I’m a Celebrity around 2004 I said no but they kept asking and opportunities kept coming. I agreed to do it in 2014 but I took an awful lot of persuading.
“I eventually agreed to do it even though my wife was against it. Mind you, I didn’t think I would be there for long. I thought I would fall out with someone and walk out, or get chucked out. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning it.
“It was brilliant though. I learned a lot about myself and how much of a people person I was. I was always thought of as the cocky bike racer but here I was showing I could be OK and help people.
“The other contestants seemed to warm to the fact that I was just an ordinary guy who liked to have a laugh.
“I made some good friends in the Jungle and I still get the odd text or call from people like Jimmy Bullard and Melanie Sykes.
“It was tough in the jungle though. You really miss the simple things that you take for granted in life, your family, a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich in the morning.”
How did you feel when you won I’m a Celebrity?
“I couldn’t believe it. It’s a people’s vote and they voted for me, Carl Fogarty. The elation I felt was up there with winning the world championships.
It was overwhelming and I dropped to my knees. I was so emotional when I came across that bridge. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.
“I couldn’t understand how this ordinary guy from Blackburn had won. It was an unbelievable, incredible feeling.”
You have two daughters. Did they show any interest in motorbikes?
“No, they never had an interest, they’re more concerned with fashion and make-up.”
Would you have steered a son towards a career in bike racing?
“No. It’s probably a blessing that I didn’t have a son because the pressure on him being the son of Carl Fogarty would have been huge. I know what the pressure was like for me and my dad.
“Having said that, if he, or the girls for that matter, made a decision to make a career out of motorbikes I would not have discouraged them. I would support them, no matter what they chose to do.”
You say you have fallen back in love with bikes. How did that happen?
“In 2010 I got back into bikes in a big way and I probably ride more now than I ever did before. When I was racing it was Carl Fogarty’s job, while it was a thrill to win I never really took any enjoyment from it.
“At the moment I’m enjoying my trials bike. I took it up about a year ago but you pick up a few silly aches and pains with “dabbing” injuries to your ankles and knees.
“I also love my Moto X and did a bit of enduro with friends in Spain just before the coronavirus lockdown. I love bikes now more than I ever have before.”
What’s next on the horizon for four times World Superbike Champion and King of the Jungle Carol Fogarty MBE?
“With the current coronavirus crisis the horizon looks a long, long way away. I know how lucky I am to have a nice house and a bit of land to keep me busy. I use the home gym to burn off the calories and work out frustrations, but I realise a lot of people will be struggling badly at this time.
“In the short term I just want to keep busy. At the same time I want to cut down on the things I don’t like doing and enjoy my downtime more.
“I have a number of motorcycle commitments looking forward through the year (coronavirus lockdown permitting) not least my role as ambassador for Bikesure which gives me great satisfaction and enjoyment because the team there are real enthusiasts who are involved in the whole biking scene.”
Bikesure business manager Robert Balls said: “Carl Fogarty describes himself as an ordinary guy from Blackburn but he has had a truly extraordinary life and everyone here is delighted and excited that he has agreed to be our brand ambassador once again this year.
“Our clients will get the chance to meet Foggy at a number of Bikesure backed events up and down the country once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted. Watch this space and our social media channels for details.”