Mackenzie vs Mamola: the interview

Niall Mackenzie speaks with Randy Mamola, one of the greatest and wildest riders to never win a 500GP championship

Randy Mamola was always one of my heroes in bike racing. I first saw Randy on telly in 1980 winning the 500cc British Grand Prix from Kenny Roberts at Silverstone. At the time, Randy was 20 and a God. I was confused with girls and late puberty, sitting at home watching the racing on a sofa, feeling sure our paths would never cross. I had an old trials bike, but watching Randy inspired me to buy a 350LC and go racing. I thought that maybe - just maybe - I could one day get into GPs and meet the man himself. Five years later I met him on a mini-safari at the South African GP at Kyalami - the first race of season and my first full GP year.

For a bloke from Fankerton in Scotland, it was great to meet a hero of mine and almost as big an event to see some amazing wildlife. Thing was, Randy was wilder. Everytime I got close to anything as exotic as a giraffe or a hippo, he would let out a massive scream and these magnificent creatures would run off, just as I was trying to snap them with my Kodak Instamatic. Still, Randy was - and still is - a laugh to be around, as well as being recognised as one of the best riders not to win the 500cc world title.

Let's start off with this one. Why did you nickname me Spuds Mackenzie?
Ha! Budweiser ran an ad campaign in USA which had an English bull terrier with a black eye called Spuds Mackenzie. He cracked me up. He got all the girls and even skateboarded. He's retired now in an old dogs' home for has-beens. What are you up to Niall?

You've been four-times runner-up in the 500 GP Championship. Was there anytime that you thought you really should have won it?
1980 and the last round at the old Nurburgring.  I qualified on pole, nine seconds under the lap record and was leading the race going three seconds faster than anyone else. I was going to win and become champ when my Suzuki sucked in an engine seal dropping me to fifth. Kenny Roberts took the series.

Does being so near yet so far so many times haunt you?
Not at all. I had a top time riding with and beating all of the best riders in the world regularly. I was finishing on the podium at 19 and kept finishing on the podium in three decades - the 70s, 80s and 90s. I'm proud of that.

Who's the best you've been up against? And you can choose me...
No question - Kenny Roberts. Freddie Spencer was magical, Eddie Lawson was inch perfect and won back-to-back titles for two different manufacturers and of course there's Mick Doohan who won five back to back, but Kenny was unbeatable in the States as a dirt track rider and then did the same in GPs. It's got to be Kenny. And at 52 he's still incredibly fast.

Do you have a best race memory?
Number one is Le Mans in 1979. I showed up on a private Suzuki and found myself running with Kenny, Barry Sheene and Virginio Ferrari. I thought to myself: "This isn't right! I'm 19 and mixing it with these guys." I didn't know if it was real or not, so I decided to pinch Barry's ass as we raced just to see if it was real. That must have helped him because he won, I was second with Kenny third. Others that are memorable are my first 500GP win at Zolder in 1980 and Cagiva's first podium at Spa in 1988.

Are the MotoGP four-strokes the saviour of GP bike racing?
Bike racing didn't need saving, but the development of the current formula was at an end. Environmental issues meant that things had to change so four-strokes are the way forward.  Also, this unlimited technology is already appearing and becoming available on street bikes. The future is exciting. I've spoken to older riders who were around when four-strokes went to two-strokes in the mid-1970s and there were mixed opinions at the time but things settle down and then it becomes the norm.

Is it true you wore make-up in practice once?
Yes. Alex, my girlfriend at the time did the business on me for warm-up at Misano. I walked into garage with my helmet on and visor down and did warm-up, but then on the slowing down lap I pulled alongside Freddie Spencer and flipped visor up. He just freaked and almost ran off track. It was a proper job with blusher, eyeliner, lipstick, eye-shadow the lot!

Didn't I look out of my motorhome window one day in the paddock to see you naked apart from a baby shark on your knob?
Yeah. I still got it, It's here in my bag. That was Salzburg in 1987 you're talking about. I ran into scutineering bay saying I'd found a shark in my toilet. I was screaming and then I opened my raincoat and there was this shark hanging off my dick. Everyone was in fits. Then I went to Eddie Lawson's motorhome. It was still about 7.30 in the morning on practice day. He got out of bed, opened the door and said. "Randy this better be good." He laughed, but the problem was it was so cold the shark was beginning to loose its grip - if you know what I mean.

Why were you the Clown Prince of the paddock?
The paddock is a very tense and serious place to work. So it made me really happy to relieve that tension and make people laugh. Making people laugh has always been important to me. Although I'm naked in public very rarely now as I have my wife Barbara and kids Dakota and Taylor to consider!

How did you start doing all the good work for Riders For Health?
Back in 1986 the riders were pushing for more prize money in GPs, especially for teams lower down field. When we were finally given the increase, I thought that as I was a well-paid factory rider I would give my 20 per cent increase to charity. I asked Andrea Coleman to find a kids charity and we decided on Save the Children. I then became more involved and visited one of programmes in Somalia that used motorcycles to get drugs and supplies into remote areas. Soon after that we formed Riders for Health and Princess Anne agreed to be patron. Since then we've raised millions of dollars for charity and this year at the Day of Champions we took a record £110,000 so a big thanks to all the British bike racing fans.

You were involved in one of the most talked about 'almost' crashes of all-time at Misano on the Rothmans Honda, where you hung onto the bike like a bucking bronco. What happened?
There was definitely some luck involved there that day! I knew I wasn't about to hit anything, which is why I stayed with it to see if I could save it. I guess I always had good upper-body strength so I just hung-on and that saved the day.

Money. You had the trickest motorhome and latest car to go with it. Do you ever wish you were more like me, sitting in a cold motorhome, wearing three Duffle coats to save money on heating and admiring your money in a big tartan shortbread tin?
Having money is nice and can make life fun and more comfortable. I earned a lot of money and spent a lot of money and then ran into some troubles with an ex-manager over money - although I'm fine now. One thing I realised is that money can't buy the love of your wife and your children. That's something I have now which you can't put a price on.

Finally, who gets the most shags in the paddock?
I don't know who's done the most in recent years, but I see who's got the most girls hanging around so I can answer who could get the most shags in the paddock. One guy is swamped with females and every one a honey. I don't want to mention any names, but he's quite keen on number 46!

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