Rachael Clegg / BikeSocial: So, go on, tell us your story, how did you meet?
Carl Cox: I first came here four years ago just as a spectator. A friend of mine called Brian Brown - who knows the Dunlop family very well - was always talking to me about coming to the IOM. I've always watched on the TV and I've always watched Michaels' efforts all the way through and always enjoyed watching his racing. So, four-years-on, Michael comes to New Zealand, meets Gavin Sokolich (fellow DJ and sidecar racing friend of Carl Cox's) and tells me about Michael's interests in the team and riding the sidecar and that was just an opportunity. So I absolutely said ‘yes’ and that I would like to meet Michael somewhere along the line if we could. But this year - the first time I actually met Michael was two minutes before we actually went on the bike to race and go and win.
BS: And what a nice way to meet, and what a brilliant day…
CC: Well yesterday for me was just gold because I didn't want to miss it at the end of the day. And everything aligned for me because the racing was supposed to start earlier but if it had I would have missed it. But that was our first meeting. I was standing by the bike and Michael came up to the bike and jumped on the bike to go and race. We met and I said 'you got anything to do today?' and he was like 'yeah well, we're going to have a few laps around here and then I'll have a beer with you afterwards.’ And I thought 'I've just met Michael’ and then 'pppeeoowwwwwwwwww' (as if to mimic a racing bike zooming past).
MD: I always said to the boys you only think you're famous until you see Carl walking about because he's just swamped with people and people won't leave him alone. I’d never met Carl and he has helped out the team fantastically and I seen him on the line and I said 'alright boss, I'll see you in an hour a half when we'll be back in again, we'll go for a pint' and the next thing we come in and we're in the Winners' Enclosure and we've won the race. You know, Carl has helped me to get me to my 14th TT and equal Mike Hailwood's record.
CC: And maybe me coming into the sport at this point, at this time, gets people to understand Mike's passion for the sport and the reason I support it so wholeheartedly because not many people in my business even know about the Isle of Man TT, know about sidecar racing and know what we’re doing here. They have no idea. No clue. Me coming here opens their eyes into the reason why. They are like 'why are you here' and I say 'well, I've been a petrol head since I can remember' but I’m also into racing and motorsport and especially into new technology. It's all part of getting faster and coming around safely. It does favour the brave, being around here. I have never seen so much bravado in a sport.
BS: Did you get a buzz watching Michael yesterday?
CC: Yes! I think it's harder for us as an outsider because once he puts the helmet on and the leathers and pulls the throttle that's it, we can't do anything, we just have to see and keep everything crossed and hope that he comes home and that's for everyone - we want everyone bringing home and to be safe. But to have a really good time. The only thing I said to Michael was to have fun and smash it. Just SMASH it. And he said 'yes' that's it'. And I was watching ITV last night and (speaking directly to Michael) to truly watch your lines and everything is just ballet. It's just unbelievable to watch.
BS: Yes, I’ve been watching you race on the ITV Highlights over the years, since about 2008 and you seem to have got a lot smoother in your racing…
MD: I'd no choice (laughs).
BS: You did look a bit lary at some bits...
CC: Just a couple of bits...
MD: It's funny. When I first came to the TT maybe - when I started really coming, the first night of practice you're nearly on the pace you know, straight away. You’re not 'on' 'on' the pace but you're not a million miles from where you need to be. So you just take small bits here, and wee bits there and because the course is so long around the course there's wee bits every time and because there are something like 200 corners here. So from your first night of practice to your race you can be 15 seconds, maybe 20 seconds faster and over 200 corners and out of those 200 corners that's a hundredth of a second everywhere. It's just wee bits. Small bits. You don't think 'I've done that corner there in fifth gear, I should have done it in sixth gear. It doesn't work like that. It's a motorbike. My brain is functioned to ride a motorbike so I get on my motorbike and my brain just says ‘motorbike’.
BS: I was speaking to one of the old factory boys - Bill Smith - a while ago who rode in the 60s and said he always rode at 80 per cent. Do you have a cushion or are you just riding at 100 per cent?
MD: No. I don't have a cushion. Although, yes, you have, you do that (mimics shutting off a throttle) so yes, you have a cushion but where the cushion is... I keep pushing it so I try even harder to push the cushion. When I get in the position with a lot of other people I widen the cushion but when I'm in a battle do I take the cushion out and not worry about. You take different approaches to different things. It's funny. I would like to sit here and say 'no, I don’t' but when the throttle does that (mimics shutting off a throttle again) then the brain has told you 'look, you might want to go on but I'm not having it' so that's when the body decides to do that (mimics shutting off again). But I haven't found the last of it. There’s a bit more yet.
BS: You are so focused aren't you? I mean, just watching you before this interview in the garage, you're hands-on. A lot of riders just rock-up and ride and give their instructions. But that's not you, is it?
MD: It's a strange one really in that I'm a bit different to everyone else in that I think I'm the last of the riders that do it themselves sort of thing. Mostly everyone who rocks up tells them (the teams) they want this, that or the other and then they disappear again. But this bike here we won yesterday on we built in the workshop and it was all hand-crafted. There are brackets on there we made ourselves and for me racing motorbikes has to be enjoyment. It’s got a bit more commercialised this last few years but for me my enjoyment is building a motorbike that can win a race.
BS: That satisfaction must be so much deeper than just jumping on a bike and riding?
MD: Obviously it's a personal goal for me. I've no big factory behind this but we build it all ourselves and money comes out of our own pockets, and we just do our own thing. I just come in and we're not all corporate or anything we just come in and we'll go for a few beers and it's all great and we just pull together nicely.
BS: It's quite old-school in a way - when my dad was racing, the same time as your dad - most riders hired garages and did everything themselves, or with their mates. So in that sense, you are quite old school. Would you always keep it that way?
MD: For me, a lot of other people look at racing as a job. I don't look at it as a job I look at it as my hobby. It's what I enjoy doing and that's my thing. And it’s probably similar to Carl with music you know, if you look at it as a job you wouldn't do it as long as he does it. It's the same with me. I just love my bikes and I just love what I do. I just want to keep doing. It's a lot of money to run an outfit but the satisfaction overrides the money you spend afterwards.
BS: Going back to you matching Hailwood in terms of results...Hailwood raced Nortons, Hondas, Ducatis - he rode such a range of machines. And it seems that you're the calibre of rider who can also hop on different machines. It also seems you’re determined to keep switching machines. Is that the thinking, for example, switching to the Suzuki this year?
MD: Obviously I've stayed with the Hickens this last couple of years and they have been good to me and they are the same sort of breed as myself, you know. They build the bikes at home and want to do it for the right reasons and they want to win races. I do the same. The new Suzuki was a new challenge and if I'm honest with you I was devastated the other day (he retired from the Superbike race with mechanical issues). Not devastated - it's not fair to use that word - I was sick that we nearly made the impossible possible. We came with a brand new motorbike, it had never seen a road, never seen nothing and we'd done no miles on the motorbike and then we had a bad week of practice. It wasn't possible to win a race. It just wasn't possible for anyone to do it. I did 131mph from a standing start but there was no grip and then on lap two I says 'right I'm doing this' and I have no doubt in my mind that I would have if the bike had held together, no doubt. It would have been mine but it's like anything - it's highs and lows. But at the end of the day I know in my own mind I'm the only person who would have done that. Nobody else would have rocked up and done that. People came here on the exact same bikes as last year. And we came here with a different package and I know the package isn't right yet as in where we're at. But when we do get it right it will be fantastic. But to lead that race and to have had a chance at winning it was a bit of a kick in the gut really.
BS: Last night I was reading an extract from your book and I read about a lot of the personal challenges you've had, and how racing is only a fraction of the challenge in terms of helping out the family and I thought it was quite impressive to have gone through the things you've gone through and keep everything going.
MD: Life's a real weird thing. It can hit you in every different direction. What is good is good and what's bad is bad. I'm not just saying this because Carl's here but I've always imagined what it's like to stand on the stage and have hundreds of thousands of people, just giving them that buzz. And they don't known what's going on. And the highs Carl must get when he comes off the stage, giving people a buzz like... And it's like me with racing. When you race motorbikes and you win the buzz you have is just...it's just… you know...people say 'it's like drugs' but I've never taken drugs. I never have. I don't need to. I know in my own mind - and Carl must have this too - you're on a fine line because you don't know where you're at because you're so full of adrenaline it's unreal. But with the highs, there are lows, and when you get that high, then you've got to go low and it's a massive transition.
BS: Is it hard when you're not racing, for example, during the winter, or when you're not DJing? It's it hard to withdraw from having that focus?
CC: Yes, I mean - it's a bit different for me because I can actually work all the way through the year or even different countries. I mean, I live in Melbourne, Australia, so when I go over there it's the summer but I try to have a balance between family life, personal life, what I like to do and there aren't enough hours in the day - or even the year - for me to do what I would like to do but I do like being out there as a DJ and I do like performing. That's the thing that gives me my buzz. And that's the thing that's enabled me to do this (he gestures towards the entire Bennetts / Michael Dunlop awning). I try and help everyone but we also help much younger riders in New Zealand for the Hyosung Cup and it's really beautiful to see kids as young as 14, 15 riding the 250s and six year-olds all on the same grid, so for me it continues all the way through based on what I like to do. So what I do now is work as much as I need to do so that I can finance everything else around me that makes me happy and fulfilled.
MD: So do you have a drag car, Carl?
CC: Yes, I'll have to show you some video of it. It's a Mark 1 Capri, and I used to drag race a Mark I Capri in the 1980s so now I'm living in Australia - I'll talk to you about my other stuff - I got back in the chair and built the car. It's a small block Ford V8. It’s over 2000 horsepower and it's got a 1-on-1mm turbo. Basically it's a six-second 200mph car and in its class it's one of the fastest cars in Australia with me driving it. As soon as I feel the transbrake going and I've got it on boost I'm just sitting there and I think to myself 'what am I doing here?' We've had an engine blow up and all sorts of things. It's not well at the moment…But I was lucky enough not to use my extinguisher system because when the engine blew all the oil kind through the rockers and stuff and come over, went down over the headers and then caught fire.
MD: Your fire extinguisher is probably the same as mine, I had a Mark II Escort at a rally.
CC: Where on the tack are you most happiest, where's your happiest place around the island, where is that point where you're just like 'that's the point'? Or is it all of it?
MD: When you come in after winning.
MD: And you have a burn out.
CC: Is that the point?
MD: The Isle of Man has everything. It's got everything for me. People have got sections they like and don't like but I've got everything. I just love it. It is what it is. It's just... I love it. It's got a wee bit here, a wee bit there. Because it's got so much going on some people don't like everything but when you're flat out in the twisty bits and you're on the kerb and everywhere it's, you know... My happiest moment is probably when I'm on top of the kerb because I've made a mistake and I've thought to myself 'alright, this is nice this here, half a mil' off a wall here' and I'm flat out still and that's what gets my blood going.
CC: So it's on that edge?
MD: I think that's the mental issues that I've got.
MD: I think that's my... When you're on death's door and he's asking what the crack is because you've got another lap to do I'll see you later on. That's my buzz. That's where I get my kick. It's that edge. Everybody wants to push to the next level. I want to push to the next level and I want to push it to the next level and I love the buzz I get from making mistakes in trying to get it there.