LAST week I took a look at Neil Hodgson’s meteoric rise to British Superbike Champion in 2000, following that up with the World title just three years later.
However, in part two of an extended look at the Reedley race ace’s distinguished career, I spoke to Neil about the frustrations that followed those incredible highs.
Hodgson became disillusioned with racing for a term after going to Ducati’s second string MotoGP team, Team d’Antin Ducati, for the 2004 Grand Prix series and finished 17th in the Championship. He approached a cross-road in his career and resultantly emigrated to America to compete in the less-prestigious AMA Superbike Championship. Hodgson’s aim was to become the first rider to decorate his armoury with all three Superbike titles. He came sixth in 2005 and fifth the following year before his career temporarily descended in to obscurity once Ducati pulled out of the 2007 campaign.
In 2008 Honda America announced that Hodgson would end his allegiance with the fabled Italian company’s US racing effort and swap his Ducati 999 Superbike for the new Fireblade. He came sixth in the series.
“I really enjoyed living in Southern California; I was so lucky,” claimed Hodgson. “It was very competitive and a lot harder than what I was expecting it to be. I went there and thought I was going to win but it was tough. I really enjoyed the experience. I crashed a bit over there and had a few break downs but I was on the podium a lot. I was a bit inconsistent.”
He added: “I was at a cross roads in my career. I’d raced in the World Championships for many years so it wasn’t really a difficult decision. I was excited by the prospect and of course I wanted to win all three championships - British, World and American. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out. It would’ve been incredible to have achieved it but I still feel very lucky to have experienced it all. I’ve got no regrets and I’m so over the moon with what I’ve managed to achieve.”
The Superbike speed demon signed a contract to keep him with the Corona Honda team for the 2009 season and started strongly as his challenge at the Daytona circuit culminated with a second place finish. However, Hodgson endured a frightening accident in training on a motocross bike, causing him to suffer a collapsed lung and a dislocated shoulder which forced him to miss the next three rounds. Hodgson eventually finished 11th.
“I was just really unlucky,” he said. “I’d had lots of small injuries and broken bones but I damaged my shoulder in 2009 which basically ended my career. I crashed on a jump in training and landed on my arm. I dislocated my shoulder and tore all my tendons. It was in a really bad way. I broke my ribs and suffered a collapsed lung. I’ve had two operations on my shoulder since.”
Hodgson returned to the MCE Insurance British Superbike paddock in 2010 but was forced to retire shortly after aggravating his shoulder injury in a high-side crash in a warm-up run for the first round at Brands Hatch. He was later replaced in the Motorpoint Yamaha team by Ian Lowry.
“I tried to race in the 2010 series because I wanted to win the British Championships one more time but I wasn’t right,” said Hodgson. “As soon as I hit the ground again I retired. That was my 20th season road racing.”
Hodgson’s career was one glittered with success. He was a local boy done good, and even when he wasn’t sat comfortably on the pedestal of Superbike stardom he fought tirelessly to improve and better himself. But there were others behind his success that helped Hodgson realise his dreams.
“My main influence by far is my dad,” he said. “I owe everything to my parents (Mark and Maureen) because they came everywhere to support me and they sacrificed their lives for me. I’m really close to them both. They re-mortgaged their house and didn’t go on holidays. They’ve been great.
“I looked up to Kevin Schwantz. He was one of the wildest riders in America. There was also Carl Fogarty as well. I looked up to him a lot because he was an incredible and determined rider. Carl’s the best superbike rider ever and he’s a local lad as well. He definitely inspired me.”
Hodgson added: “I don’t want to race anymore but my passion for the sport is still the same. I love the sport and I still love watching it. I’m just really appreciative of everybody that’s helped me. They all know who they are. They’ve all helped me fulfil my dreams.”
The Burnley Bullet, who lives on the Isle of Man, has an eight-year-old daughter called Hollie-Jean and a four-year-old son, Taylor. He is currently working with Eurosport and Ducati as well as travelling Europe with track day company Focussed Events.