Here is the first of what will become a weekly column from long time motorcycle enthusiast Phil Hall.

What do YOU know?

A while ago on Facebook somebody started a thread that was prompted by a comment by former GP campaigner and now TV commentator, Darryl Beattie. Darryl was reported to have said that, while Valentino Rossi may win some more races, he will never win another championship.

Now, anybody who knows anything about the internet knows that, if you want to start a good stoush (or even a bad one) you should include mention of Rossi in it somewhere. Nobody polarises opinion more than the 9-times world champion. He inspires emotions all the way from passionate, worshipful adoration all the way through to disregard and stopping at every station in between. And, of course, it didn’t take too long for someone to ask the question that somebody always asks, “How many world championships have you won, Darryl?”

Of course, anybody with any knowledge of the sport realises how silly the question is, especially given that the person asking in this instance wasn’t a racer, had never competed in GP’s himself and hadn’t won any world championships of his own either. Yet, somehow, he seemed to think that his opinion mattered more and had more validity that someone who had done two of the three things listed above. In fact, it was even sillier than that because the person concerned didn’t even offer an opinion, contenting himself only with the throw-away line I have quoted.

So, since all of us keyboard jockeys have probably been asked the question or similar ourselves, is it fair to suggest that only racers or ex-racers should be allowed to comment on racing and have their opinions heeded and respected?

Of course the answer is NO. Some of the greatest motorcycling journalists have never raced themselves but their opinions are as valid and valued as anybody else’s and in some cases even more so. Simply put, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to know if a cake is cooked properly; you don’t have to be a horse trainer to see that a horse is a champion and you don’t have to have raced before you can comment knowledgeably on the sport.

In fact, racers often make the worst commentators on the sport because they are saddled with the baggage of their media responsibilities, their need to please their sponsors and managers and their need to always say the “right” thing. And, even once they become ex-racers, large parts of that baggage remain and colour their judgement and pronouncements on the sport for years to come. Added to which, they are, either as current riders or ex-riders, so deeply involved in the minutiae of their profession that they cannot really be relied upon for a balanced and disinterested viewpoint. It is probably only after they have left the sport for a period of time and when these aspects looms less large in their psyche that they again develop the “long view” that is so necessary. The classic example of this is multiple Australian superbike champion, Robbie Phillis, whose opinion on the current state of racing is probably more reasoned and valid than almost anyone’s.

So, what would I know when it comes to commenting on the sport? Well, nearly 40 years of following it for a start. Having been a keen student of the sport, rather than just a passive observer of it, I have seen it all come and go. I witnessed the beginnings of some of the great careers and played “talent spotter” for many of them.

For example, here is the very first road race meeting for a teen-aged Wayne Gardner. Oran Park, November 1976, riding his motocross bike on Dunlop K81 road tyres. I took the photograph and noted the name. I followed Wayne’s career and actively encouraged him throughout and am proud to say that I regard him as a friend. Whenever we meet (which is all too infrequently these days), Wayne is friendly and loves to chat about the “good times.”

Wayne Gardner
Wayne Gardner. Oran Park, November 1976, riding his motocross bike on Dunlop K81 road tyres.

In similar fashion I watched the early careers of the majority of great names in the sport whose names are household words today. Indeed, I was at Surfers Paradise Raceway in 1985 when I noticed a kid blasting everybody on a 250cc Honda grand prix bike. Someone told me he was only 15 years old and, when I asked his name they said that it was Darryl Beattie.

I have been involved in the sport firstly as a spectator, then a photographer, then a commentator and then an administrator. I have a unique perspective on the sport and feel totally comfortable commenting on current and past issues drawing on my vast exposure to the sport over an extended period. I have never raced, never won a grand prix and never won a world championship, but that is totally irrelevant. The fact that I have not achieved these goals makes not one scrap of difference to the validity of my opinion on subjects upon which I comment.

What would I know? I don’t know it all, and I have never claimed to. But I DO know, and I know enough.