BROOKLYN, NY, DEC 13: Neil Hodgson was “absolutely devastated” when he was told late Friday night that American Honda had withdrawn from road racing.
Hodgson was on the Isle of Man, where he flew after finishing the Daytona Dunlop tire test as the fastest rider, when he got a call from American Honda road race boss Ron Heben at about 10:15 p.m. local time.
Hodgson told Heben he was just going to bed when Heben dropped the news that senior management had made the decision to pull the plug after they'd returned from a trip to Japan.
“I’m absolutely devastated, I’m obviously devastated. That goes without saying,” Hodgson said in a Saturday phone call from the Isle of Man. “I truly believe Honda have got the best road bike out there and the DMG [Daytona Motorsports Group] rules were working in our favor and I think we’ve got a real good chance at fighting for a championship and having a great, successful season. I’m also devastated because some of my guys I work with have got mortgages and young families and they’re out of work. I’m very blessed in that I don’t have a mortgage on my house and I can bumble on by and know someone’s not going to take my house off me. So I’m also very, very worried for those guys.
“It’s not a good situation. The world, when you hear about the recession and that lot, you kind of think it’s not going to affect you personally, or you hope it’s not going to, and it’s surprising when it does. It’s a bit of a shock.”
The call from Heben came so late that he was able to provide Hodgson with very few details. Hodgson said when he saw Heben’s name on his Caller ID, he told him, he was "I’m just going to bed.” Heben replied, 'Anyway, oh right, I’ve got some bad news.' And I could almost tell straight away; you know when someone’s got some proper bad news. So he said, he just basically said the top people had come back from Japan and they’d made the decision not to go racing. To be honest, it was like Ron had just found out and he was about to go into a meeting with everyone else. So I don’t really know much else, to be honest. He didn’t know much else. He said, 'I’ll speak to you tomorrow.' Obviously, he’ll speak to me early next week to see what my next step is.”
What made the news harder to accept were the signs that Honda was moving in the right direction and was going to race. On November 20, Hodgson had been told the Daytona test had been canceled, but when the company reversed position, three days later, he was encouraged. As soon as he got word of the reversal he thought, “It’s definitely all happening now, because Honda had pretty much confirmed they were going to race in some championship, so that was the pressure. And when they agreed we were going to Daytona it was a massive sigh of relief and I thought, well, we’re definitely doing it. I said to a few reporters, ‘We’ll definitely be racing next year.’ I don’t know what was going on, because that’s how I felt, obviously. I thought it was okay, I thought we were moving forward.”
Now the reality is setting in that if he is racing, it won’t be with American Honda. And the notion of not racing is one that he finds hard to accept.
“I just don’t know how it works,” he said. “If I’d raced all my career, I probably wouldn’t be panicking as much. But I realize, as I’ve said before in interviews, how much the racing does mean to me. It’s such an important part of my life. The prospect of sitting a full season out is not attractive to me at all. I did it last year, 2007. I hated it and I’m not getting any younger. I don’t want to take another year out. I want to race motorcycles because it’s the best job in the world. I’ve got to do whatever I can do to make that happen.”
The first thing he needs is solid answers, which won’t come before Monday. He has a contract for 2009, which they’re obligated to honor whether he rides or not. But recent Honda contracts have been heavily laden with incentives and a smaller rider fee. He also doesn’t know if Honda wants to use him in other ways or whether he could ride for another Honda team in America or abroad. “So it’s hard for me to pursue anything until I get some solid answers. but I’m having to already start thinking about pursuing stuff, because already it’s the 11th hour. It’s already way too late.”
Among his first thoughts was the possibility of riding for the Corona Honda team. Corona boss Tim Saunders recently said they were moving forward with the team and that Jake Holden was recovering from a late-season accident and surgery.
“I don’t know if they’ve got the capability of running two riders or not,” Hodgson said. “That thought cropped into my mind, because obviously I’m aware they’re a Honda supported team, as is the Erion team. They’re running 600s. I know they’ve run 1000’s in the past.
“Like I say, I’ve a million questions. The problem is the people I need to get the answers off are all difficult to get answers off and it’s weekend. and I’m in England, which always seems to make it worse. I know Ray Blank and Bob Gurga are good people and I know if I turn up there they’ll give me answers. but I’m now eight hours away in the rainy Isle of Man.”