Rob Andrews has written a book about his time as a Grand Prix competitor. It’s called The Inside Line: Racing the 500cc World Motocross Championship. The book is a remarkable snapshot of what Grand Prix motocross was like in the 1980s, the glory days of motocross gods like Andre Malherbe, Eric Geboers, David Thorpe, Georges Jobe, and more. Andrews, who hails from Great Britain, is an exceptional writer with an excellent memory. He also got invaluable help from some of the best photographers of the era, including Ray Archer and Jack Burnicle. The combination of Rob’s words with their pictures makes The Inside Line a must-read for any motocross fan. The book was released on February 15 and you can order yours online today by visiting https://theinsidelinebook.com.
Racer X: Rob, what a wonderful book you’ve put together here. As a kid who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I was always curious about what it would be like to race the FIM Motocross World Championships—especially the 500cc Grand Prix tour where there were so many great riders. To finally have a book that really chronicles that, it’s a wonderful addition to any motocrosser’s library.
Rob Andrews: Well, thank you, I’m really pleased that you of all people like it, Davey, because you’re a connoisseur of the sport—like an encyclopedia of motocross. So if you’re saying nice things about it, then that’s great. All I’ve heard so far is good things about it. But when you’ve written it yourself, you never know, do you? You think, “Is this interesting because I’ve written it and it’s about me?” But I thought it was pretty good when I put it together and when I completed. So now to see and read the things that other people are saying, it’s quite heartwarming, really. I’m really pleased in how it looks. Let’s hope everybody likes it.
I think there are two things that can be very challenging for a motocross book. Some might have amazing photos, but not quite have the words—or maybe it’s written in another language—or they have the words but they lack the photos. You pulled together a really broad story, with exceptional photographs. How difficult was that?
When it first started… Well, let me go back a step. You can trace this book back maybe ten years. That’s when I first put my website together (www.robandrewsmx.com), which is a collection of photos and stories that went with it. I know that people liked that by the comments and the number of hits I got on my website. So, I knew the material was interesting. Obviously, I lived my career and I knew there was some interesting stuff that happened to me. I was also very fortunate to be racing in that series at that time. But I didn’t know when I started how many photos I was going to get, or how I was going to find them. It started off as just writing down all the cool stuff that happened and try and explain what it was really like to be racing in the GPs during that great era, which is an era now that is probably loved more than ever before. The book goes from kind of day one when I first discovered motorcycles, so I didn’t know if I would be able to get photos to illustrate every part of the journey.
So I wrote the words first. That took me about three months or so to write the first draft. Then I left it alone for a while, came back, started re-editing it. Then I turned my attention to the photos. Ray Archer was the real start because Ray was kind enough to say, “Look, let me just send you all of my originals.” So one day this box turned up at my house, this enormous box with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of slides and negatives. That was one of the best parts of putting this together, going through Ray’s photos for weeks and pulling out these slides and holding them up against the window to see what it is, and seeing these amazing pictures that had never been published before. They were just sat in a storage locker somewhere in New Castle. Ray, along with other photographers, would take hundreds of photos each weekend. If they were lucky, two or three get used in a magazine. And Ray had got some fantastic stuff. So going through those and seeing those amazing pictures, but also seeing other things, just behind-the-scenes photos and pit photos and that sort of thing. I would see them and think, I know exactly where I can fit that! That ties in exactly with something that I had written.
Going through that many actual photographs can be a very tedious and time-consuming, as any magazine editor can tell you!
Well, it took me weeks and weeks to scan these. There’s some great stuff. I hope I’m kind of in tune with what people will like to see as well. I also pulled out strange things. There was an instance where I wrote about the 1989 British Grand Prix. I crashed in the first turn—only a small crash—but when I went to get back on my bike every buckle on my boot had got flicked undone. As I swung my leg over my bike the boot nearly fell off. I thought, “How the hell?” So I had to get off the bike. I tried to buckle the boot up while holding the bike up with one hand and I couldn’t do it. So I had to put my bike on the ground, do my boot up, and then get back on the bike as the pack was streaming away off into the distance. As I wrote that I thought, “No one’s going to believe this.” Turns out Ray’s got a photo of it! Me standing there holding my bike, trying to do my boot buckles up. When I saw that I thought, “Ray, you star. That’s fantastic.”
Also I had written a chapter about how the whole GP system worked, about how my late father, Ron, had got himself one of the first laptop computers and had some software written so that he could do lap timing. Because back then it was just done by stop watches and writing the numbers down on a piece of paper. Ron got this computer and he used to time qualification, and all the other riders and mechanics would look over his shoulder to try and see where they were. Because back then, we didn’t know what our lap times were or whether we even qualified until maybe two hours after the session finished. So Ron was just crowded with people. Again, Ray’s got a photo of my dad sitting there in a deck chair with his laptop computer. So little things like that were just gems. And there are other photographers that supplied pictures, as you know. In total there’s probably about ten photographers that have supplied photos. I’m indebted to them. After I finished the words and then started putting the artwork together—and I’ve done all of this myself, all of the artwork design and everything—and it was fantastic fun. I had never done anything like that before. It took a long time, but to build it up and to drop these photos in, it was just great.
It was also good because I did the artwork myself. If I had given it to a designer, he’d have never been able to kind of lay that out and get the pictures in the right places. So just referring to that photo of me trying to buckle my boot up again, I was able to position it so that you read the story and bang, there’s the photo. It would have never been possible if I would have used a third party to do that.
I’m sure there are times it became tedious and truly a labor of love. And it’s such a vibrant snapshot of that age… I know this can be a cliché, but that was the golden era of Grand Prix motocross. That’s not to compare now to then or whatever. I mean, in America we have supercross humming on all cylinders right now, but if you ask someone to name their favorite years, they will say 1986! Maybe that’s because that’s when we might have really fallen in love with it. The cast of characters around you, you and your father and your whole family coming up through the ranks in England and then taking on the world, you had Malherbe, Geboers, Georges Jobe, Dave Thorpe, Kurt Nicoll…
It was a good time. I try and not be biased because that was my best year, but if you look at it objectively, in my mind ’86 has to be the best year for GP motocross because it was the last year of the full factory Hondas. In ’87 they went to production-based bikes. So you had all these major players in Thorpe, Malherbe, you had Geboers, you had Hakan Carlqvist, Jobe, Kurt Nicoll. So we didn’t have the YZMs, but we had the last year of the full factory Hondas, which I still think of as the trickiest bikes ever. One year later in ’87 Geboers went off to 250, Malherbe retired… But in ’86, Carlqvist was still going fast. There were just a lot of good riders there. I think at the first GP when we got second overall there was something like eight world champions racing. I kind of had to pinch myself and think, Wow, that’s the year that I did best in. How the hell did that happen?! I only finished ninth, and I was never a world champion. But I was one place behind Hakan Carlqvist! That’s some pretty good results against those guys. I still have to pinch myself and think, Did I really do that? As I put in the book, I was an unremarkable amateur. I didn’t shoot straight to the top. I was never the next big thing, never a hot prospect. I just started off racing as just a regular guy, and I gradually got a bit better. I got into the British support championship—that’s like the second division of the British championship—and I didn’t really go anywhere. For three years I was stuck in that support championship. But eventually I just kept plugging away, and I just eventually got better and better and better, and eventually made it into GPs. I happened to come good in that one year of ’86. I still think, Shit, did that really happen? That was pretty cool.
I remember, we had you do a story for us once on 1985, when you rode for Team Great Britain at the first of the modern Motocross of Nations where all three classes were lined up together. You were right in the middle of a lot of big changes that were happening. The balance of power had started to shift, I think in part because the U.S. emphasis on supercross, but also when the works bikes went away. Things started changing. As you said, not only did you get to ride those bikes—you got to race with those really trick Hondas, too.
Yeah. There was a big difference with those bikes as well. People have said to me in the past, “Well, if you’d have been riding one of those bikes, you’d have done even better.” The Hondas were really good then. I did ride Thorpe’s bike once, just when we were practicing, and it was pretty special. But I did the best that I could. In ’86 I was on a factory bike myself, but it was a year-old factory bike. As you’ll read in the book there, it wasn’t everything that people maybe think. It was a difficult relationship with Alec Wright, the team manager we had (with Kawasaki). That factory 500 I had, it was a year-old factory bike. It was a great bike, but they were struggling for spares because they’d used it the year before for George Jobe and Laurence Spence. So right at the beginning of the season I was told that I only had top-end exhaust pipes to use. The previous year they had a low-end, a mid-range and a top-end, and all the low-end and mid-range had been used up. So I was racing with a top-end biased exhaust pipe on a 500. How crazy was that? But I got to ride a full-factory 500 and that I’m sure is part of the reason why I had such a good year there. There was a big difference between the factory bikes and the production bikes back then.
You’ve stayed close to the sport. You do television work. For a while you were testing bikes after your career ended. During the ‘90s and the early 2000s, were you thinking, Maybe I should write some of this down? They’re wonderful stories and meticulously detailed. You obviously have a great memory.
Somebody has said to me, “How did you remember all that?” Funny enough, I have memory problems. As I write in the book, I had quite a few concussions in my career and I struggle with short-term memory now. I can’t remember somebody’s name. I can play golf with somebody for four hours and then I’ll go in the changing room afterwards and somebody else will say, “Who have you just played with?” and I can’t remember. But you can remember longer-term stuff. I was fortunate in that I kept all my race reports from 1985 onwards. I used to send a race report in to all my sponsors every week, which not many other riders were doing. It wasn’t all that detailed, but it had a brief synopsis of what happened each week. So if there were gaps in my memory, I could go through my race reports and see, like, “This happened in the first race, and this is why I finished where I did.” I also kept a few press cuttings, so when it came to writing about the Nations in ’85, I could refer to those. There’s things like the team standings after the first race and the second race. That came from Alex Hodgkinson’s race reports. So I had a little bit of help there.
But I wasn’t thinking of writing a book until only 18 months ago. When I first quit racing, the idea did come into my head. I think Kurt had put his book out [Motocross: The Nicoll Way] about then. I did think of it, but just couldn’t think of an angle. I couldn’t think, What would Rob’s book be about? I was thinking, Could it be riding tips, that sort of thing? It just didn’t seem to work in my head. Then when the Internet came along and I started contributing to forums occasionally, sometimes a picture would pop up and I would see that picture and say, “Oh, I remember that. This happened...” I’d tell a short story about that picture, and people seemed to like it. Then Facebook took over from the forums a bit, and the same thing would happen.
About 18 months ago, a friend of mine called Steve Carty, a local amateur rider, asked me to write something on Facebook about how we would prepare for overseas races. By that, I guess he meant Canada and Carlsbad, the only two overseas GPs that I did. I didn’t really know what he wanted me to write, because how do we prepare for overseas races? We had to make sure that we took our tools with us and selection of parts and that sort of thing. But when I started to write something down on my iPad, I remembered that, like, nine days before Canada, I happened to walk through a plate glass window in a store. Just an accident. I was just strolling out of a store the day after the German GP. I had gone home and I had just walked down to town. I walked through the store, went to go through the open exit, and bang, right through an unmarked glass window and cut my arm to pieces. It cut the radial artery and I basically almost died on the floor of this supermarket! That was nine days before I was due to go to Canada. I also remembered that a few weeks before, Alec Wright from Kawasaki had said, “If you go to Canada, you’re going to have to fund the trip yourself.” At this point, I was ahead of Kurt in the championship, something like eighth, and Kawasaki said, “Yeah, you can go, but you’ve got to pay for it yourself.” I thought, “I can’t write this all out on a Facebook post. It’s good stuff.” That was the moment I thought, I’ve got to put this in a book. (Note: Andrews did end up going to Canada and scored valuable points.)
And it’s not just that story. There were many, many other stories that are in the book. I wrote about how half the 500 GP paddock got ripped off by a con man, things that happened with my mechanic, and just all of the things that were really, really interesting. I thought, These need to be in a book.
So that’s how it started. It’s turned out to be a far bigger job than I ever imagined. Just writing the words is the easy bit. It still continues now. The books have been printed for six months, but now I’m getting ready for this exhibition this weekend. I’m doing all the marketing myself too. The amount of work involved has been staggering. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.
I can tell that you are enjoying it. It certainly comes through in the prose and the photos that it was a fun time. One other thing that makes this cool is this was in that time before every race was on TV, before we all had cell phones, before there was an Internet. It’s sort of a time in motocross us Americans don’t know that much about. We may know some of the tracks and we may know some of the names, but to read what life was really like as a professional motocross racer in that era and juxtapose that to what these guys are doing now with their trainers and entourage and publicists and all… It’s just an unbelievably different world to live in, but it’s the world I think we all wanted when we were kids. I know kids today will think, “I want to be like Cooper Webb or Adam Cianciarulo or whoever,” but when I was growing up, I wanted to be like Dave Thorpe! I just didn’t know what it was like to be Dave Thorpe or any of those GP guys because all we had were Cycle News and the occasional magazine story. Now there’s this brilliant memoir of a time that always fascinated me. I think it will fascinate a lot of other people, too.
Thank you, and I really hope so. I don’t believe there are many motocross books written quite like this before, nothing that goes into the detail of what it was actually like. There are a lot of fans of the sport back then that followed closely. They saw the results. They maybe went to watch the races. They saw the outer skin of the whole thing, but they really didn’t know what it was like inside. I mean, when I walked through the plate glass window, there was no detail about that in the press. It was like, “Rob Andrews had an accident last week and he cut his arm.” That was it. It never went into the detail of just what had happened. People have told me that’s what they found interesting about this—those small details. If I had to sum up my book in one sentence, it would be, “Did you ever wonder what it was like to be racing as a rider in that GP series? This book is going to tell you.” I’m just so fortunate that I happened to be one of those riders and I lived through that experience.
Absolutely. And it has both the photos and the words, and that’s something we don’t see a lot of in motocross books. Congratulations. How can people in America get their hands on the book?
So the book [was] released this weekend on Saturday, the 15th of February. They can go to TheInsideLineBook.com, or my own website, RobAndrewsMX.com now directs to that. But the website I’m pointing everybody to is TheInsideLineBook.com. And you must include the “book” on the end because TheInsideLine.com is an Australian motor racing site.
Ha! I think RacerX.com is actually a used car lot in Florida or something.
It’s TheInsideLineBook.com. They’ll be able to go on there. They’re 40 pounds [about $53 U.S.] plus shipping, so we can ship worldwide. That’s no problem. So it’s easy.
There’s a book by the late Terry Pratt released in 2007 called Grand Prix Motocross which really is the definitive book of 1970s’ motocross. I truly believe The Inside Line will live on as the definitive description of what Grand Prix motocross was like in the ‘80s. And it will be a tall order for someone to match this from the ‘90s!
It’s very nice of you to say that. I set out to make the best book that I could, and I’m pleased with how it’s come out. Let’s hope that people like it!