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John Hopkins - BSB Q&A

"I'd rather have the pain and race than not race and have no pain..."
Crash.net:
Hi John, how are things going?

John Hopkins:
Hi, I'm great, I'm at my house just outside San Diego. The weather's been a bit rainy yesterday and today and that's been really welcome because we've had severe drought conditions all winter. I think it's actually the driest winter we've ever had so it's great to have a little moisture.

Crash.net:
There's plenty of rain in England if you need it.

John Hopkins:
No the dry conditions have actually been really good for training and riding motocross, so for me and my preparation it's been a great winter.

Crash.net:
So how do you feel contemplating the season ahead in BSB, are you a different John Hopkins to the one who came over in 2011?

John Hopkins:
Fundamentally no, but perhaps there is a little difference in the fact that my body feels pretty good this time. Apart from that though, it's basically just a similar approach to that season.

In 2011 I arrived not having raced a whole lot because I'd had a wrist replacement in 2010 and had gone through quite a few life changes. In the time before that season I'd been a partying kind of guy and liked to drink a little bit and I'd also stopped that in 2009 so you could say that both then and now I came to the BSB season having gone through a lot of changes.

My drinking came to an end in 2009 and I can say that I've been completely sober ever since. It was definitely hard work at first but the rewards of a sober life are huge and it got easier after a while to keep that up.

I'm really, really looking forward to the season. I've had that year out and got my body back in shape so I'm approaching this season with as much happy anticipation as any year.

To be absolutely honest, when I took the year out in 2012 after injury after injury after injury I did so without any arrangements for what I would do afterwards. If I wasn't riding with a recent injury I would still have lingering pain and that all got a little too much.

I knew I had to take the time out because my body just couldn't carry on like that but at the time that's as far as my planning went. I had no commitments and wasn't looking to what I would do after the year.

Crash.net:
So you were thinking of retiring?

John Hopkins:
I wasn't going to make any formal announcement I was just going to let things take their natural course. As the year went by though I began to realise how much I loved the sport and how much I missed riding and that gave me a huge hunger to get back on a bike. It all comes back to how my body was feeling, that amount of injury can grind you down a little and I just needed to give myself time and see how much I would recover.

As the year went by I was starting to feel good though and seeing all that racing on TV meant that all the old feeling of racing and competitiveness started coming back. At the end I knew I had to try getting back on a bike. If you're a racer at heart, watching other people ride on TV can really get to you and that clarified my future plans.

Crash.net:
Did the fact that BSB is being televised in America this year influence your plans to take a ride there?

John Hopkins:
Yeah a little. They've actually shown some races this year but they were shown several months after the actual event, I did manage to catch a couple though. This year I think the coverage will be more complete and closer to the actual race.

Having watched those I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into the BSB bear pit. When I'd made the decision to return I actually found that I had several options available in various teams and championships but being with Suzuki was one of the most important things to me. So staying with Suzuki in by far the most successful and competitive domestic championship was an easy decision.

Crash.net:
What was the motivation to make you decide to continue racing?

John Hopkins:
Well, the motivation is simple. I've been racing all my life and once my head cleared the decision to continue was easy, it's a love of racing. It was only the pain in my body that was getting in the way so when that stopped being in the way that love of racing was still there.

For me riding a motorcycle just gives me pure simple enjoyment. I've been drawn towards them since I was 2 or 3 years old. When I was a kid I remember asking my parents several times if I could take my motorcycle to bed with me! Add that infatuation to my natural competitive spirit and I think you get a motorcycle racer, you just need to add them together.

I'm really competitive in pretty much anything I do in life, even if I go for a round of golf with my friends 'for fun' I still get very serious about it in my heart. Adding that spirit to my love of motorcycles means that I want to get out there and I want to win, that's for sure.

The motivation was feeling good again, it certainly wasn't financial. In today's market it's very difficult to make a great living from racing anyway and only a very select few are , 10+ years ago most if not all top racers were making good money but to be honest after costs I barely expect to break even this year. It's the passion that draws me and I'm very motivated.

Crash.net:
Talking of finances, has your previous career set you up OK?

John Hopkins:
Yes it has definitely. I'm not saying it hasn't, it's just that that's got nothing to do with the motivation for this year. I am lucky to have made some decent money over the years though.

Crash.net:
It's interesting that you use the British expression 'decent money', how British do you feel?

John Hopkins:
My wife's British, my parents are British and I live over there quite a lot so I think I've picked up a few expressions over the years. As to how I feel, I think when I'm in America I feel pretty British so I wouldn't say that I'm a full bred American.

Having said that I wouldn't have it any other way because I feel fortunate to have had the childhood that I did moving between those two countries. I do love England in that I have a lot of family there and when I go there I feel like I'm going home.

I also get British irony, which a lot of my friends in the States don't.

When I come over to race, I'll be living in a little house I've got in Waterlooville near Portsmouth and that's also close to my wife's family. I'll be traveling with my wife and new born little baby girl. My daughter is just over four months now and being a father is amazing! I love every minute of it!

There was quite a lack of sleep early on but I've been lucky in that my wife has been staying up with her a lot and doing so much of the hard work so at the moment I'm just getting so much enjoyment from her. We've called her Everleigh.

Crash.net:
What is the connection between you and Suzuki?

John Hopkins:
I just really like the company and their bikes, I always have. Even when I was a kid riding motocross my bike was always a Suzuki. My career then started out with Suzuki so I've always had good contact with them. Also being a factory Suzuki rider after 2003 meant that the relationship between me and them only got stronger.

I've got a lot of friends there and even after I left those have remained. I never left with any hard feelings and they're still friends.

The fact that I'm going back with Suzuki has made the decision really easy because I have connections with them both in Japan and the UK and it's a bike that I like and know really well.

It will be pretty similar to the one I rode in 2011 but I guess there have been a few improvements over the years because of the factory backing but the bike itself will be almost identical. If I'm doing well I'm hoping that my relationship with Suzuki will kick in and we may get a little more support.

The superbike Suzuki really hasn't changed very much even from 2007 and it's a bike that I'm really familiar with. After taking a year off I definitely didn't want to get on a bike I didn't know so I'm really pleased with the decision. My ride has come about not only from TAS Suzuki but also Suzuki UK.

I attended a Suzuki track day last year not long after the GP there and George Cheeseman from Suzuki UK said to me that if I ever wanted to come back to racing then they'd love to have me and it was then that the discussions with Suzuki really got under way. At that time I'd already decided to continue and had potential offers from a couple of other BSB teams and maybe options to test for MotoGP, but it was that talk which made me get the plans under way.

Crash.net:
Is there any talk of testing the MotoGP bike?

John Hopkins:
To be honest, no, not at this stage. Obviously I'd love to get on it and give it a go but nothing's been said at this stage. My job is to compete in the BSB championship and that's what I'm focused on.

Of course it's in the back of my mind but I'm entirely committed to BSB.

Crash.net:
Your struggle against Tommy Hill in the final race of 2011 is many people's favourite race of all time, were you aware of being part of such a historic race at the time?

John Hopkins:
Yeah, definitely. It took a while to sink in as to how special it was but looking back on it, it was such a crazy last lap. I was seeing red and all I wanted to do is finish ahead of that yellow bike at all costs. It just so happened that he pipped me by half a wheel length, but when I look back on it I'm just so happy to have been part of such a great race and put on a show like that.

I've watched it back quite a few times and I think I was beaten fair and square but I don't think I would have done anything differently if I had to do it again. It just wasn't meant to be. I felt pretty emotional after that race because after going through hell for the final 3 or 4 months of that championship and having my finger endlessly coming apart I was totally finished. I think anyone would have been emotional after what I went through, if they weren't they obviously don't care very much about their sport. Maybe I should have had that finger chopped off from the beginning.

Crash.net:
Which of your many injuries have you found it most difficult to bounce back from?

John Hopkins:
To be honest there's not a particular one because they've all been hard to handle. But the most recent ones I've had have been pretty difficult for the simple reason that your body takes longer to heal as you get older.

The other important factor is that the relentless injuries kind of grind you down a bit mentally and the last 5 or 6 have been bad in that respect. You approach every injury in the same way though and apply the same regime of determination and therapy.

Crash.net:
In the past you have mentioned your incorrectly pinned wrist injury as a bad one?

John Hopkins:
Oh yeah, that was a bad deal. That wrist surgery was just one of 5 or 6 I'd had on that wrist and that all came from 2007 where I'd broken the scaphoid and severed one of the main tendons. The doctors gave me an ultimatum and said that I could either take 6 months out to let it heal correctly or deal with the pain if I didn't.

The problem is that that injury happened just prior to the season starting and I just had to continue racing because that was the one year after all the previous ones where Suzuki had made a competitive bike and we finally had the chance to shine. There was no way I was going to take 6 months out.

I paid for it in the end though because of the pain I went through and the fact that I've had to have a full wrist replacement and 6 surgeries and even now it's not 100%. It does the trick though. It gets a little sore when it gets cold but it does what it needs to.

At the time I went searching for top wrist surgeons and pretty much every one of them said that my career was over and that I'd need to have it fused. That would have eliminated the pain but I'd rather have the pain and race than not race and have no pain. Ironically it was a doctor just close to here who used a new procedure to sort it out and it's pretty pain free now and I've probably got about 80% movement.

In general I feel fine but pretty much all my injuries hurt when it gets cold.

Crash.net:
Wasn't it the pain in that wrist that started you drinking to handle it?

John Hopkins:
Oh it came from many directions. I always drank from my late teens and liked a drink and a party. I particularly enjoyed the drink after the race on Sunday with the team, even at my most dysfunctional I never drank on any of the days leading up to race and never raced under the influence.

When I drank, there was no way I was just going to stop at one, that just wasn't in my vocabulary. If I drank, I'd continue to oblivion and that was all well and good in 2007 when we had a lot to celebrate. Everything was a good time, I was riding on a high and I don't think there was one Sunday when I didn't live it large with the team.

Then 2008 came along and that was a pretty strenuous year both physically and mentally. My will to succeed was still there but I was riding with a blown out knee, a broken back and so forth and I didn't want to be endlessly taking shots and painkillers so I'd drink away the pain between races.

At the time I thought that was better than using the painkillers but messing with alcohol is never a good idea and I was then drinking to alleviate not only the physical pain but also the mental pain of what was going on that year. It was just a downward spiral that continued into 2009 and my personal life was also beginning to suffer because of it. Also because I wasn't on the bike so much I had time to drink even more.

It got to a point where I just said to myself that 'I can't live like this', it was getting ridiculous.

Crash.net:
Would you say you were an alcoholic at that time?

John Hopkins:
Oh, 100 per cent. Definitely an alcoholic. I've been sober since November 1st 2009 though and counting. It wasn't easy stopping and I needed help at first, and still do occasionally, but I don't drink anymore whatsoever and don't plan to.

Crash.net:
Do you sometimes miss those days?

John Hopkins:
No, I can't say that I do. I look back and it's fair to say that I've got good memories from then but I don't miss them. I don't even regret the days in 2008 and 2009 when things started to go sour.

I just think I had the alcoholic gene in me and it was eventually going to come to a head. I don't really regret anything because it's made me who I am today and right now with my daughter and wife I'm really happy with how my life is. No regrets.

Crash.net:
Will your recent hip operation affect your riding this season?

John Hopkins:
I've just had a full hip resurfacing. They took it out, resurfaced it, relined it and put it back. It was a pretty big operation but after 30 plus operations the idea of it has got pretty routine, it's just that I often set off airport security gates when I go through.

The hip is good now though so it should be OK.

Crash.net:
What did you actually do in your year off?

John Hopkins:
I had the various operations and did the physical therapy necessary and some of that was pretty painful and extensive.

I also did quite a bit of work and ambassador stuff for Monster. I did a parade lap at the Isle of Man TT, went to Le Mans MotoGP and a few other races and as I went to those events I was finding that I missed racing more and more.

Crash.net:
Did that ride give you an appetite for the TT?

John Hopkins:
No, no, not with my attraction to injuries. I think I'll stick to the circuits. I've got massive and new found respect for the guys who do it but I'll stick to the circuits, thanks.

At the moment I'm in full training and am doing 3 days a week on motocross or the dirt track and 2 or 3 days a week doing at least 2 hour rides on the mountain bike so I'd say that I'm pretty close to being bike fit.

It's going to be pretty interesting getting back on a race bike after doing so much Motocross and I'm hoping I don't go into the first corner sticking my leg out rather than putting my knee down. It's actually been quite a while since I've been a road bike so I'm looking forward to starting testing.

Crash.net:
When was the last time you were on a race bike?

John Hopkins:
Magny Cours 2012, it's been quite a while so when I start the test in Spain at the beginning of March I'll have a lot to get used to but I'm really looking forward to it. Unfortunately I don't have any road bikes in the garage.

Crash.net:
After all your medical problems do you think you'll find it easy to fold into a small race bike?

John Hopkins:
I'm hoping so, that's the plan because if not I'll be in trouble!

Crash.net:
If you could go back and talk to your 15 year old self, after all the hardship and injury, would you advise the young Hopper to give racing a miss?

John Hopkins:
No, not at all. I've had an amazing life and I've had a lot of injuries to go with it which will probably plague me later on down the line but I've travelled round the world, lived like an absolute rock star for a number of years and seen all aspects of life, I've had a lot of fun . I've also made my fair share of mistakes in life which I prefer to look back on as "life lessons" and learn from them rather than live with a "Could've , Would've , Should've" attitude ...

Crash.net:
Thanks John.

John Hopkins:
Cheers.
by Christian Tiburtius


Tagged as: Suzuki , Hopkins

Related Pictures

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Denning, Hopkins, British WSBK 2012
Hopkins, British WSBK 2012
Hopkins, Spanish WSBK 2012
Hopkins, Spanish WSBK 2012
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Hopkins, Spanish WSBK 2012
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Josh Waters Tyco Suzuki - ihphotography.net
Josh Waters Tyco Suzuki - ihphotography.net
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Matt2

February 11, 2014 10:47 PM

Hopkins had so much promise on the early career but injury after injury. Its great to see him in racing again and somewhat in shape/one piece. Hope he gets to test that Suzuki MotoGP bike...



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