The man behind the GP tracks at Sun City in South Africa, Gore Basin on the Isle of Wight and Matterley Basin – scene of one of the most memorable Motocross des Nations of recent times – is heading down to Somerset this weekend to begin work on the circuit for round two of the Red Bull Pro Nationals at Weston-super-Mare.
The name Johnny Douglas Hamilton is synonymous with bespoke, world-class motocross circuits and the 34-year-old former British championship rider knows building a track from scratch on the beach at Weston will throw up a few fresh challenges.
“The plan is to come up with a design that Matt and Steve are happy with and then over the week it will be built with around five machines working on it. The other guys are familiar with how Weston develops and they have been advising me on the sorts of problems that can develop.
“The aim is to keep the design open and flowing and just let the sand itself become the obstacle. There will be a couple of big jumps but mostly it will be a gruelling whoop monster.
“I would like to get as much of the final touches done myself as is possible but when you work on an event like this that’s time-restricted you rely on others very heavily. It’s very much a team effort and everybody has to contribute in a big way.”
Johnny – or Lord Johnny Douglas Hamilton to give him his full title (“it’s just an honorary title given to the younger son/brother of a Duke, I’m not the ‘Lord’ of anything as such and I’ve never actually written my name down as Lord”) – has been riding off-road since he was a kid but didn’t start racing until his late teens and from then on was always playing catch up.
“My dad had all four of his kids riding dirt bikes from a young age but he didn’t want me actually racing till I finished my A levels. When I left school I got the chance to try racing properly. I say ‘properly’ but it was a bit of a one man band type effort. My dad gave me two bikes and said I was welcome to try race but that I would be on my own from there.
“I drove myself to the races from Scotland and laboured during the week to try and pay for the racing. I obviously had to do my own engines and suspension. I drove an old water board van that I tried to kit out myself.
“Within a couple years of leaving school I scraped into the British in 2000 but I wasn’t much use. I started to get the hang of it and scored in a few races but at the wrong end of the top 20. I remember just missing the top 10 at Southport one year and I always loved sandy tracks like Lyng and Desertmartin.
“When I injured myself at the first round of 2004 I’d had a reasonable go at it by then. I was tidy enough but I just didn’t have that raw speed that you could see in the top boys. Without the schoolboy background I was essentially still learning as an adult what everyone else had already picked up in their teens.”
Even before he was racing Johnny was building tracks in a forest near his home which Billy MacKenzie and Stuart Flockhart used for practice and what started as a hobby has developed into a career.
“Jeff Perrett was doing a shoot there for Animal in ’98 and I guess it was him that would get me the gig at the Isle of Wight six years later. It obviously went really well and the positive reaction from the riders was massive. From there I got the chance to go all around the world doing tracks.
“My main line of work now is building private tracks as www.terraformamx.com and we’ve helped quite a few pro guys from Zach Osborne through to David Knight.”