(1998) Anthony “Slick” Bass started his career as a racing motorcycle mechanic at age 14, accompanying friends and racers to all the club races at Brands Hatch, Donington, Silverstone and Mallory Park. By the time he was 18 years old, Bass was the assistant mechanic on the factory Rothmans (British) Honda team with Isle of Man great Joey Dunlop as the rider. From there he moved to Brit Hero Ron Haslam’s team and there he happened to notice a skinny, bird-faced young man who was always walking around the paddock poised to pounce on each and every rival, looking as if he wanted to beat them into a hospital room stay. The kid, even then, had very intense eyes. Not long after, the lad, future two-time World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty, and Bass would be drawn together and their partnership would become one of the most successful in World Superbike racing.
Slick remembers the first time he saw young Carl Fogarty, “It was 1986-1987, I can hardly remember–at Mallory, I think. I remember him racing a 250 and jumping straight off that and onto a 750. He seemed to me to be a real angry rider. Even before he was riding, he looked aggressive. He was so fiery, walking around in the pits and stuff, shouting at his mechanics to do things. He was unbelievable.” Fogarty noticed Bass as well, “He always looked to me because I was a bit more organized than the team he was on at the time. I’m sure I looked a lot more professional,” he says with a laugh.
Slick continues the story: “Carl and I got friendly and he always wanted to work with me. Because of commitments with other teams, I couldn’t do that until 1993. We hooked up and it has worked out really well together.” As Brits are not typically known for modesty, this is a rare understatement. The Foggy-Bass pairing has been hugely successful. They’ve amassed 43 WSC
wins together, two championships and 17 pole positions. (Fogarty, including his season on the Honda, has a record 73 podium appearances in World Superbike.)
It’s unusual for a world championship caliber rider to remain with one mechanic for nearly his entire world championship career. Scott Russell’s had at least a dozen since 1992. But the interesting facet of the Fogarty Bass relationship is that they’re good friends off the track as well. Slick confirms: “We’ve been the best of mates all the way through it. That’s never really changed. It’s been really wonderful.”
When asked about the Carl Fogarty that he knows, Bass has this to say: “Carl is very passionate about his racing and is one hundred percent dedicated to it. Sometimes it doesn’t look like he is, but he really cares about his riding and I don’t think he’ll ever be able to take second place to anyone and like it. He wants to do so well for everyone who supports him; there’s no other way that he’d ride. He’s dedicated and quite relentless. Carl qualifying on the third row isn’t a problem. It doesn’t matter where he qualifies. He knows he’s going to be up there with the front, in the hunt.
“And he’s a great guy. He gets angry. . .like any rider when he can’t do the laptime he wants or finishes poorly, he gets mad. But when it’s all said and done, he’s a good mate.”
Bass has been a friend and confidant of Ducati Performance rider Fogarty’s since they were in their late teens. If anyone knows what he’s like once the motorhome door closes, it’s Bass. “Away from the track he’s a much calmer guy. He goes back to his place and he chills out. He’ll have a few beers but he’s not much of a drinker. He hardly touches the stuff. He’s funny to get drunk sometimes because all you have to do is give him a few Budweisers, four or five, and he’s gone. That takes about an hour. The rest of the night he walks around like a zombie,” Bass says with a good-natured grin.
One of the conditions Fogarty had when he left Ducati for the factory Honda squad in 1996 was that Slick accompany him during his stint with the Japanese team. Fogarty lasted the entire season on the British run Honda squad, but Bass was asked to leave before half-season. Bass explains what made the Honda relationship for him a disaster: “When I was young–I’ve been doing this for eighteen years-I could work the Honda way, I could work any way anybody told me to. But if you work in a European team, or an Italian team, they’re so much more lax and less regimented than a Honda team. Having worked with a Ducati team for three years before that, it was very hard to change in the time that Honda wanted me to change.”
In addition to his inability, or unwillingness, to adapt, Bass has quite a reputation in WSBK as a skirt-chasing party boy. And that more than anything may have contributed to his exit from the Honda squad.
Bass says that the Neil Tuxworth-run Honda team was never specifically critical of his work, and perhaps it was a case where they just didn’t personally like him. “They never told me how they wanted me to work. They just kept telling me that I was doing it wrong all the time. It was very frustrating. I would have never left Carl. . .I would have preferred an engine building job, because I was struggling with the job. I could do it my way, but I couldn’t do it their way.”
Castrol Team manager Neil Tuxworth, a friend of Fogarty’s father, George, fired Bass. “At the end of the day, when they told me I had to leave, I respected Neil for that because he made a decision based on what he felt was best for the team and best for Carl. I didn’t take it that bad, really. In my mind, it wasn’t right, but he did it for the right reasons.”
Strangely enough, it wasn’t the Japanese at Honda that Bass couldn’t cope with; it was his own countrymen, the Brits. “I didn’t have that much of a problem communicating with the Japanese at Honda. There were two or three things that I said that they listened to and it improved the bike a bit. It surprised me that they did it so quickly, I thought it would take a long time to make the changes but they got on with it straight away.”
Slick takes partial responsibility for the Honda parting: “Carl’s adaptation to the bike wasn’t as quick as it should have been and he had a lot of frustration with that. With me being so close to him, I was getting frustrated. I guess being such close friends with Carl, I hated to see him upset. It made me a bit more aggressive to people in the team that I should have been. I learned a lot from that and don’t want to let it happen again. That’s the second time I’ve been sacked by Neil (Tuxworth) at Honda, and the first time it was for no reason. But never mind about that,” he says with a laugh.
He then says, “The Honda team is a very good team and a very professional team. They have been successful as you can see by them winning the championship last season. They run a very tight ship. That’s all well and good, but what they don’t understand is that I’ve been in racing for a long time and I do things my way. The Carl and Slick relationship was very close and they wanted it to be Carl and Castrol Honda.”
Bass has been a race mechanic in one form or another for more than 15 years and the season-long grind of plane, hotel then racetrack then another plane have begun to wear on him greatly in the last two years. He feels that 1998 or 1999 may be his last year as a full-time mechanic in World Superbike. But much of that depends on Carl Fogarty. “When I was young, I loved my life. Now I miss living at home and I miss having a regular girlfriend, a house or somewhere I can call my home. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the last five years and I’m not in love with it any more.
“I am thinking about taking a few years off after next year or maybe starting next year. Obviously, it depends on what Carl does: if Carl continues racing next year, I’ll probably stay with him for another year. But if he stops, I’ll probably stop and have a couple of years to myself. I’ll find a life and figure life out a little bit I’d imagine. I could always come back to this life if I’d like to.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Bass can make the switch to another rider and have the same success as he’s had with Foggy. Maybe he won’t have to; Bass thinks an engine building shop or a post Europe career of tuning Superbikes in America might be in his future. “I’d like to get my own machine shop and get myself a dyno and build engines for people. I’d like to get hooked up with someone with some money and get on it (laughs). I like America. I think a decent job after I retire would be to work in the American championship. “
Foggy has been critical of the 916-based Ducati Superbike ever since he re-joined the Italian squad last season. The power delivery of the machine is too hard, the suspension action too harsh, and it simply isn’t the same bike he rode to World Championship glory in 1995. Slick says that changes were inevitable. “Any bike that has been in Superbike racing for more than three years is having a tough time.”
However, he feels that the Ducati fuel injection system and excellent chassis might make the process of growing old easier on the 916 than it has been for four-cylinder Japanese bikes. Says Slick, “I reckon there’s still a fair bit left in the Ducati 916–especially with the electronics and things like that. Depending on the riders, I think it could be competitive for quite a long time. It just depends on the opposition and how quickly they improve over the years. Every time we get more power, we get more problems with the chassis and the suspension. At one point with the Ducati, the chassis and suspension was the best, now it’s a problem to get it dialed in at some tracks. That’s because of the extra horsepower, but I do think it’s got a few more years left in it.”
Foggy has been pleading with Ducati to give him his 1995 bike back because of the power-delivery problems of the Ducati 995 Superbike. Bass explains why: “It’s been quite difficult the last year and a half with Carl and the power delivery problems we have now with the Ducati. It’s obviously very much like a switch. All you can do is take the notes, give them to the factory and hope that they’ll come back with something better. It’s getting better for us because they’re improving the bike all the time now. The bike will get better over the next year or so, no doubt. “
Carl wants his 1995 bike back, for good reason says Slick. That season the bike and the team were perfect: “That was dream bike and a dream year. We smoked that championship. The bike was so perfect, and he was riding it great and it really fit him. There was no one that was going to stop him that year. The thing that hurt us was having the bike that good, that tailored to him, and then missing out on one year of development with it when we went to Honda. When we got back, it was all changed around and it was like a completely different bike. Especially after riding the Honda for one year, which messed with his style as he had to rev the bike more and things like that. The Ducati was quite a different animal when he got back on it.”
One of Bass’ strengths with Fogarty isn’t just that he understands and admires the former champion, but he can sense The Fog’s moods and knows when to help start a fire within. “1997 Laguna Seca was bad for us. We qualified on the fourth row. I just kept telling him, ‘it doesn’t matter, when the light turns green — you go to the front’. And he did! He came good and finished second in both races–puking in his helmet in the end. And in 1993 at Hockenheim, when he was first looking like he could win a race or get on the podium with the (Raymond) Roche team, we had a problem. The engine was puking oil out of every gasket it had. That’s death to a rider. They see that and they don’t even want to go out. We sealed everything up and he actually got on the podium. He came through where other riders would be worried about getting oil on the tire and crashing, to having the perfect set up and finishing third. I was in tears. That was his first WSC podium finish.”
Even in a general sense, Bass feels he understands riders and knows how to play them like a violin. “They’re all like kids,” he says. “That’s why I work well with them, I’m still like a kid. From a mechanic standpoint, you have to be as positive as you can every time the rider goes out, believing in what you can do and in what he can do. If you doubt if he can do it, that’ll piss him right off and change his whole outlook and mental preparation. You have to look at him like it’s not a problem, just go out and do it. (It) doesn’t matter if you’re qualified on the fifth row or the bike is in pieces in the garage, you have to let him know that it’s no problem and that he can do it. And you have to know when to say something and when to keep your mouth completely shut.”
Through it all, winning championships and races with Ducati and the disappointment with Honda, Bass has some special moments with Fogarty that he will remember for the rest of his life. “When we won the championship in 1995 at Assen, we were all in a packed bar near the track having a bit of a celebration and all the British fans were singing “We Are the Champions”. Carl and me were singing and it was a wonderful feeling. It was a very special moment. We won it with three races to do, so the rest of the season was just a bit of a cruise. It was unbelievable.”