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My Life & Cars – Toby Moody, motorsport commentator

From the Goodwood Festival of Speed to Dakar to MotoGP, Moody’s is one of the best-known voices in motorsport

You might not recognise Toby Moody, but if you’re a motorsport fan you’ll almost certainly have heard him. For 18 years the voice of Eurosport’s MotoGP coverage, he has also commentated at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, Le Mans, X Games from downtown LA, the World Endurance Championship, and several editions of the Dakar Rally. ‘I covered five Dakars in Africa when it was still a bit hairy,’ he says, ‘two in South America and two in Saudi Arabia.’ 

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Moody’s long career behind the microphone began in September 1992 at the Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb when he was only 18. ‘My mother and father met racing Mini-Coopers in the late ’60s. Then they got married, stopped racing, but were still involved in the social life surrounding motorsport. And then my father started commentating and he was very good at it. He was the lead commentator at Shelsley and it was there that I asked if I could have a go,’ recalls Moody.

> My Life & Cars – Richard Usher, CEO, Great British Car Journey

‘He told me I had to do it the hard way, start at the bottom and work my way up, and after commentating at a couple of meetings at Shelsley, I was paid the most fantastic compliment by an older gent who had been coming to the hill climb since 1947. He said to me, “I can have a nice lunch and lie in the grass at the top of the hill. But I can listen to your commentary from the bottom of the hill with you describing the scene in such detail and I can see everything in my head.” I hadn’t realised I’d been doing it, I just did it, but it was thanks to Howard Stockley that I then undertook the job with such seriousness.’

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Having parents with a passion for motor racing inspired Moody from a young age. ‘In the summer of 1989, when I was 16, I had a holiday job at Benetton F1 for a couple of weeks. I cycled to work because I wasn’t 17. The following summer I secured a holiday placement at Prodrive, at a point where the company was working on the Bastos-sponsored BMW M3: that’s when I fell in love with them. After I’d finished my A-levels I moved down to London to work in the office doing Williams F1’s PR.’

Moody spent a couple of years in London before deciding it wasn’t the place for him – ‘a great place and I loved going there, I just loved coming home more’ – and moving back to Worcestershire. It was crunch time for his career. ‘I wanted to push the commentary a bit more, because I felt I was progressing – I was 22 years old and wanted to see if it could really work. But I knew I had to make a big push if I was to make something from it. It was all very well doing the odd tin-pot event, but by the time I’d driven there and back and paid for a B&B, I had about 20 quid left from a £100 fee.

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‘So I contacted the Goodwood Festival of Speed and asked if there was anything I could do for them. And they took me on as a start line commentator for the 1995 event. And I did my homework; my god, I did so much homework. Went through all the books. I never knew about the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 1.5-litre supercharged Tripoli car, all those kind of things. Yes I made some mistakes, mispronounced some names, fell on my face in public, but I like to think that I brought a degree of enthusiasm to the commentary that hadn’t been heard before. I was only 22.’

While Moody was busy talking about other people’s cars, he began to buy a few of his own. The obligatory Ford Fiesta quickly made way for a C-reg VW Polo that he kept for three years until the urge for something more exciting became too great. ‘I was nearly 21, had a job, a bit of money, and I fancied a Peugeot 205 XS, the one with carburettors that sat just below the GTi. Father and I were driving through the suburbs of Birmingham on a May Bank Holiday to have a look at one priced at £4700. But we drove past a dealer’s forecourt and did a double-take: there was a Golf GTI for £3995. It was red. It was shiny. It had basket-weave BBS alloys. It was right.

‘So there I was, nearly 21, buying a five-year-old F-reg Golf GTI. In retrospect it didn’t have much power, but then it didn’t weigh anything, either, so for the next ten years I drove everywhere on three wheels. It was a bloody good car and I look back on it very, very fondly. Later I bought a Mk4 Golf GTI and it was very disappointing. So I had to chip it and lower it, then it went like the wind. Again, I kept it for a long time and got it up to 230,000 miles.’

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Despite his propensity for driving the door handles off them, Moody refers to the Golfs – and his current Audi A4 Avant – as everyday cars, to be treated as mere transportation. ‘I have always bought my everyday cars secondhand, kept them for 10-12 years, and if I make 500 quid when I sell them, that’s a bonus. I do look after them very well, though. But I feel no compulsion to keep up with the Joneses by leasing a new Mercedes or BMW every couple of years.’

If the GTIs were everyday wheels, what’s more special? ‘I learned to drive when I was 13 in a 1967 Series IIA Land Rover. It was my father’s and I would use it to collect logs and trees and things out of the fields, because I did a bit of timber trading as a hobby. I’ve got pictures of me standing next to it when I was four. My father was going to sell it in 2000 but I ended up buying it off him and I still have it. These days it’s garaged, but I take it for a run every now and then, on the roads and out in the fields. It’s nice; not immaculate but very useable.’

From an evo perspective, Moody’s other ‘not everyday’ car is a belter – an E30 BMW M3 Johnny Cecotto special edition. ‘In March 1999 I went down to Tunbridge Wells to see an M3. When the guy opened up the wooden doors on the garage, I remember looking at it and thinking ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing’. But I bought it anyway. It was meant to be a second car but I drove it everywhere. Dry or wet, it didn’t matter, any excuse to get out in it. I didn’t care, I just used it. Yet as the years went on, I realised that for mundane journeys it was better to leave the M3 in the garage and save it for special occasions.’

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As well as commentating, from the early days of his career Moody looked after the public relations for rally and race teams, bikes as well as cars. ‘When I was 21, I handled some of the PR for Nissan Motorsports Europe. We were in the British Rally Championship which we won in 1995 with Alister McRae driving a Sunny GTI – we won it again in ’97 with Mark Higgins driving. At the moment I’m working for Prodrive in the World Rally Raid Championship, looking after Sébastien Loeb and the team from a media perspective. It’s very special to be involved with such a motorsport legend – it’s another world what he can do.’

Many years earlier, a contact at Prodrive passed on details of a commentating gig for MotoGP racing in Spain that was to lead to nearly two decades of bike commentary for Eurosport. ‘Before the interview I bought 110 quid’s worth of videos, magazines, books, annuals, anything I could to learn about the sport. And I went to Spain and they gave me the job. Sort of. They said, “We’ll give you six races and see if you’re any good.” That was 27 years ago. So I was the voice of Eurosport for 18 years on the sport of motorcycle racing across Europe – if you wanted to watch European motorcycle racing in English, then you had to tune in. For 14 of those 18 years my commentary partner was Julian Ryder. Many people told us that we were a fantastic combination, and we quickly ascertained who was good at what within the box.’

A stint working directly with a race team was an eye-opener for Moody. ‘I did a season with KTM with their MotoGP team running the VIP programme. No matter how much a journalist thinks they know about how a team runs, it’s not until you’re actually part of one that you see the full picture. It’s all about the culture, the psyche, it’s in your blood; you can’t write it down, can’t report on the feeling. Nobody outside a team can really fully understand the all-consuming nature of it.’

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Commentating on the X Games was another educational experience. ‘There I was in downtown LA looking up at the Hollywood sign, commentating on the X Games. Holy moly, that really opened my eyes because they really know how to promote an event and how to do TV. I learned a lot. 

‘My first Dakar, in 2001, also taught me heaps. I was working for the event organisers, doing the voice on the satellite television broadcast that went out every night to 186 different TV channels. I learnt how to edit myself and work under extreme pressure – that broadcast goes out at 6.15pm whether you’re ready or not. And it could be from inside a dusty tent in a remote corner of Mali when it’s 49 degrees Celsius outside…’

Recently he’s done a great number of corporate launches, including the Porsche 963 LMDh car at Goodwood last summer. ‘I love the pressure of those events where you cannot get it wrong,’ he says. ‘Just love it.’

An affable character with a flamboyant personality, it’s little surprise that Moody has made friends with a number of the drivers and riders he’s met over the years. ‘Colin McRae took me out in the 555 Impreza, Tommi Mäkinen took me for a spin in his red and white Marlboro Mitsubishi Evo, I’ve ridden pillion around a track with Randy Mamola on the Ducati two-seater MotoGP bike, and Pentti Airikkala, with whom I was great friends, taught me how to left-foot brake.’

He’s driven some pretty exciting machinery, too. ‘By far the most thrilling is a single-seater hill climb car I part-own – slicks, big aero, 240bhp at the wheels, and just 320kg. Compared with blasting that up Shelsley, any road car is poor, it’s like nothing else you’ll ever experience.’

Moody remains bewitched by motorsport. ‘I still have a passion for it, I love the romance and emotion of it. Even when the cars or bikes aren’t on the track – I love it when the long evening fingers of sunset are creeping into the garage at Monza, and when the crowds assemble on a snowy stage on the Monte Carlo rally an hour before the cars are due through, and huddle around those little Italian catering vans. I love when people cry on the podium because they’ve won a race – they’re so proud and this is how they express that emotion.

‘Because of my animated style of delivery, people used to ask, “Why do you get so excited about the sport and commentating?” Because it is exciting, the emotion and the passion of it. Sure, there are multi-billion-pound companies sanitising motorsport, yet there are still some impassioned folk out there, kind of shooting from the hip. I truly admire them because they’re the ones bringing the spirit and soul to racing.’

This story was first featured in evo issue 305.

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