Alfie Cox The Racing Legend: On Humble Pie and Passion

Alfie Cox The Racing Legend: On Humble Pie and Passion


South African motorbiking champion Alfie Cox is best-known for consistently placing in the top five overall at the Paris to Dakar Rally, but he’s also been awarded his Springbok colours, the MSA Lifetime Achievement Award and is a nine time Roof of Africa Rally winner.

Related: The Anatomy of Scott Picken

Humble Pie

Throughout my career, I’ve found that the most important thing to remember is to stay humble. Don’t ever burn bridges – you never know what lies around the next corner – and don’t try to rise above others.

It’s good to remember that we’re all just people, and no one person is better than anyone else. Give your time and attention freely, and you’ll be a better person for it.

My first Dakar in 1998 I raced as a privateer

This meant I had no factory support. I had to pay for my own ride. I managed to get my bike sponsored, but this still left me R350 000 short.

I got there because every South African who knew Alfie Cox dipped into their pocket. Arriving in Dakar to compete was such a group effort.

Once you’re there though, you’re on your own

As a privateer I didn’t have any technical support. I changed my own tyres at night after each day’s racing, checked my bike, fixed any problems, all while the factory riders were resting.

No one believed I could do it, certainly not my first time there and in such extreme riding conditions. I needed to prove myself, and the only way to do that was to put my head down and do it. By the time we reached Timbuktu it was a rest day, I was lying fourth overall and there were no more factory riders competing.

They’d all dropped out. Suddenly myself and another Australian privateer had the factory teams helping us. The doors opened.

If I could ensure that one characteristic is instilled in my children, it would be that hard work never killed anybody. That’s how I grew up, and it’s shaped most of what I’ve achieved in my life. With hard work, dedication and passion the sky’s the limit.

Giving freely is an attribute

I’ve carried through to my business, Alfie Cox Racing. My personal brand has helped build the KTM brand in South Africa, which is incredibly rewarding.

It also means that people who do business with us want access to me.

Everyone has my personal number and can call me anytime for advice. It’s a running joke that I should have a phone attached to my ear, but the principle is something I stick to – give freely, whenever you can. I wouldn’t have achieved what I have without support.

Looking back, there’s nothing I would do differently

My racing career was delayed because of sanctions – until 1992 we couldn’t get visas to compete internationally. But I didn’t let this stop me.

It just meant I couldn’t compete in my early 20s, so I had to join the circuit a bit late, and race competitively until I was 43 (on bikes at least, once I ‘retired’ I just moved on to rally cars). Anything is possible if you just put your mind to it. Discipline and passion will take you a long way.

You’re never too old to learn

When I was 16 I worked at a Honda dealership and I thought I knew everything. My boss, John Smith, used to remind me tongue in cheek that you’re never too old to learn.

It’s advice that I carried with me, and it changed in meaning as I did actually grow older and out of my ‘I know everything already’ phase. Throughout my racing career, and even today at 50, I still think it’s the best advice I ever received.

Related: The Anatomy of…Siphiwe Tshabalala

And then there’s passion

It’s such an important lesson, in sports, life and business. When you do something you enjoy, you’ll naturally do it with passion.

Racing is in my blood, and so I’ve carried this over into my business: One complements the other. It also means I’ve got so much knowledge; I know the brand. I can help anyone who phones me with any racing or KTM-related question, and that passion carries through and excites our customers.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.