Casey Stoner has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle ever since he arrived on the Grand Prix scene full time in 2002.
Stoner harbored a "screw you, world" suspicion toward the European establishment, a thread common among Aussies who travel 10,000 miles from the comfortable isolation of home to a strange land in pursuit of a dream. His response to European on-track rivals and power brokers was to say what he felt and mean it, often with poison tips on his tongue.
So when Stoner announced in May that he was retiring from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 season, his reasons were taken at face value. Stoner never has plied in the trade of sweet BS slung around so freely by others in the paddock.
But so few in MotoGP really got to know Stoner in the last 10 years. He put his brain on his sleeve, but never his heart. So there had to be more to his retirement. There had to be reasons he kept to himself.
His own comments suggest that Stoner has retired because of several factors: Dorna, the Media, the Fans, Malaise and a possible future in car racing.
Here is a look at each factor, in no particular order.
Stoner has been unhappy with the way that the championship is being run for a lot longer than CRT, one of his frequent targets of criticism, has been around.
For example, Stoner and his rookie friends spent their formative years in the paddock living in a smelly converted motorcycle trailer. It was a cheap way to live the dream of 125 racing back then, but now, as Stoner will attest, living 'two as cheap as one' in the MotoGP paddock is impossible for riders in the smaller classes.
It does seem an odd subject for a rider of Stoner's stature to pick to champion, but Stoner seized on Dorna's "rent controlled paddock" last Summer. As Stoner sees it, Dorna's widespread policy of 'monopolize, internalize and monetize' means that Moto2 and Moto3 riders are no longer allowed to have motor homes or small campers in the paddock.
Thankfully, Dorna has come to the rescue of persons left without a place to live at night and between sessions by parking converted semi trailers in the paddock. Each trailer has 'friend of Dorna'-controlled micro rooms inside and riders can rent one of these rooms for around $40,000 a season.
Also, Dorna's focus on superstar Valentino Rossi has to be a reason Stoner decided to pack it in. Consider the very day Stoner, then reigning world champion and arguably the fastest man in the world, announced his retirement. What did the headline scream on the MotoGP.com web site? "Rossi to race for two more years". Certainly, Dorna knows all too well where their bread is buttered but Stoner just sees their outright favoritism of Rossi as blatant bias and a complete lack of respect for his ability and accomplishments. Why play Dorna's game and add value to the championship by racing when no matter how many seconds you win by, the cameras are going to be focused on your rival?
A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.
Many of Stoner's comments seem to suggest that he does not enjoy any part of the racing life outside of the winning and clearly even that is no longer enough to keep him in the game. He has made few truly close friends in racingby choiceand he seems focused on the fact that while he is at the track, he'd rather be elsewhere. In short, there is not a lot to look forward to in racing these days for Stoner.
Why? Well, Stoner essentially grew up in a very antagonistic racing environment. In his native Australia sanctioning forces worked against him, prohibiting him from roadracing until age 16 if he stayed there. So, he moved to the UK and raced a 125 in England and later in Spain. There, he suggests, he was labeled a cheater because there was no way that he could be as fast as he was on tracks he'd never seen before, at least some competitors thought. Only he wasn't cheating, he was simply that good. However, once that became clear, the acclaim and due credit never really arrived. The bitterness from that situation doesn't seem to have left Stoner.
In 2007 he won the world championship. How did his rivals explain this feat? According to Stoner, they grumbled. Saying that with the Bridgestone tires he used that season even a chimp could have won the title. The fact that he was repeatedly able to bang the throttle open to 70% of maxor moreat 49 degrees of lean, over and over againon a MotoGP bike, was ignored.
Stoner has never let go of the bad feelings he has for the people who believed that he wasn't really ill in 2009. The issue may have been that there wasn't an official medical diagnosis for a seemingly long stretch of time, and the press and others were free to speculate. Someone at Ducati or Marlboro speculated to Stoner that he wasn't really ill, and Stoner has not forgotten it.
No man who regularly beats Valentino Rossi is going to enjoy rampant fan adulation in the current MotoGP climate. Stoner has been booed by fans several timesincluding at the Day of Champions function. These unfortunate situations seem to have made Stoner keep his distance from fans.
Fans desire a human moment with their heroes, an autograph, a handshake or simply a smile in passing. Like many introverts, Stoner has not acquired the skill of gracious small talk.
After winning the MotoGP race at Laguna Seca last July, a large crowd of fans stood outside the media tent waiting for Stoner to exit after his post-race press conference. They had posters and caps in hand, with Sharpies at the ready. After he finished with the press, Stoner got on a scooter and rode through the fans back to the garage, only managing a wave. It's a two way street, the fan/rider relationship, but one that unfortunately Stoner never really cultivated. People who know him say Stoner is a smart, funny guy with empathy for those he sees struggling. Americans JD Beach and Cameron Beaubier know his couch well, because they've stayed at his house during their lean times. It's unfortunate that fans by and large never got to know that Casey Stoner.
Conversely, Stoner actually met his wife, Adriana, when he signed an autograph for her. Perhaps he just decided to quit while he was ahead?
Casey Stoner has not enjoyed the duties that come with being a world championship sportsman, including PR functions and working with the media. Ever.
Once, he met a mainstream British writer in a hotel room for an interview that was to be published in a big UK newspaper. Wanting the back story, the scribe asked him how Stoner got to Europe and to race MotoGP from his native Australia. Stoner stared at him and replied "On a plane."
Stoner claims that he has been "constantly" criticized in the press. This, of course, is not true.
Rossi, Lorenzo, Spies and the rest have a good working relationship with the media. As is the case in most facets of Stoner's life, he has just a few close acquaintances in the pressBBC's Matt Roberts and freelance writer Mat Oxley to name twobut those relationships began before Stoner started world championship racing.
And again it's the Rossi factor. Like Max Biaggi before him, Stoner exists in a media environment where big portions of the press seem at times to be more concerned with the storyline of "Why Rossi Didn't Win" rather than "Stoner Defeats Rossi". One could make the case that Stoner rarely seems to be happy. Maybe this is why?
As with many things Casey Stoner, the back story of his relationship with the press is interesting. His elder sister, Kelly, was at one time working as a PR person and later a freelance journalist; although never in racing. Today she is country singer in Australia.
The Car Thing
Stoner is already proficient on four wheels. He is very good in a shifter kart; at one time he had the lap record at his friend Chaz Davis' shifter kart facilityno small feat.
It is expected that he will race a car in 2013 with an eventual move to the Australian V8 Supercar series.
Casey Stoner wasn't the first motorcycle racer to start racing at age four or thereabouts. Freddie Spencer started racing at age five, and Nicky Hayden had done a hundred races or more by the time he was eight years old. Hayden loves motorcycles and racing, he'll be riding for as long as he is alive.
But, Spencer was the same kind of child prodigy that Stoner was, and he self-destructed. It seemed incredible when it became clear to those around him that, for a while, Freddie just wanted a life away from racingwhen he was nearly at his peak as a rider. So he worked in a friend's insurance office. A mutual friend said then that the then three-time world champion Freddie Spencer was fascinated with the seemingly mundane life of an office-bot, typing letters and attending meetings. Why? Probably because this wasn't something he'd been doing as long as he could remember, it was something he had chosen to do, not a life chosen for him.
Casey Stoner has lived in a pressure cooker of danger and stress since he was he was an early teenager. Consider that his parents sold everything in Australia and moved the entire family to Europe before he was 14all so Stoner could race.
Fourteen year old boys are generally a skin bag of emotions, petulance and oily, exploding flesh. At some point someone must have either told Stoner, or it dawned on him, that his family had taken an enormousliterally bet the housegamble in going to Europe. And that if he didn't take this to a world championship then it was back to nondescript Australia and a life of "if only". Again, he was a teenager when this was laid on his psyche. There was no plan B. Is it any wonder he seems to now bleed contempt for racing?
Maybe, at the moment, Stoner sees motorcycle racing as an activity that he chose to do when he was barely out of diapers, or a vocation that was chosen for him, but whatever the case, certainly something that he'd like a break from, thank you. Car racing? This is something he seems to enjoy, that he has chosen to do, and it comes without the resentment from having the mountain of 'win or we're all finished' pressure heaped upon him from the time he was just a boy.
Car racing? The only expectations it comes with are his own.