Editor's Note: This is the first in a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.
It used to be a rite of passage for American motorcycle racers: Win the AMA Superbike Championship and stamp a ticket for racing on the world stage the next season in either 500cc/MotoGP or World Superbike.
Eddie Lawson did it, winning the Superbike title in 1982 and moving to Europe to race a 500cc Yamaha as Kenny Roberts' teammate in 1983. Wayne Rainey did it twice, winning in America in 1983, racing in the 250cc World Championship for Roberts in 1984, coming back home and winning the AMA Superbike title in 1987 and heading back to Europe in 1988 to ride for Team Roberts in 500cc.
Other riders to achieve the feat of using the AMA title to launch into Europe were Fred Merkel, Bubba Shobert, Doug Chandler, Scott Russell (WSBK), Nick Hayden and Ben Spies. The AMA Superbike Championship in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was one of the deepest, most cut-throat domestic series in the world, respected as an incubator of hard-ass, skilled champions.
Then the perfect storm of an economic meltdown and bad management by DMG immolated Superbike racing in the States in the late 2000s, with Spies seen as many as the last great American hope to be spawned by the series. Josh Hayes is a fine rider, but he was 35 when he clinched his first of three consecutive AMA-DMG Superbike titles in 2010. No European team was hiring an American rider of that vintage, and Hayes wasn't willing to go anyway.
There's no question AMA Superbike is a shell of itself, on and off the track. But the lineage of its champions - and the respect of American domestic motorcycle racing, in general - could get a much-needed jump start in 2014 through Josh Herrin, who won the AMA-DMG title this season and was announced in October as the first rider for the new Caterham Moto2 World Championship team, which will debut in 2014.
Herrin has a fighting chance to make an impression next season.
First, he's 23. His best racing years are ahead. Second, Caterham is funded by airline magnate Tony Fernandes, who also owns a Formula One team of the same name. Financial support should be solid. Third, Herrin is managed by the plugged-in Bob Moore, whose client list includes MotoGP riders Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith.
Finally, 600cc Moto2 machines appear to be a better match for Americans weaned on sliding 1000cc Superbikes beasts than the tidy, point-and-squirt style required by riders back in the day of the 250cc World Championship. Just look at Moto2 and MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez: He revolutionized the premier class this season with his elbow-dragging, rear tire-sliding style cultivated in Moto2, a technique completely foreign to 250cc World Champions and current MotoGP rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa.
But Moto2 can be a bed of nails. The class is arguably the most competitive in Grand Prix racing, with 30-plus machines featuring supposedly equal engines and a mix of ravenous, young rockets and smart, veteran riders with experience in savage European domestic series like the CEV and on the world stage in Moto2 and Moto3. And Caterham almost certainly will experience teething pains in its first season in the class, which will be felt by Herrin.
But the successful arrival of Herrin on the world scene could be more critical than for any American rider in a generation. Yanks were winning Grands Prix and world titles regularly when those other riders made the leap. The new boys were just more talented oil flowing down Uncle Sam's pipeline.
Now that well is perceived to be dry by many Europeans in the Grand Prix paddock. Herrin could be the last Yank to "get the call" to come to GP or World Superbike racing fresh off an AMA-DMG title for quite some time.
Plus Spies is retired for now, Hayden will be 33 next season, and Colin Edwards II will be 40. There's also not a list of American companies waiting to sponsor a homegrown rider in MotoGP or WSBK, and no more easy tobacco money.
So if you're an American fan who wants to see the Stars and Stripes above a MotoGP garage three or four years from now, you better pull for Josh Herrin the next two seasons in Moto2. Pull hard.