Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.
This may come as a surprise to those accustomed to recent Spanish domination of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, but no country has kicked more ass in the premier class than the United States over the last 35 years.
American riders have won the World Championship 15 times, with Kenny Roberts the first Yank to take the top prize in 1978. Names such as Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Kenny Roberts Jr. and Nick Hayden continued that dominance.
Even though it's been seven years since Hayden became the most-recent world champ from America in 2006, two or three riders have flown the Stars and Stripes full time on the MotoGP grid for the last seven seasons. Hayden and Colin Edwards II have been in the premier class since 2003, and Ben Spies jumped from his World Superbike title in 2009 to MotoGP in 2010.
This American presence became even more important to Dorna as it tried to establish a beachhead in the world's most lucrative market by tripling down on the number of U.S. events on the calendar. Indianapolis joined Laguna Seca on the schedule in 2008, and Austin was added in 2013.
But the trap door to oblivion almost opened on Uncle Sam last summer. It appeared for around two or three weeks in July there would be no full-time American riders in the premier class in 2014, the first absence since 1975.
Hayden became a free agent July 1 when Ducati didn't re-sign him. Edwards was out of contract after 2013 with Forward Racing, which offered only public lukewarm interest in keeping the 39-year-old Texas Tornado for 2014. And Ben Spies stunned many in the MotoGP paddock in early July by announcing his retirement from racing at age 29 due to shoulder injuries.
American fans shook. Promoters at all three U.S. tracks rattled. But then contracts rolled in for Hayden and Edwards, keeping the Grand Old Flag flying over the World Championship for at least one more year.
Hayden's work ethic and popularity helped him become the object of a tug of love among a few teams. He was rumored for seats with Gresini, Aspar and Forward before accepting a deal to ride a "customer" Honda RCV1000R in 2014, returning to the manufacturer with which he won the World Championship in 2006.
Forward finally came to its senses and realized it was a wise move to keep Edwards for another year. Few riders have more patience or skill at developing a Grand Prix motorcycle than Edwards, who played a crucial role in working with Forward's balky Suter-BMW CRT machine in 2012 and its much better FTR-Kawasaki CRT bike in 2013. Plus Edwards is arguably the most popular rider in the paddock, with mechanics, team principals and fans loving his mixture of candor and laconic Texas humor.
Where are the Hayden turns 33 next July. Edwards turns 40 in February. Both are hurtling down the right side of their respective career parabolas.
And there's no American oil ready to gush from the pipeline to MotoGP.
There were no full-time Americans in World Superbike or Moto2 - traditional stepping-stones to MotoGP -- in 2013. The extended sad state - both on and off the track - of AMA-DMG racing in America also is hurting the long-term prospects of U.S. riders reaching the world level.
Reigning AMA-DMG Superbike champion Josh Herrin landed a Moto2 ride for 2014 with the new Caterham team. And PJ Jacobsen will race in World Supersport after a season in the rough-and-tumble British Superbike Championship. Cameron Beaubier also shows promise despite a rough season in the 125cc World Championship in 2009.
But the star-spangled supply cabinet is pretty bare beyond those three. American fans should savor Hayden and Edwards riding Grand Prix prototypes while they can. They might be the last Yanks at the pinnacle for quite some time.
Unless Ben Spies makes a comeback ...