It's a classic sports tale: the wily veteran versus the rising superstar. Three-time AMA Pro Superbike champ Josh Hayes has a new teammate this year under the Monster Energy Yamaha tent. It's Cameron Beaubier, the young Californian who ran roughshod over the competition in Daytona Sportbike last year. Beaubier won every race but one in that class in 2012. If anything, it looked more dominating than those stats would indicate. Beaubier toyed with the competition.
Hayes has been brutal on his rivals, too. His domination of the class in 2013 remains a high-water mark for class wins. Hayes' season last year was fraught with strange occurrences, and he lost the championship to Josh Herrin because of a toxic combo of jump-starts, crashes, and machine issues. No one could top him for outright pace, though.
These things eventually end one way. Father Time will step in and Hayes, who is 38, won't be able to hold onto the crown forever.
That doesn't mean Hayes will relinquish it this week, this year, or perhaps even anytime soon. Or that Beaubier will even be the one to take it from him.
"He's a smart and very talented kid. I am expecting big things from him. You don't have a season like he did in 2013 for no good reason. I have no question about how good he is going to be," said Hayes.
"I have a lot of respect for what he's done and the work I have seen him put in. He's so well put together—relaxed, smooth, calm," said Hayes, who says Cam is "dangerous" to his championship chances. "We'll see. For me, it is a question of this: is he gonna take this bike to another level and show me there's another gear in that thing that I am going to have to go out and figure out how to do? Or am I gonna find out that he peaks out at about where my pace is and that's just about all we're capable of. Either of those are a good indicator to me. I welcome it."
For Beaubier, he's shown he has the ability to go far in racing. A gig in a World Championship series seems well within reach. The test is clear for the 21 year old—get up to speed on a Superbike and beat Josh Hayes.
"Rolling into this year after last year, I have a little bit of confidence, but Josh is the man," said Beaubier, Marc Marquez's teammate when both raced in 125s a few seasons ago. "Josh has a ton of talent and works really hard. He knows this bike really well. I think I'm privileged to use him as a reference. I am glad I started out today close. There are other guys like Martin (Cardenas) and Roger (Hayden) out there, too, so I am expecting a good battle."
There is always a learning curve, but insiders expect Cam to get up to speed in fairly short order because he's a smooth rider and he has a more conventional Superbike style than, say, Josh Herrin.
"My goal is to win," said Cam. "Who knows how long it will take? I guess we'll see."
Hayes has already done some contemplating about the situation.
"I think Cam's riding is more tidy than mine, for sure," said Hayes. "I have a lot of years working at a few skills that have really paid off for me. I have a lot of experience that tells me what I can get away with. Once he gets going, he's going to be a special motorcycle rider."
Instead of sounding remorseful, Hayes actually seems invigorated for the battle. "The crowd wants to see more than good riding. They want to see good racing. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. I've been able to get on top of a few challenges when I felt like I was on my back foot. This could be another one. Who knows?"