Kenny Roberts is turning 70? Honestly, it seems like he should be older than that. We tend to forget when KR retired from the GP Circus in 1983, he was just 30 years old. Had Roberts continued to race as long at Valentin Rossi he would have been on the circuit through to 1995! That would have put him through the Spencer, Gardner Lawson, Rainey, Schwantz and into the middle of the Doohan era. Hell, he would have only been five years removed from the series when his son, Kenny Jr., became world champ.
Undoubtedly had Roberts decided to continue on he would have earned more race wins, podiums, poles and maybe even another world title or two. But that’s pure speculation and the truth is, when Kenny retired the circuits were still unforgiving and to have that kind of longevity in that era was realistically probably not even possible.
It is possible today because, while MotoGP racing is still a dangerous sport, it is exponentially safer than it was in the 1970s and ‘80s when Kenny raced. One of the big reasons the tracks are so much safer and careers can be so much longer today has a lot to do with Kenny and the often difficult and sometimes greatly criticized efforts he undertook to improve track safety.
Sure, Kenny will always be remembered for being America’s first premier class GP champion and for really opening the doors for American riders in the World Championships, but perhaps he should be equally honored for playing a huge part in making Motorcycle Grand Prix racing a sport that now places a much bigger premium on rider safety. Riders like Rossi have Roberts to thank for being able to enjoy 20-plus year GP racing careers.
And 70? Blah. I think it’s time for another KR Springfield comeback!