Some brief thoughts on the recent talking points raised by Ben Spies and his comments on the future of USA racing:
On Ben Spies return to racing on any professional level:
I am of the opinion that being an ex-rider is just as difficult as being a rider. Sure, he had a few drinks in him at the time, but the late Gary Nixon told me, at Jim Allen’s retirement party, that in his head he was still as fast as he was in 1967 or 1978. He said it with such sincerity and resolution that it was hard to dismiss. Nixon was something like 66 years old at the time.
Ben Spies returning to (AMASuperbike) MotoAmerica? We have been down this road a few times now with Ben, and the fact is that in order for Ben to come back he needs to prove that his injured shoulder, which was the reason he retired from professional racing, is up to the rigors of racing (and crashing) a top Superbike or World Endurance bike. The information we have at this point isn’t supportive. I actually called Ben once a few years ago and in answering his phone he injured his shoulder. Conversely, sports medicine improves by leaps and bounds every year. Can his shoulder be re-fixed in a way that would allow him to race a Superbike?
Salary: If Ben is going to want 2008 money to go racing in the USA then the conversation is over. The days of Mat Mladin (AMA Superbike champion) out-pulling Casey Stoner (then MotoGP champion) in terms of salary are not coming back.
I’ve known Ben a long time, since he was 17, and I like him. He’s one of the fastest guys this country has ever produced; and he has nothing at all to be ashamed about in terms of his legacy in racing. Ben Spies beat Mat Mladin. Ben Spies showed up in WSBK and pretty much changed how the world looked at WSBK riders. It’s true, Biaggi and etc were on a different level, just a much lower one than Spies. He went on to win in MotoGP and might have been a threat to win the MotoGP title if it all came together for him. Injuries sapped that possibility but Ben got out of racing with most of his health and money, and has a lovely family, an Italian wife and two daughters. That’s a lot to risk in order to have a second go in AMA/MotoAmerica that probably won’t go anything close to how well it did the first time.
Like one of my teenage sons, Ben has disregarded everything I have ever told him, I think, so he’s not going to ask me for my opinion. But if he did I’d tell him that having your daughters spend their childhood taking turns emptying their dad’s drool cup because he got the exit of turn two at Road Atlanta wrong, ten years after he won his world title, is not a lovely life, for the most part.
On Yamaha and Suzuki pulling their factory supported teams from the MotoAmerica series.
Few things in life are certain. I find it very hard to believe that Yoshimura will ever stop racing the US series while Fujio Yoshimura is still alive. Deep down, racing to Yosh’ is not about marketing or image, it’s about the gut level satisfaction of taking a competitor’s face and giving it the hard slide down the bar, acting as a beer glass and popcorn plow of sorts, all because said competitor seems to think they are faster than you are. If Yosh’ were going to stop racing simply because it is financial suicide to do so they’d have quit 35 years ago. Suzuki? Same exact situation.
Yamaha has always been fickle about racing. Every year there are rumors they are pulling up stakes in the US because (pick one) it costs too much, doesn’t go their way enough or isn’t all about them. I’d really have to see it with my own eyes to believe it, that even Yamaha, a company synonymous with Wayne Rainey, and a company that owes a huge debt to Wayne Rainey, would abandon him in his US racing venture.
MotoAmerica’s financial wherewithal
Other than to shake his hand out of gratitude a few times, I don’t know Richard Varner at all. Varner is widely credited with being the financial strength behind Rainey’s MotoAmerica series.
Suffice to say that Mr. Varner is a man of some means. He buys and sells electric companies, invests in natural gas and has been involved in the transportation of oil from places they find it to places they use it. I don’t think it is uncommon for Varner to buy properties valued anywhere from $3 million to $400 million dollars; so knowing that, we are probably dealing with a man who can afford to do some good in the world, spend some of his money and not lose a bunch of sleep over it. The motorcycle racing industry is a passion-driven concern, but it’s not the only one. Not many in bike racing do much hanging out in the art world, or yacht racing or in equestrian sports–horses. In each of these activities there are people of means, like Varner, who don’t lose a lot of sleep over a good chunk of their money leaving every year for his pet causes and hobbies. You could run MotoAmerica for a decade on the profit from just one of Varner’s power plant deals, I bet.
The bottom line in all of this? It seems some people are fast to put down what looks to be a hard working home grown series, that features riders from around the globe. MotoAmerica has a former MotoGP rider with wins in that series, yet American riders constantly challenge and best him with regularity. The racing is close and fair, and the series seems to be well financed and run, with staff that care about the sport and the participants.
Since the dawn of racing, complaining seems to go hand in hand with competition.