Spanish MotoGP racer Jorge Lorenzo gave an interview to Spanish television this week where he stated that much of his early success came from his overbearing father, Chico. Lorenzo said his father’s methods were “like Hitler” when Lorenzo was a young racer.
Lorenzo was raised to be a world champion by his father. The young Spaniard’s life was ruled by results and the stop watch. Now, after a tumultuous career and an early retirement, Lorenzo says that if he had a child, based on his own childhood experience, he would never allow his child to race.
Lorenzo, who was pushed to succeed in racing by his father (infamously his dad took the brake levers off his PW50 and made him ride fast without brakes), now that he is no longer racing seems to be trying to find his way in the world. Since he has retired he has been a test rider, broadcast commentator and seemingly buys one supercar after another. At 34 he seems to be trying to acclimate to a semi-normal life.
The rider/father dynamic and relationship has always been an interesting one. For every story of a “bad race dad” there are numerous normal fathers. However the “bad dad” stories rarely end well.
Believe these or don’t:
1. Unnamed world championship rider checked his retirement Swiss bank account balance one random morning and found it to be low to the tune of almost two million dollars. He quickly learned that because his manager/father still had power of attorney and that he had access to the account meaning he could make withdrawals. Also, he’d left the rider’s mom and had decided to start a new life with a girlfriend in Asia. Overturning a power of attorney can be very complicated from a legal standpoint. Two years later a team of Swiss lawyers recovered the money and removed the father from the management team, but there was the small matter of the bill which made the whole collection process nearly moot.
2. A world championship rider who showed he could win multiple world championships but was incapable of ordering his own food in a restaurant. His father ordered for him until he was 14 and somehow he was never able to overcome the anxiety that trying to choose his own food did to him.
3. The world championship rider who learned that if he had a bad night of kid dirt track to keep his helmet on as he and his father drove home in silence. He did so because his father was apt to do the slow burn and when his seething anger bubbled up he’d take his left hand off the wheel and start punching his kid for being slow.
4. A talented kid racer who, as he endured a summer of bad results, accompanied his father to the local courthouse and was forced to stand there while his dad loudly requested the forms for changing his last name because he didn’t want anyone to know the slow kid was his son. In some ways the kid never recovered from that incident.
5. The future world championship rider who, when he raced motocross as a kid, was not allowed to eat on race day by his parents. If he won or finished on the podium he could eat all he wanted at a fast food restaurant on the way home. And if he didn’t do well, they stopped and obtained fast food but would not allow the kid to eat. “They’d throw fries at me” the rider said glumly a decade later.
(End of believe them or don’t stories.)
These stories are plentiful in motorcycle racing, and have been for a long time. They are not limited to just racing–just about any sportsman who wasn’t self-motivated to succeed in (pick one), tennis, ballet, modeling, football or chess knows or has witnessed second-hand the ugly side of parent/kid racing. Any parent who has accompanied their children in youth or national sports knows that ridiculously overbearing parents are much more common than some might suspect. There are, of course, wonderfully nurturing parents who help kid racers as much as they can, but they aren’t all “family first” Second Chance Auto-style racing.
Many times the parent has the passion for racing and had an aborted racing career of their own which fuels the way the child is raised. Several world championship riders have confessed that any passion they had for motorcycles or racing left them long ago, that they started looking at racing as a job they needed to succeed in by the age of 10. The pressure to succeed becomes almost normal but some of the children get acclimated to a structure where they are raised to win, and or have sponsors who might cut them if they say the wrong thing after a bad race. Many times this means that there is no normal childhood per se. No rebelling, no search for their own interest and views as the kid matures into a (not at all) well-rounded adult. Thus, some end up surrounding by the trappings of wealth at 26 but have no idea who they really are as people.
I’ve heard this phrase often from national and world championship riders on the subject of their father’s influence on their racing career: “I understand, now, why he did what he did but I’d never do that to one of my own kids.”