Former MotoGP racer Ben Spies was at a recent Helmet House event, representing long-time sponsor, HJC helmets. I was interested in asking him if he planned a return to racing, and his take on the current state and future of U.S. road racing.
He indicated that if his shoulder problem could be resolved, he would possibly return to racing, but at this stage of the game there really isn’t anything that can be done. He said that at one point, because of his injuries, he was unable to control the throttle on his race bike, and while he could soldier on with the pain, like football players, he realizes he’d be a danger not only to himself, but to fellow racers as well.
When asked why U.S. road racers, who dominated the world scene through the 1980s and ‘90s, were now practically invisible, he attributed it primarily to three reasons. First of all, there’s no formal program in place to mentor and progress young riders, as there is in Italy and Spain. Two, current American racing rules, in his opinion, don't keep pace with rules currently in place for WSBK and MotoGP, particularly in accommodating and moving forward with current electronic innovations found on today's bikes. Finally, with regard to MotoGP rules, he noted that the Spanish are in control, and the rules are made to favor Spanish needs and desires.
He noted that to be successful in the MotoGP arena, you have to not only be able to dial in the chassis and engine response, but the electronics as well. It's something young European riders learn as a matter of working their way through their system, but not so in the United States. Without it, it will be difficult for them to compete with riders who cut their teeth in European racing organizations.
The techniques that brought U.S. road racers to the front in the ‘80s and ‘90s are usually attributed to their early experiences flat tracking and dirt riding. In today’s world, while these skills are valuable, on-board electronics eliminate some of the problems, making those skills obsolete.
Spies noted that he’d been talking with former World Champion Wayne Rainey about the situation. Both would like to establish some kind of mentoring program, but at this point are unable to do so without additional support.
While he moaned a bit about putting on weight since his racing career ended, Spies is keeping himself busy. He’s recently engaged, owns two Dallas restaurants, one Japanese, and the other a burger place, he’s also an owner and sponsor of a bicycle race team. In addition, he’s continuing to work with HJC and the Texas Department of Public Safety in a program encouraging the use of helmets.