Riders Ruled GP
Riders Ruled GP In the later years of Lawson’s reign, yet two more Americans would come to dominate GP racing – and as there is only one top spot in GP, the ensuing rivalry between the two would go down as one of the greatest rivalries in motorsports history. Wayne Rainey, yet another American racing star to emerge from the SoCal flat track circuit, and Kevin Schwantz, a trials/motocross prodigy from Texas, battled each other fiercely from 1990 to 1993 as bitter rivals who genuinely despised each other, which showed in their aggressiveness toward each other on the track.
Rainey, under the mentorship of his hero, the great Kenny Roberts, edged out Schwantz for the championship 3 years in a row from 1990-1992, but Schwantz’s aggressive “do or die” riding style that caused him to crash as much as he won made their rivalry the stuff of legends. It would take Rainey to crash with a career-ending spinal cord injury in 1993 for Schwantz to finally win the world championship – but the life-changing injury seemed to affect Schwantz too, as a conversation with his long-hated rival Rainey, in a wheelchair and paralyzed from the chest down, convinced him to retire.
Schwantz later admitted that Rainey’s crash affected him emotionally – he saw a harsh reminder that they were not invincible, and perhaps the absence of a true rival to drive him took some of the sport out of it. He left GP the year after his 1993 win as the second most successful American racer by wins, behind only Eddie Lawson. The end of one of the greatest rivalries in sports would, ironically, also signal the end of an era in motorcycle racing – the only two Americans to win GP championships were Kenny Roberts Jr. in 2000, and Nicky Hayden, also a flat track racer as a youth, in 2006.
There really was something truly special about American racers in the years between 1976 and 1993. They were long overdue for championships in Grand Prix by the late 1970s, and the top racers of the day were truly superstars by the standards of any era. But many experts identify the main factor that allowed American riders to dominate so fully in those years as their experience in the distinctly American discipline of flat track racing – where traction is a privilege and not a right and tires slide more than they stick, which gave them the edge on the fearsome, torquey 500cc two-strokes of the era now sometimes referred to as “the unrideables.” It took nearly a decade and a half for riders from the rest of the world to hone their skills in flat track, sending young racers to flat track camps in the U.S., or sending American experts to Europe to train them at home, and eventually it became part of the standard path to superstardom for the world’s top racers.
Will American riders ever see such dominance again? It seems unlikely, due to the decline in interest in supersport racing in the U.S., the lack of funding from manufacturers for American racing series’, and the different racing standards in Europe that allow young racers to go pro as early as 13 or 14, compared to 16 here in the U.S. But as the 1970s taught us, world champions can come from the most unexpected places – even dusty oval tracks scattered around central and southern California – and while trends in sports may ebb and flow, the competitive spirit of American riders will never die, and Americans will surely find their spot atop the MotoGP podiums once again. Click Here…