“Whatever Kenny [Roberts] did, I’m going to do it better!” laughs motorcycle road racing legend Kevin Schwantz when we asked what he thought he’d be doing for the AIMExpo as its “Show Champion.” Spoken like someone who still has the competitive fire burning after an illustrious professional racing career that he retired from almost two decades ago.
In motorcycle racing terms, when Schwantz retired from racing in 1995 at the age of 31, he was an old man. The amount of physical exertion and mental focus had taken its toll on him like it did many others at about the same age when they hung up their helmets.
“Nine times out of 10 you look at a Eddie Lawson or a Wayne Gardner, or any of the guys of our era, and by the time you turned 30 you were either looking for something else to do or you rode a Cagiva.
I think that’s why Eddie’s career drug on for a couple of more years,” jokes Schwantz, who is still a relatively young man at 50.
The wear and tear of riding a 2-stroke 500cc grand prix bike was brutal on riders’ bodies as it was much more physically demanding than even today’s grand prix bikes, and Schwantz would know because he has ridden both.
But he says the reason the 500s hurt people more was because they bounced more frequently, and the throttle was like a light-switch – either on or off, no in between.
“Most of us got in it in our mid-20s and got out by the time we were in our early 30s,” he says. In today’s racing environment where safety is a higher priority and the bikes are not as beastly to ride, he would have some more miles left in the tank. However, Schwantz says that he is perfectly content with where he is at the moment – as an ambassador to the industry he loves.
The AIME people wanted Schwantz as their Show Champion because of everything that he embodies about the sport. He has an all-out, leave-nothing-on-the-table racer personality And he’s been in the industry practically since birth as his parents owned and operated a dealership when he was growing up.
He rode his first road race on his uncle’s flat track bike. He has really done it all in the industry from top to bottom – AND he’s the 1993 500cc Grand Prix motorcycle racing champion. Kevin says that he will do whatever is necessary to help promote the show and is looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up with what’s new.
“AIME put together a show last year that everyone took notice of, and that has brought in a lot of new partners. I continue to see the emails of a new exhibitor or manufacturer being announced. Obviously Larry Little and his crew have done a great job and I’m really looking forward to getting there to see it first hand and to have the opportunity to see what’s new in the industry and what everybody’s up to.”
Besides being the Show Champion for AIME, Schwantz keeps himself busy these days in a variety of roles. He is an ambassador to the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, TX. In April, just before the MotoGP race there, Schwantz got to ride a superbike for the first time on the track he helped design. Then, after the race, he was employed by Suzuki’s fledgling MotoGP squad to evaluate the company’s hopeful new contender for the 2015 championship.
“It was fun to get to ride it,” says Schwantz. “If Suzuki were serious about letting me help develop the bike, I would love to ride it some more. I feel like I’m still fast enough that I can help with that development.”
Schwantz says that it is difficult to evaluate how much of a contender the new machine is without a baseline. But up against the superbike, he said that it was no comparison. He says that Suzuki still has plans to run it this year, but in typical Texan, straight-forward style he said they need to start racing as soon as possible to find out where they stack up right now, not later. “You need to be racing as much as you can.”
And that is a motto he used to live by and sometimes still does. In fact, earlier this year he had the chance to ride in the Suzuka 8-hour race in Japan, but it was short lived as his teammate crashed the bike in the first stint in rainy conditions. But rain or shine, the competitive fire still burns in Kevin Schwantz – which is something we all could use a dose of.