Kenny Roberts Jr. Becomes Show Champion at His First AIMExpo
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he American International Motorcycle Expo (AIMExpo) named second-generation road-racing legend Kenny Roberts Jr. as “AIMExpo Champion” for the 2016 event. Roberts Jr. is the newest addition to AIMExpo’s growing list of legendary American racers and industry influencers that have served the role of official event ambassador, which includes Roberts Jr.’s father.
Roberts Jr. is the son of Hall of Fame racer and motorcycle racing icon Kenny Roberts, who served as the inaugural AIMExpo Champion in 2013. Together they share the distinction of being the only father-son duo to ever win the FIM 500cc World Grand Prix Championship, now known as MotoGP, and are now the first father and son to serve the role of AIMExpo Champion.
In fact, as expected, Kenny Roberts Jr. has done a lot because of the influence his father had on him growing up.
“Apparently, I’ve been riding bikes since I was two,” Roberts Jr. says. “I find that hard to believe, but that’s what I’ve been told. I grew up on a ranch where there were multiple world champions around us. For me, riding was all I knew. Seeing those guys and how they conducted themselves and trained and put time and effort into it, it became a natural thing for me.”
Kenny started racing at the age of 14 at the Lodi Cycle Bowl where his dad used to race. Given his name people expected him to have riding and racing experience. But it wasn’t until he saw John Krazinski win at Sonoma in 1990 that he really decided he wanted to make racing a career.
“I had been around John quite a bit growing up, and seeing him win looked like something that was achievable for me,” Roberts Jr. says. “I thought it was something I would be able to do and it took my interest and I put a commitment into doing it. My racing transpired from there. The only requirement was, if I was going to race, I would have to do it the right way. My dad played a big role in that.”
Roberts Jr. honed his professional road racing on 250cc motorcycles in the early ‘90s with the same Marlboro Yamaha team that his father helped bring to prominence. He stepped up to full-time competition in the premier 500cc division in 1996 as a Factory Yamaha rider before joining his father’s upstart racing program in 1997.
After two seasons of acclimating to the competition in the World Championship, Roberts Jr. was selected to ride for the Factory Suzuki effort in 1999. In his first outing with the team, Roberts Jr. broke through for his first career victory, which vaulted him into a championship contender. He would ultimately finish runner-up for the 500cc world title that season, setting the stage for the most memorable season of his career.
The 2000 season was a banner one for Roberts Jr., outlasting Alex Criville and a rookie hotshot named Valentino Rossi to become the first second-generation 500cc World Champion in history. His win put Suzuki back atop the global racing scene for the first time since former AIMExpo Champion Kevin Schwantz won the crown in 1993.
Roberts Jr.’s illustrious career featured 185 career FIM starts, highlighted by eight wins and 22 podiums. But the championship remains the greatest memory Roberts Jr. has of racing.
“Road racing is what I achieved the most in,” he says. “Winning the World Championship and being the only father and son to ever do it has been the biggest achievement in my career, and it was always the goal.”
With his professional career behind him now, Roberts Jr. is excited he gets opportunities to use his celebrity for events such as AIMExpo.
“It is an exciting privilege to be named AIMExpo Champion for this year’s event,” he says. “I’ve been out of racing and day-to-day contact with the industry for almost 10 years now while starting a family, so I’m definitely looking forward to reconnecting with the many people I’ve known from my racing days, and AIMExpo is the perfect place to do that. I’m looking forward to being a part of all the festivities and seeing all the exciting new products from the industry while helping promote this year’s event.”
As AIMExpo Champion, Roberts Jr. will serve as the proverbial face of the event, a special distinction he shares with his father as well as Hall of Fame inductees Kevin Schwantz (2014) and Malcolm Smith (2015). Roberts Jr. will play an integral role in pre-event publicity and promotion, and will be a focal point of several of AIMExpo’s festivities throughout the show.
“AIMExpo brings everything the powersports industry is about under one roof,” Roberts Jr. says. “I’m looking forward to the experience and going down to Orlando for a good time as a rookie at AIMExpo.”