MotoGP: An Interview With Kevin Schwantz
If you mention MotoGP legends, one of the first names that will come up is Kevin Schwantz. The ambitious, outrageous and quite frankly amazing American earnt a name for himself initially in Superbikes where a fierce rivalry with Wayne Rainey first escalated. It was carried onto Grand Prix motorbikes where Kevin went on to take 25 career 500cc victories, 51 podiums, 29 poles, 26 fastest laps and 1236.5 points. In the era of when racing was at its finest, to be the best you had to beat the best and in 1993 he was the best being crowned the 1993 500cc World Champion. His aggressive riding style made him a fans favourite and I was lucky enough to speak to the man himself.
1. Let’s begin at the start of your career, how did you get into motor racing?
KS: My parents owned a motorcycle dealership, and I grew up around bikes.
2. You began your racing career in MotoCross and after a big crash in the 1983 Houston Supercross you decided to quit, what do you remember from the accident?
KS: I don’t recall specifics on an accident, but I was working at my parents dealership so I could not go ride every day of every week and felt I was not training enough to race with the top guys so I stopped.
4. In 1987, you began a fierce rivalry with Wayne Rainey, with Wayne taking the title but you took 5 wins from the final 6, what was the rivalry like on Superbikes?
KS: The Superbike rivalry with Wayne was very similar to what it was like on Grand Prix bikes, just a little more physical.
5. You continued that rivalry into the Trans-Atlantic Match Races where you were supposed to racing British riders, was that just the beginning of your rivalry?
KS: Yes, that was the beginning of it. The 87 season is where Wayne and I fought each other the hardest and most physically and I guess the fortunate thing is we both survived!
6. After winning the Daytona 200, you switched to Europe with the Suzuki promoting you to 500cc, and you won the 1988 Japanese GP, your 7th race after your wildcard apperances, how was the transition from Superbikes to MotoGP bikes?
KS: For me the transition seemed pretty easy. The Suzuki was a fairly new bike in GP racing as the factory only returned to racing in ’87. It was not a super fast machine at the time.
7. What was your reaction when Rainey joined the Roberts Yamaha team?
KS: I felt like Wayne was going to go ride for Kenny’s team, so it was not a surprise when he actually did, it just meant we were going to get to continue our battles!
8. You were part of one of the most competitive racing fields, arguably the most competitive with Rainey, Gardner, Doohan, Lawson and Mamola, what was it like to compete against them?
KS: Racing against Rainey, Gardner, Doohan, Lawson and Mamola… was what racing was about. You had to be able to beat everybody and for me, they were all pretty fair on the track.
9. The Suzuki bike wasn’t as quick as their Honda’s and Yamaha’s, did that make you more determined to get the most out the bike?
10. Your attitude of do or die saw “crash as much as you won” making you a fans favourite, was consistency not your thing?
KS: Don’t know that it was consistency not being my thing, but more that consistency was not our bikes thing! We had to have our bike almost prefect to be competitive and I just tried to override it too often.
11. How sweet did the overtake on Rainey in the last lap feel?
KS: I assume you are speaking about Hockenhiem 1991, and yes.. it was amazing!
12. Now, your world championship season in 1993, how did it feel to take that crown?
KS: Of course it was somewhat tainted by Wayne’s injury for sure. I would rather have finished second and not have him hurt.
13. Was that championship slightly tainted by Rainey’s injury, while he was leading?
KS: See above
14. What emotions were you feeling when you were told you were World Champion?
KS: I was told a couple hours after the race, but first and foremost our concerns were with Wayne and his well being so……
15. After a conversation with Rainey, you decided to retire, what was said in that conversation?
KS: Yes, we spoke on a plane coming back from Japan in 1995 and Wayne said I can tell you are not having fun. I agreed with him and retired a couple months later.
16. With 25 career victories, the second most successful American, which was your favourite victory?
KS: If you asked what is my FAVORITE victory, they are all favorites… but if you ask what was my BEST victory as rider it was Suzuka 1991.
17. How would you descibe your relationship and rivalry with Rainey over your whole racing career?
KS: We hated each other in 1986 and most of ’87. By the time we had both won a GP in 1988 we had started to show each other mutual respect and I would consider Wayne one of my best friends right now.
18. The number 34 was retired after you retired just proving your popularity, was there any reason behind picking that number?
KS: My uncle had used number 34 to dirt track race professionally and I had the opportunity to get that number back, so I did!
19. Lastly, what advice would you give to upcoming riders?
KS: If racing is what you want to do, go practice it at the track!
Thank you for answering my questions.
By Daniel Takyi - MotoGP Correspondent for RTR Sports Marketing In the picture: Kevin Schwantz Pictures from the web