How many MotoGP/500cc World Champions open their homes to a group of our ilk I’m not sure, but Kevin Schwantz didn’t seem to mind. The catered BBQ at his crib was the ending highlight of the 2015 Suzuki GSX-S750 press launch. For a 22 year-old new to motorcycling and the spectacle that is Grand Prix motorcycle racing, you were born the same year Kevin Schwantz won the 500cc World Championship.
Atypically cold, foggy weather had enveloped Austin the week of the GSX-S750 introduction. On the morning of our scheduled ride I’m eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant with Schwantz. After regaling him with my tale of woe and hardship getting to Austin the day prior, and how my gear bag was still MIA, he jokingly offers up his riding gear, saying how he didn’t want to be out riding in the foul weather.
When I arrive, behind schedule, at the first photo stop, I see Schwantz wearing a lightweight, wind-breaker jacket, leather racing gloves, blue jeans, low-top Alpinestars riding boots, and, of course, an Arai Schwantz replica helmet. Glad I didn’t take him up on his offer, because who in the their right mind would be dressed so ill-appropriately for the weather? But he honestly seemed unaffected.
Since 1990 10 riders have succeeded in becoming MotoGP/500cc world champions. Of those, Valentino Rossi is the undisputable king of MotoGP, not just in his record of championship achievements, but also his immense popularity. Who is Vale’s childhood hero? Kevin Schwantz.
Of all the American Grand Prix world champions – Roberts, Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Roberts Jr., Hayden – Schwantz is the only one among them who can boast having his racing number retired. Owning a single World Championship title and only 25 premier-class victories, those who didn’t see Schwantz ride might have difficulty understanding why he receives such adoration.
In the late ’80s, early ’90s, Schwantz’s crash or win style aboard the notoriously ferocious 500cc 2-stroke V-Fours of the era against arch nemesis, Wayne Rainey, was, literally, the ingredients of legend. A decade later there was similar conflict between Rossi and Biaggi, but not quite to the same degree as Schwantz and Rainey. For a better understanding I’ll let MotoGP.com and Youtube tell the story.
Sure, Schwantz lives in a gated community with a breathtaking view of Austin, but the man’s home is tastefully, if not sparsely, decorated. I ask what the base of the glass-top dining table is from. Schwantz tells me it’s a part from the space shuttle that exploded over Texas so many years ago. Complete BS, but later in the garage his dad says it’s a part from an aircraft turbine engine.
With BBQ consumed and beers drank, time spent kicking tires in the garage with Nathan, the man responsible for recently rebuilding the RGV500 engine, we proceed back to our hotel hoping our exodus from Austin does not mirror the hardship getting there.
With the MotoGP race at Circuit of the Americas quickly approaching, and Schwantz acting as COTA’s official embassador for motorcycle racing at the track, we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from the former champ.