Part 1 of Crash.net's
full interview with WSBK champion and MotoGP race winner Ben Spies, looking back at the major moments of his racing career.
The first instalment sees Spies talk about the past and present - making a name for himself racing in America, including that
rivalry with Mat Mladin, plus an honest assessment of his MotoGP potential and what life has been like following last year's career-ending shoulder injuries...Crash.net:
2012 was the last time that you were fully fit and racing, how much do you miss racing?Ben Spies:
I miss it a lot, it's a big change in lifestyle for me because I've been racing since I was eight and basically on a professional schedule since I was 13. So it's hard not being there because you have a lot of friends that become like a family. Also in the same way at the end of 2012 I had a really bad injury in Malaysia and I tried to come back in '13 and it never worked and then I got hurt again. I was never able to get my right shoulder fit again. Crash.net:
How bad is your shoulder now? From a normal day-to-day level does it affect you?Ben Spies:
It depends, if I'm swinging a golf club or throwing a baseball it's not OK. But lifting normal things it's OK. But it still bugs me and even last week I woke up and my shoulder was out of my socket, so it's not good!
I was always the type that people said was quiet or an introvert, and that's true, but it was because I was so focussed on doing what I needed to do. Basically anything that I needed to control, whether it was training, diet or my motorcycle, to make my racing better I did. That's a lot of things to control and I did them as best as I could and now no matter how much I rehab or how hard I try my shoulder will never be healthy enough to race again.
Is it healthy enough to ride around? Possibly but to ride at that level, no it isn't and all I can see is more injuries coming as a result. If I can't operate at what mentally I know is 100% than I'm not a guy that is going to be just out there to fill in the numbers. The way my shoulder is now is that it's nowhere close to racing and if I hit the ground again it's going to be a full shoulder replacement. So it's just not worth it, the doctor told me that I can't do it and that it's just not safe to be out there.
I had a lot of good luck when I was racing, but the last season and a half it was bad. When I look at my whole career though I was pretty fortunate with not too many injuries and I and was able to do a lot of good things. I basically came to Europe a little too late to be able to do more things, but I can look back and not be upset with anything. I definitely miss it but knowing for sure that there's nothing that I can do to come back and be better - I'm not upset about it, I still love watching it on TV and I'm still involved in it.
But knowing that I can't be there because it's out of my control makes it easier for me.Crash.net:
You said that you should have gone to Europe earlier, was that after your first AMA Superbike title?Ben Spies:
I was probably ready to go at the end of 2006 and definitely at the end of 2007. I went to WSBK and really enjoyed it, it was really fun, and then I went to MotoGP. I went to Europe after AMA but I never really had ambitions of going to Europe, I was just racing in America. But after I won AMA three times everyone said that I needed to go to Europe, so I went to Europe and I was able to win in 2009.
After that I was on the fence of going to MotoGP or not. Everyone else was like you need to go to GPs so I went and did GP's. I can say that I never clicked on the bike in GPs and never got the most out of myself there but I also know that when I look at Jorge, Casey and Marc - those fastest guys-that on my day I could beat them.
I did it at Assen  and I was up there a couple of times going for a win, but I also know that when it came to it I didn't have it to win a championship and I can say that. Maybe if I was there a couple of years I could have had that one year chance - like Gibernau or Nicky. But I wasn't a guy that could line up every year and go for the championship and I can admit that.Crash.net:
Do you think some of that was because you never had the internal drive saying, 'I have to get to MotoGP', but rather you went to Europe to race WSBK and GPs because it was expected of you? Ben Spies:
Quite possibly, and that's the thing, I always loved MotoGP and watched it and I was a huge fan but I never had that drive of having to be there and it's a dream of mine. I enjoyed MotoGP for sure but it was a different lifestyle to AMA and WSBK but I know that if I didn't do it I'd have looked back in the present day and I'd say, 'Shit I should have done it,' and had lots of what if's.
So now I don't have any of that. I won in WSBK and I won in AMA, I didn't win a GP championship but not a lot of people do. I rode for a factory, won a race and finished on a few podiums so I can't look back and be upset about anything. The only thing that might be a what if would be, should I have done this longer in WSBK or gone to GPs earlier, but there's not many things that I can look back on and second guess about.
I did everything, maybe not in the right order, but it's like that with any racing and I think that we did the right choices most of the time and at the end of the day speed-wise I know that even if I went two years earlier the only thing that I missed was maybe one title in the right time at the right place.
But I know that speed-wise I wasn't fast enough to be a two or three time MotoGP champion. I wasn't fast enough, but top five or six in the world I can see that for sure but fastest guy in the world? That's hard to do and me knowing that wasn't quite possible and deep down I know that. That's important and that's why I can live with it.Crash.net:
It's commendable to admit that and rare for an athlete to say they were good enough to be at the top level of competition, but not a consistent champion…Ben Spies:
Yeah and I can do that. The reason that I can do that is that I've seen so many riders after they retire say that if they'd done this or that differently that they could have won that. It pissed me off so much when I was a kid of 16 or 18 years old so that's why I said that anything that I can control I'd do and it would mean that I wouldn't have any regrets.
If anyone followed me in my career, starting from when I was 15 until last year, I didn't dominate in anything. The only season I dominated was 2009 in WSBK. I had to fight to find ways to win every year. I was never the guy setting the pace. I didn't have the most natural talent, like Casey did or Marc, and I had to work my ass off to do it. That's why I can understand that after going to GP that I gave it everything that I had.
2010 was a good year, 2011 was a decent year and I won a race and then in 2012 I think that we had a lot of speed but we had a lot of bad luck. I made some mistakes for sure but we had a lot of problems with the bike that were just ridiculous. We'd try and do something and the bike would break and then you'd try and make up for it and you'd make a mistake so it was bad year and then the injury happened.
I know that I gave GPs as much as I could for a couple of seasons and I know what I can do and that's why I can live with knowing that on the right day I could win. We did that and at Valencia [2011, when Spies finished second by 0.015s] we could have won too with Casey and I know that when things were right, like at Assen, that I could win.
Casey didn't have to win that race in Assen because of the championship but it was one of those days, and all the top riders know those days, where it didn't matter what happened. If Casey had have tried to go faster I could have gone faster and on that day I wasn't going to be beaten.
It's good to know that on those days that I could beat the fastest but it wasn't like that week in and week out. I'm big enough to know that and that's why I'm content with all the stuff that we did and it was a pretty good career.Crash.net:
You were in AMA Superbikes for four years and obviously that time was dominated by your rivalry with team-mate Matt Mladin. Last year when you retired he called you a pussy, you didn't respond but looking at him as a racer how do you view him?Ben Spies:
He was one of the most talented racers that I ever raced against and I know that he'd say the same about me. If you asked him who was the fastest guy that he ever raced against he'd say me. I've raced against some other riders, like Marc and whoever, and I'd say that he was one of the most talented racer that I ever raced against.
He was the most talented Superbike racer that I raced against, period. One of the biggest assholes in the world? Yeah, he was a complete dickhead but as a racer we both stepped up each other's games more than anyone. Unless you raced against us in those years you couldn't understand it. We were both on a good bike but we pushed each other so hard and our gaps just went out to everybody else.
I can honestly say that winning those races, beside Assen MotoGP or the last race in WSBK, gave me the best feeling. Winning at Laguna Seca in 2007, when I won the title by one point. Whoever won that race was going to win the championship. We had such... an almost hate rivalry that it wasn't about winning the race it was about crossing the line and [looking over your shoulder] and saying 'I beat his ass!' Knowing that you had beaten him fuelled me and him, for the biggest rivalry that honestly motorcycle racing has seen.
I know that Kevin and Wayne had a big rivalry but me and him it went deep! When he says a comment like that I laugh, because if people had known the crap that we did when we were racing it was nonsense! He was good at mind games and he's one of those guys that does everything for a reason. When he says something like that it's just to get attention to him.
I always knew that and for him to say something like that, the only thing that I can come back and say is that if he calls me a pussy I beat him three out of four times and I was the only guy to beat him on the same motorcycle. That speaks for itself and I was never much for going back and forth with him but whatever comes out of his mouth isn't surprising.
It's still funny in a way because he can make a comment about my injuries or say I'm a pussy for stopping but he has no clue about how bad my injuries are. I'm not saying that he needs to understand or know, but that kind of comment is hard to say when you don't know. Did it surprise me though? No.Crash.net:
What's the racing talent level like in Texas at the moment?Ben Spies:
It's not really good. It's hard to say though because the money in the series means they're racing basically street bikes and no other country is doing that. I'd say that there's one kid over here that I know 100% that he could cut it. I don't know how good he can be but he can be a top 15 rider in the world, he's got that potential. Crash.net:
Who is he?Ben Spies:
Cameron Beaubier. He's good and I've followed him since he started racing and he got hurt the year after, and his teammate was Marquez. The kid has got massive amounts of talent and I always notice that no matter where he is and what class he is racing in if someone goes faster he finds a way to go faster. He's only slowed down by who he's racing against. Beside him... there's not really anyone present day that is a top 15 rider on the world stage but for sure he is. I know that he is.Crash.net:
How much is racing being hurt by AMA being down to five rounds, limited TV exposure and the other restrictions?Ben Spies:
It's huge. I'm a little bit irked by it because the economy is bad, and it was really bad, but look how many Spanish riders there are and look at their economy. How is that possible? It's possible because the series gets their own riders in and giving them chances, I'm not saying about their talent because they're great riders, but if you look at how big America is and if we had a good organisation with how many riders and how many people live here. Do you not think that there's five guys that deserve to be over there?
We don't have the series or the infrastructure to get them to go over there in a good way. When you look at the economies it's not like we're the worst. I think that Dorna needs to start a series over here because then it can funnel more Americans over there and also give some of the Europeans that can't quite cut it over there a chance over here. It would give that diversity that we need and more riders. We need to look at different ways to do this but definitely the economy has held back racing series here.
There's definitely been some kids that will never make it because of that and then I hope that guys like Beaubier got the chance to go over. He'd be the fastest American to go over there, hands down.Crash.net:
Is flat track racing still successful here or is it only in road racing that's struggling?Ben Spies:
It never was huge but it's definitely smaller than it had been for sure. I did it for fun but it's struggling the most it ever has.Crash.net:
This weekend at the Austin MotoGP you're helping with TV commentary, what brought it on?Ben Spies:
It's not going to be a full time thing but I enjoy watching racing and I know that how I feel physically I can't race anymore but I want to be involved still. I like breaking down what's happening on track for the people [watching on TV] that don't quite understand everything - or better yet for the people that understand most of it, but then they really understand it from someone who's been there.
It's different and for someone that doesn't know anything they still won't know much, but for people that have been watching it for a long time when they get that expert view it can help them understand it more. I won't do every race but I'll definitely look to do some of the American races in the future.Crash.net:
You've gotten more and more involved on Twitter
as well…Ben Spies:
Yeah, and I'm able to say what I want now as well. I'm not held down by any one factory, I've got nothing against any factory, but I can now shot straight.Crash.net:
Looking at the rest of the year and doing some TV gigs, how important is it for you to be involved and help give back to the motorcycling community?Ben Spies:
I want to take a bit of time off and still be involved with the sport. I've started working with the Texas State Authorities to promote motorcycle road safety. I'm trying to give back in different ways but not just with racing. I want to be a part of racing but I also want to step away for a little bit.Crash.net:
In light of road safety here in Texas what do you think when you see people riding around here without wearing a helmet? Is that something that you think needs to change if they are to improve their road safety?Ben Spies:
As an ambassador for it, you don't want to say that 'you should do this or that' but personally I encourage wearing a helmet on the street. It's not worth not doing it, but it is a law and you have to respect that too. I always encourage wearing a helmet but I can understand people not wanting to wear one when they're jumping on their scooter to ride half a mile to Starbucks when they're going 20 mph.
I get that they want that freedom, but I get that there's a time and a place for that too and riding on the highway isn't the place. I can understand [not wearing one] and I'd do it too if I was just riding to the park or down the block, but I do think that there's a time and a place for it. I encourage it because I've hit my head pretty damn hard in some of the best helmets in the world.Crash.net:
What other charitable work are you doing?Ben Spies:
I work with Love for Kids where we take in a bunch of kids that basically don't have anything. Some don't have families, some don't have money and we bring them together at Christmas and Thanksgiving. It's a charity that my grandfather started in the late '70s and there's a lot of us - sports stars, cowboys, Texas Rangers - that do the same thing.
There's a couple of thousand kids that come together for these and I've talked to them, signed autographs and passed out food to them. It's pretty amazing to be around those kids and you realise how fortunate you are.Part 2 tomorrow...