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‘If you accept you’re not as good as me, I’ll let you race’

As Kenny Roberts Junior is made a MotoGP legend, father Kenny Senior recalls the conversation when he first allowed his son to race.
At the Grand Prix of the Americas, Kenny Roberts Junior was the 25th rider to be inducted into the MotoGP hall of fame, and it was there that father Kenny Senior – himself a three-time premier class champ – recalled the advice he gave when it became known his son wanted to follow in his foot steps.

A season of model consistency, street smart thinking and varying unpredictability all contributed to Junior triumphing in the 2000 edition of the 500cc championship, the year that Suzuki last claimed a rider's title in the premier class.

Both generations of the Roberts family were present at the press conference to celebrate Junior's achievement, where Kenny Senior admitted the level of expectation on his son throughout his career to match his own achievements was considerable.

“The amount of pressure Junior was under from being someone that was not as good as his dad,” he joked. “The first day he went to race I said: 'Let me tell you something. You'll never be as good as me. So if you can accept you'll never be as good as me I'll let you go racing.'

“I get reminded of it all the time. I said, 'It doesn't matter. All these old people remember me. They don't understand you. They'll say, 'Oh, he's not as good as his dad!'' So the amount of pressure he was under to win the championship [was a lot].

“I saw that in Brazil when he just rode around he got enough points to win the championship. He had the pace to win the race. He grew up with Wayne Rainey racing around a dirt track. The amount of pressure on him was a lot more than was on me.”

Father and son celebrate Junior's world title on the podium in Brazil. pic: Gold&Goose.


Of his dad's influence on his racing career, Junior said his father had passed on subtle advice, the importance of which only recently became clear, when he saw photos or videos from his time in the 500cc class.

“It's only when I looked back at the pictures and videos I realised how much he was around. At the time I didn't really notice it. He gave the right amount of advice. He'd say, 'Pay attention to this' whether that was tyres or weather.

“Something very subtle that got you thinking in a certain direction. That was a big help that I didn't really understand at the time. You have to absorb it and you want him to say those things at the right time. It's more meaningful now.

“Back then, I was looking for that but I didn't know how much. Obviously I couldn't have done it without him from the start. I wouldn't be here for sure without his help. Guys like Wayne Rainey really helped me in the US and throughout my career.”

Having rode to a steady sixth to wrap up the title in Brazil, Junior demolished the opposition next time out at Motegi. pic: Gold&Goose.


Before the dramatic 2016 season came along, 2000 was the most varied the premier class had ever witnessed. Eight different race winners and numerous memorable last lap scraps ensured it was one of the most exciting in living memory.

Had this variety come as a surprise to Junior? “Alex [Crivillé] was very strong [in '99],” he said. “I felt that I had the most consistent package with Suzuki and we were close to winning it in '99. I felt this was our year. Valentino was coming up and he was going to be Honda's number one guy. We had a great opportunity and we took advantage of it.

“Also, in Brazil I finished in sixth and I was 16 seconds back. They were tight races. If you just look at the lap times, at how close the top six were. It wasn't like the top two had got away and the rest were 30 seconds back. It was still easy to fall down back then too.

“We were on bikes that if you had a couple of percent of the wrong lean angle at the wrong time and it's done. I was on the bike a lot of the time, just thinking, 'How do I not fall down on this thing?'

“You know, also you had to be thinking about the gears. We didn't have a dash that said, 'fifth, fourth, third.' We had to remember that stuff in our brains. There were a lot of things put into how do I not fall down? And how do I win the race?”










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