Rookie sensation Ben Spies has been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception he's received in the World Superbike paddock so far in 2009.
The American has met many new people in the series, some of whom have become fast friends. Surprisingly it was new rival Nori Haga and his family who were among the first to make Spies feel welcome. And one little guy who warmed to Ben immediately is Haga's five-year-old son Ryota.
Ben and Ryota's friendship was put to the test however in the most recent World Superbike event at Assen in the Netherlands.
In the first race at Assen's legendary TT circuit Spies and Ryota's dad had one of the best last-lap battles in recent World Superbike memory and it was Spies coming out on top with a daring high-speed pass with three turns to go.
Now Ryota likes Ben and thinks he's cool, but he loves his father and is his dad's number one fan. He wasn't at all happy that “The Ben”, as Ryota calls Spies, took what seemed like certain victory away from his dad in that first race.
As the Hagas walked down pit lane past the Yamaha garage on the way to the podium after race one, Ben's mother Mary noticed little Ryota crying his eyes out. Mary asked him what was wrong.
He looked up at Mary, obviously frustrated, and said "My daddy is a loser and I don't like the Ben!" With that Ryota, still crying, quickly turned away from Mary and went to see dad.
Things went much better for Haga in Assen's second race, but much worse for “The Ben”. Spies crashed hard while leading at the start of the second lap. Haga went on to victory, extending his championship points lead.
Late that afternoon Spies was sitting alone in his motor home, a little beat up physically from the crash, but mainly upset with himself for letting his team down. Mary stood outside letting Ben have some quiet time. She was answering text messages when she saw little Ryota knocking on the coach door. He had some of his friends with him.
Mary walked over and asked Ryota if she could help him. He said "I want to see the Ben."
Mary said, "But I thought you didn't like Ben?"
like the Ben and he is hurt. I want to talk to him,” Ryota demanded.