Rob McElnea and Kevin in some ways perhaps are too alike. They have chided each other unmercifully but their friendship has certainly endured.
In common with most people in Britain, Rob's first sight of Kevin was in the Match races at Donington.
His view was rather special however as he was in the same race. "He fell off going under Starkie's bridge and managed to get back on the bike, he was being dragged along half off the bike. I was right there beside him when he did that."
"I rode a Marlboro FZ750 Yamaha that Kel (Carruthers) organised, it was supposed to be Eddie's Daytona winning bike, well it wasn't even the same colour. His GSX750 was built here, it was a missile and he was just awesome on it. They were really dodgy conditions, wet and horrible and he and Merkel were very good. He was like absolutely scary. When you ride round your own track, you know where the scary parts are, especially if it is wet, and you treat it with a bit of respect. Then you see someone who has never been there before and they go absolutely banzai, Kevin was like that."
"I sort of met him briefly then, I met him again in Daytona the year he was coming to Europe to ride with me in the Pepsi Suzuki team and met Jim and Shirl'. They were just normal people, they are now. It was refreshing to meet them, they were real excited about coming to Europe, they'd just brought their motorhome. They were genuinely pleased to show me around it, friendly straight off and from then on I was looking forward to the season with them."
"That was the first year of the serious Suzuki effort. I felt I was going to be equal to Kevin in the team there was supposed to be no number one or two in the team But I soon realised that he was very highly thought of in Japan. I realised that they were funnelling all their development in his bike which at the end of the day was worthwhile because he was prepared to stick his neck out more than I was. Rightfully enough they put the effort into him."
"Being such a small factory they could only do just I so much and the stuff that worked only got to my bike three or four races after Kevin's. We both set our bikes up pretty similar though my suspension was set up a bit stiffer obviously. We'd both have ideas , we'd all talk about it and end up with pretty similar set ups."
Rob admits that being teamed with someone who was lapping faster and finishing ahead was not easy. ''It is very very frustrating, although I was probably on my way down I was still better than it looked, there was so much going on behind the scenes. Even if I'd have had everything he had I don't think I could have done it and at the end of the day you have to accept that there are guys who come along from time to time that are absolutely awesome and there's nothing you can do about it."
"He could turn the bike, running the front in much harder than anybody at the time. I think I was a bit like that when I started Grand Prix, people would say, 'well how do you do that?' What he was doing was still carrying quite a bit of comer speed and getting the back end sliding coming out. What I could never understand was how he ran the front in so hard, leaned the bike over, kept his body sort of upright, forced the bike in and turned it. I couldn't understand how he was getting the feeling back from the front tyre to do that. It all looked so top heavy, his body was stood up and he just laid the bike down and turned it."
"I tried it myself a few times and
just frightened the hell out of myself. You'd follow him into a
corner and he's just be turned and on the gas while you were still
thinking about it."
"I think maybe the bike's better now. When I was riding the bike it wasn't good but over the years I guess they've developed the bike round him and he can do things without taking the risks he used to. The bikes probably got more feel and he's got more finesse. But that was the thing I was most in awe of his control of the front."
According to Rob, Kevin had so much natural ability that he did not have to work at going fast, it also meant that he did not have to work at his personal fitness either. "He never used to train but he wasn't the only one, Eddie never ever used to do anything, well not in the season anyway and I don't think they were that committed out of the season Those guys were so naturally good that going fast wasn't that much of a physical thing for them. Then there are people like myself that are not as talented, I feel like I needed to train to get up to their level."
"Kevin and Eddie didn't need to train because they could go fast without breaking into a sweat. It got to the point though with Rainey as well that there was a group of them that were all good. Then they needed to train to keep up with each other. One did it and they all had to work at it. I've been cycling with him a few times and he didn't push it like I did. I would always ride until I just couldn't go any further, Kevin would never push himself. I think he has changed a hit now."
Rob and Kevin got on well, spent a
great deal of time together hut Rob admits that being with Kevin
had its trying moments. As soon as we got in the same team we built
up a friendship. If you could put up with his moments of childishness,
he's got better but you have to humour him. I like to think I'm
very patient and placid but even I cracked now and then, he pushes
me right to the limit."
"I sussed it out eventually, he likes
to live right on the edge, whether it be riding the hike or waiting
for someone to punch him. He's got to be in that no man's land all
the time, that's the way he lives, Re drives his car like that play's
golf like that, everything, you go around with him and he keeps
you on the ball. He pushes pushes makes fun of you, niggles and
pushes, he can be great fun but also can be very very trying, I
only snapped once, I'm not very proud of it but I almost killed
Spa, and Rod charges over the hill, changing direction by heaving on the bars of the Pepsi Suzuki.
"People who've spent time with him, we all know what he's like, he pushes all of us, its got to be just a matter of time, or it should be, but he keeps getting away with it. The thing is that most people only spend a limited time close to him, spend too much time and it can do your head in."
"The thing is that you can go out with him and he can be pleasant and charming and you can just have a great time, he's not stupid, when the occasion demands it he can behave himself but there are times when the devil in him takes over, its as though he needs someone around to be a punch bag, he tests them and he tests himself, pushing all the time. But through all of this he is a real friend, I've known him a long time now and as frustrating and annoying he can be at times he is a genuine friend, he is above all genuine and that is something that's pretty rare.
"Its strange to try and work out why he didn't win the championship before. He and Rainey were the fastest guys, Kevin was the people's champion but Rainey was winning the titles. Rainey was so tactical and predictable and Kevin had everybody on the edge of their seats. Kevin might have won three or four titles by now if he was as technical and predictable as Rainey but I'd say he was quite a bit more popular world wide."
"Don't get me wrong, he's a great bloke, but he likes being who he is. He likes going home and mucking about with his mates but he also likes being a star, being the centre of attraction but that doesn't mean he's up himself, not at all. I think he enjoys the shows and that sort of thing and he is a huge star especially when he goes to Milan or somewhere like that. There are thousands round him shouting Schwantz! Schwantz! Schwantz!. Get him away from there and he is just the same as he always was, he's the guy who pinches your balls."
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