people power

The face of racing has certainly been changed by Wayne's accident, the Schwantz/Rainey rivalry was at the heart of Grand Prix, so much seemed to turn about it. The manner of his enforced retirement puts a special complexion on things of course, unavoidably it has made everyone think anew about the dangers. When the most successful rider is hurt so badly every other competitor must wonder how much shorter are the odds that they can avoid a similar disaster. Those closest to Kevin cannot avoid worrying about it. Shirley admits that. "I think Wayne's accident has made Kevin getting hurt play on my mind a little bit more than it has been and I think maybe it's been on Kevin's mind a bit more. I've always known the risks, known that he could be seriously hurt but you can't dwell on that. I have a lot of confidence in Kevin's ability as well as the ability of the other riders. They are professionals at what they do."

Similarly it has given Jim pause. "Wayne's crash might have a little more effect on me. I never have worried much before but Wayne's accident has put the thought of injury in the back of my mind. It might concern me now a bit more than it has in the past. I've always felt that he seemed to have the knack for doing the right thing at the right time, when to stay with the bike, when to get away from it. How to fall, that sort of thing but of course you don't always get the opportunity to plan or decide which way you are going to fall."

As Shirley points out, racing injuries have already had an effect on Kevin. "I know that he will suffer with all these little hurts he has had for the rest of his life, the broken bones, the dislocated places, I know they are going to trouble him, I think they hurt him now. The hip hurts, the elbow hurts, he has that to put up with."

Jim makes the point that Grand Prix racing is not the only sport to exact such a toll on it's stars. "It sure isn't any worse than he'd have had from playing football though. At least he is well compensated for the risk. He could have hurt him self just as much doing it as an amateur."

They say that you cannot remember pain. That is just as well. Whether or not you can imagine pain is another question, if you consider Kevin's description of the way his doctor took the pins out of his hand at the end of 1991 as he was recovering from the Malaysian Grand Prix practice crash it is not too hard to imagine how bad it must have felt.

Ready for a bit of light hearted training with Jim and Texas oil magnet Mick Roberts.

"Having the doctor pull the last pin out of my hand was like putting a fork in a bowl of spaghetti and lifting it out. As he spun it, pulling it out, you could feel it twisting. It wasn't really twistin' it I guess it was kind of pickin' and hanging. No anaesthetic, just a cold towel after I was done, to try and get rid of the sweat. All the pins were external, sticking out of the skin about a quarter of an inch." E "The first three came out real easy, they came out as the cast was cut off. The fourth was loose and he asked if I wanted anything for it but it wasn't real bad so I didn't bother. Then the last one....

"The first four were the ones that held the broken bones in place. The fifth was the pin that went all the way through the bones across the back of my hand to hold in place the ones that had been dislocated."

"I had a cast over the pins and it made things pretty bad as far as the pain goes because they put the cast on two weeks after the surgery and my hand was still swollen. It didn't hurt much then but about a week after that the swelling went down and then all the weight of the cast started hanging on the pins instead of my arm and hand. It hurt to hang my hand straight down beside me because all the weight would hang on the pins."

"After the pins came out they put another cast over the back of my hand . They put it on tight because I still had a bit of a hump on the top where everything was dislocated so the cast would push that back down."

Racing is certainly not for the faint hearted but as Garry Taylor said Kevin is one of the bravest people he has ever met, not a glib comment from someone fascinated by the history of warfare and acts of military daring, he and Kevin share an technical interest in guns. Kevin's bravery, determination, character, it is seen slightly differently by each of those who know him, is obviously part of his success. It is much appreciated, not least by the Japanese including the Suzuki Grand Prix Team's Racing Director.

Mr. Mitsuo Itoh "The first time I saw Kevin was at Misano in 1987. Before, all he had ridden was a superbike in the AMA championship and of course he found there were differences in the braking points, that sort of thing. It was still an impressive start though and I wanted to see him on our 500 team."

"He had very limited Grand Prix racing in the beginning and yet he was going very fast so naturally he made some mistakes. I felt that his speed was the most important thing, the experience would come in time."

"The experience and success has come and the fact that we have built a good relationship in the time that he has ridden with our team is very important. He is easy to work with and I would say we very rarely have any problems. The fact that he has been with us a long time is also important, it means that when people think of Kevin they think of Suzuki and the other way round."

As Kevin approaches a decade of involvement with Suzuki that does seem a lengthy period in modern sporting terms, compared with Mr. Itoh though Kevin is a newcomer. Itoh was one of the three Japanese riders chosen for Suzuki's first attack on the Isle of Man TT in 1960. He won the 50cc Isle of Man TT in 1963 and had numerous other Grand Prix rostrum placings.

Mr. Itoh keeping a close eye on proceedings at Laguna Seca in 1990.

He is a Grand Prix rider of the old school and admits that things have changed a great deal in the last three decades. "Grand Prix racing is very different. Everyone now calls it motorcycle sport, before we just called it racing. It was racing pure and simple in the old days, now the sport is more of a show."

"With this type of closed circuit everyone can test. Old road tracks like the TT demanded different skills," asserts Itoh who admits to having a yearning for the days when circuits were more varied and the World Championship included a number of road courses. He is fully aware of the dangers of such events having been injured himself. "I crashed in the Isle of Man in 1960, a big crash but I didn't hurt myself badly. In '61 I crashed climbing the hill past Eau Rouge after the start and broke my neck, I was some months in hospital, in traction. Safety is very important but the riders know the sport. They are professionals and accept a level of risk."

He sees that the sport has changed and that Kevin is the complete racer for today's World Championship not just because of his riding but because of the commercial nature of racing. "Sponsorship is essential to the sport now and Kevin understands sponsorship and what the sponsor needs. It is important that he is well known and well liked by so many people worldwide, that is important because he is so closely associated with Suzuki."

"He is now a very mature rider as well as being very fast. He is not hard on the bike, he knows how to look after the machine. He has learnt a great deal in his Grand Prix career and he is a big help to Alex."

Interestingly Mr. Itoh points out that winning is not everything. "Winning is important to the company but the competition is the main thing, that is my job, to see us continue to be competitive even if we do not win all the time. That is my job and my enthusiasm."

Previous PageNext Page

© Schwantz/Clifford 1994 No part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any for or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise without prior permission in writing from Peter Clifford or Shirley Schwantz.

All rights reserved © 2000 Brand 34, Inc