I’m writing this as I head out to race at the North West 200. It’s by far the best event in the road race calendar, and when you get an opportunity to race at it, it’s impossible to turn it down. I’m no road racer and I never thought it would be something I’d get into after MotoGP, but I’ve become addicted to it.
Many years ago, I raced in Macau and although I won the first leg on a YZR500, I didn’t return as I needed to concentrate on trying to make it in GPs. Maybe if the GP career had stalled I might have stuck at road racing; with a bit of luck I might even have had a TT win by now. Anyhow, I’m long past spending weeks trying to learn my way around the Island so that’s why I chose to take on the NW200 back in 2012. It still gives me enough of a buzz to get it out of my system; it’s nice being an amateur again. It’s a seriously fast circuit and one you need to have some respect for.
Some things I’ve witnessed are a stark reminder of the dangers of getting it wrong. Respect to the guys like Hutchy, McGuinness and Rutter for keeping the desire to race at the level they do. I have also raced at the Armoy and Tandragee road races and loved it; the jumps are bloody nuts, you need to get along and stand next to them to fully appreciate the craziness of Irish road racing. The NW200 will have been and gone by the time you read this. I’m chasing a third win on one of Ryan Farquhar’s 650 twins. The bikes are works of art as he puts so much time and effort into them, and if you could set one beside a current Moto2 bike, Ryan’s machines wouldn’t look out of place.
Working with characters like him has always been part of the enjoyment. Like all team owners he’s passionate about what he does, and calls a spade a spade so you know where you stand. I’ve ridden for many great team owners and they’re all similar in some ways. Kenny Roberts stands out as being the most colourful; he always had something to say about everything and everyone. Most of the time he was right, but probably shouldn’t have said it. Luckily the team were immune to him, he’d call them for every name under the sun and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. He wasn’t really being serious but everyone else in the paddock thought KR was nuts. Kenny was the least politically correct person I know and had some fantastic stories, usually fuelled by a couple bottles of red after dinner, when it would always get pretty lairy. He invited me to his ranch to train over the new year when I rode for him. It had all kinds of dirt training tracks: ovals, flat track, MX, SX tracks; and boys toys like target shooting, longbows, crossbows, a golf range... He took me out when I arrived, basically to show me around and give me a good lesson on the XR100s. He led me straight to the flat track and blasted me. It didn’t matter what I tried, he’d let me past then slide through again just to kick up as much shit in my face as possible, until I gave up.
We laughed about it, had a swim and then everyone jumped into the hot tub with a cold beer. After about an hour, Kenny declared it was time to go back inside, but the girls were happy to sit in the tub. So he got out and peed into the tub, we all moved pretty sharpish. It turned into a crazy week of training and partying. It’s his birthday on new years day and one year he invited his insurance brokers up for the party. It’s a pretty crazy day. Friends and family turn up, and once they’ve all had a few of Kenny’s famous margaritas the KR family tradition is to set off a few explosions, mini canons stuffed with gunpowder, rockets, firecrackers... pretty much anything goes. Shortly afterwards, his insurance company informed him that they were withdrawing cover on the property for one day a year – his birthday! KR is dearly missed in the paddock. His Banbury centre of excellence was ahead of its time. He spent many millions on the latest advances as he tried to replicate F1 technology for MotoGP. The very best chassis and swingarms were made there, engineers had facilities like the Japanese giants at their fingertips, but the money ran out, the factory closed and the team departed prematurely.
The paddock needs more Kennys.