Although it’s been 18 years since motorcycle racer Kevin Schwantz was crowned 500cc World Champion, Schwantz has continued to be actively involved in the motorcycling world through the Schwantz Motorcycle Riding School. The Texan also continues to have his pulse on the road racing scene via his close relationship with a number of top-level AMA Superbike and MotoGP racers including Blake Young and Ben Spies. Recently we caught up with him at Barber Motorsports Park during the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 First Ride and 2011 Suzuki GSX-R750 First Ride reviews. In this two-part interview the 500cc Grand Prix champ shares what he’s been up to as of late as well as his thoughts on MotoGP and AMA Superbike racing.
WHAT HE’S BEEN UP TO:
1993 500cc World Champ, Kevin Schwantz continues to be actively involved in the motorcycle racing scene.
I just got back from England a couple weeks ago and went to the Motorcycle News Show which had a special section on the end that you had to pay extra to get into it called Revolution. It was myself, Freddy Spencer, Neil Hodgson, Randy Mamola, and John McGuiness. It was kind of a trials indoor deal that we got to participate in with guys doing backflips and stunts on motocross bikes. We all rode and kind of did a little competition. After that I went to Spain for a couple days but that’s about it lately.
I really have not done a bunch this winter since I don’t have that obligation to the Red Bull Rookies Cup anymore. I had a three-year deal with them and they are going to do their stuff with their own instructors in Europe now and not spend the money to get me over there. They still have the series—I’m just not involved. This year I’m focused more on the school now and trying to put together a program to go do some schools at some of the WERA races and nationals maybe a day before the event starts. And run their new rider program for students that want to participate.
Also looking to do a little bit of stuff with the MD250. With Honda’s involvement with our school we really want to push that at an amateur level. Right now both Honda and Suzuki are currently what we have at the school and we are lucky to have Honda as a part of the school. It was one of those things: Suzuki was cutting back and Honda was losing Freddie [Spencer’s school] and so it just so happened to work. It really could have been a tough time for us. When Suzuki pulled out it was already into the New Year and we were already selling dates. And they [Suzuki] came back at cut our units in half. So it was tough for us. Fortunately Ray Blank [American Honda’s Senior Vice President] was in need of a program. I had spent some time on the AMA board with him and made a phone all. He was like ‘yeah absolutely, what to do you need?’ so this is our third year with him. Ever since we’ve been at Barber we’ve been Suzuki and Honda both.
Kevin Schwantz was a guest of Suzuki’s during the press launch of the all-new 2011 Suzuki GSX-R600 and GSX-R750.
Besides working on the school, I have been doing a fair amount of bicycle riding this winter. Ben Spies
has a new bicycling team called Elbowz Racing Elite Cycle Team and the school is one of the sponsors of the team. They are coming to Austin this weekend to race. They’ve been there a few times to do some racing. It’s fun to keep up with what those guys are doing and watch them even on a state level. The guys like Ben and some of the top guys running up front in the top of the Cat 1-2 races, seeing how fast they are is amazing. I feel like I’m in pretty good shape... when Ben and I started riding together, I was giving him advice on what to do, but now he’s calling me and telling me ‘I could get you this trainer and he could really improve your cycling’ [laughs].
OTHER NEW PROJECTS HE’S INVOLVED WITH:
We have a new track being built in Austin which is fairly exciting for the city itself. (Read more in the MotoGP: USGP Coming to Texas in 2013
report). Ground has been moved, permits are all in place and they’re going to race F1 there in 2012. So I’m keeping close tabs on that. I pretty good buddy of mine is doing it all. I’m trying to keep my head in the door as much as I can to try and advise them on anything that may restrict us from having bikes there. I hope it’s going to be motorcycle friendly enough that it can be a place we can go and use as an educational facility as well.
Lots of little stuff in the works but just focusing on school: We have four dates of school at Barber, one date at Road Atlanta with a three-day program and then the two-day school the weekend before the Indianapolis Grand Prix. We have a couple other things in the works, possibly going to Malaysia to do a school and maybe going back to Europe to do some programs. We are just trying to make the program as efficient as we can and focused on making the program work financially for us.
HOW THE KEVIN SCHWANTZ SCHOOL COMPARES TO OTHERS:
I think that all the schools are about the same. We all kind of have the same ideas on what makes us able to control a motorcycle. But we all have different ways of explaining it and making it stick in your head. So when you’re out there on the road and something happens—it’s not all panic and mayhem. We all try to help people remember what to do when a situation presents itself. I don’t know for sure where we compare because I have never been to the other schools so I can’t honestly say. But a motorcycle is a pretty basic machine. The footpegs are big levers… yeah, the handlebar is the easiest way to steer but the most efficient way and smoothest way is with the footpegs. It’s a pretty simple thing but it’s just having the right staff to help the students understand, apply and remember it.
THOUGHTS ON MOTOGP AND THE IMPENDING ENGINE DISPLACEMENT INCREASE:
When they went to four-strokes, it was definitely a big change and I don’t think they needed to change the displacement to try and slow the bikes down. What they needed to do was continue to up-keep the safety of the circuits and tracks the riders are racing on. The issue was the speeds were getting so great, but the run off was not enough. So all they’ve done now is add five miles per hour to the center of the corner when it went from 1000s to 800s. That safety is still not there even though the top speed is not as great but the corner speed is higher now. I think the state of MotoGP is descent right now—it’s not a full field as we’d like to see but I think going back to 1000cc rules and giving prototype machines a smaller number of engines and production-based bikes more fuel—all the advantages will give from one to the other... I think that will be good. They have to do something to get more bikes out there.
The electronics—two thirds of a machine right now is electronics. What they need to do is come up with what F1 and what I heard NASCAR is trying to implement with fuel-injection and have McLaren build the ECU. It’s a little bit like Moto2 but not quite as restrictive. Manufactures want to be able to see that development. We have a horsepower advantage; we don’t want you to cut our horsepower. Maybe everybody runs the same electronics but you’re not going to hamper the fact that I build a built a better engine. We still want to see that. If I’ve got one that’s smoother and puts better power to the ground; maybe works better in the rain and when it’s hot. Everyone is on that same electronics package. Then it’s a much better series.
I think you see people now and it’s the electronics have gotten so advanced. Qualifying is great because it is a second and a half covers the entire field. But that doesn’t necessarily make for close racing because as soon as the tires start to go off everything is spread out. There’s a couple, there’s a couple, then there is three or four.
SO YOU’RE SAYING THAT THERE IS TOO MUCH ELECTRONICS:
The Schwantz Motorcycle Riding School continues to expand and has plans of offering instruction outside of the U.S.in the near future.
Absolutely. But I don’t think they can do completely without electronics. But I think they can find an outside person to do it so that Honda and Ducati and Suzuki and anybody that is involved with MotoGP are happy that this company is not being influenced with that’s always the concern. Suzuki is so concerned that whatever they know Honda is going to get. And what Honda’s got Yamaha’s going to find out. And with those ECUs there is always that opportunity it could have some type of memory in it... but still it is going to be so specific to every machine that it doesn’t even matter. I think even now with more electronics than what’s needed, the good guys are still winning. They can find a way to ride around problems they encounter throughout the race...
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which Schwantz gives us his take on Suzuki's MotoGP effort and Honda's resurgence in the class…