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Casey Stoner - A Personal Appreciation

Monday, May 21, 2012
Aussie Casey Stoner finished on the podium in nearly every round last season on his way to winning the championship.
Casey Stoner announced that he will retire from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 season during a pre-race press conference at Le Mans, stunning the race world.
To say that the motorcycle racing world was shocked by Casey Stoner’s retirement is something of an understatement. Fellow competitors, team managers, amateur racers and spectators alike cannot understand why someone with such sublime talent at racing motorcycles should want to give up everything which defines his greatness.

I am not a friend, or even a passing acquaintance, of Casey’s, but I can begin to comprehend why he has turned his back on the GP paddock. The situation is more complex than it seems – and all the more interesting for this.

My only direct contact with Casey was a somewhat awkward 10 minutes spent with him when we were both riding at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2006. I am a world class gossip, and can talk for Britain, but I got very little from the shy young man who was, in truth, not in any real conversation with me.

Even at that time, the young – very young – 21-year-old was a formidable talent and he already had 17 years of racing experience. As a child in Australia, he reportedly rode in 35 races over one weekend – and won 32 of these. So, as a racer he was incredibly mature but my then 12-year-old daughter was vastly more experienced about everything else in life’s rich matrix. In the simplest terms, Casey’s life has been ruled, controlled and defined by motorcycles, paddocks, qualifying and race results and very little else.

It is difficult to overstate how much Casey’s life has been dominated by racing. Since childhood, he has been judged not by his ability in the classroom, or his love for a pet lizard, or the way he made elderly people happy by singing carols to them at Christmas but by lap times.

Casey Stoner - 2011 Phillip Island MotoGP
Stoner celebrating another victory in 2011, this one at Phillip Island. The Aussie rider won the 2011 MotoGP championship by 90 points over Jorge Lorenzo.
Cut a tenth of a second from your lap time and you are a good person. Add a tenth and you are not. Is that slice of pizza going to assist your diet or will it slow you down? Are you too tired to race at your peak because you stayed up all night watching a movie, eating popcorn and talking to your girlfriend?

Motorcycle racing gave all it had to give to Casey - but never imagine that the price it demanded was cheap.

That Casey ever made it to be a World Champion was, in no small part, due to extremely strong family support but even this emanates from racing. His parents sold their small farm and the family lived in a caravan in England so that he could race aged fourteen. He met his wife to be, Adriana, at Philip Island when she asked him to sign her stomach. Almost since then, they have been inseparable.

If you are controlled, and defined, by racing then – inevitably – you become extremely vulnerable and this, I would argue, is the core of Stoner’s decision to retire. Without looking back through a rose tinted visor, riders from my generation were, largely but not exclusively, honorable and honored. If they agreed to ride for a team or sponsor on the shake of a hand then they did so.

The converse was also true. Teams were loyal to the riders and the relationships were personal. My sponsors, even when I was being paid to ride, were my biggest fans. They liked and respected me – as I did them.

When six-time World Champion, Jim Redman, was approached by Yamaha, with an offer of much more money than Honda were paying him to ride for them, Jim politely refused the offer because he had verbally promised his services to Soichiro Honda. In case you feel this is a matter of there not being much money changing hands, Jim’s contract was worth millions of dollars converted to current prices.

Stoners incredible results at Losail extend into raceday where he finished  fifth overall - Qatar
Stoner in 2006, his first year riding in the premier class. That year he rode for the LCR Honda satellite team.
In fact, Redman never once had a written contract. He would visit Tokyo, talk to Honda and agree a price and that was it: absolutely nothing written down. Contrast this to the pressures Stoner faced and the dissembling manner in which he was treated once Rossi became available to Ducati.

The way Ducati treated Stoner was appalling – nothing less than shocking. In a recent TV interview, Casey bemoaned the fact that he thought that he had a family in Ducati – and they let him down. Imagine the mental torment which a rather vulnerable young man faced when he found his adopted family had dumped him for what they thought was a better child!

Ducati’s dismissal of Casey’s lactose intolerance must have torn him apart. What child isn’t tearful when his parents don’t believe he is ill?

It’s no use railing at Stoner and telling him to take it like a man, stand up straight and not act like a tearful limp wrist. He is what he is and that means a miraculous talent on a motorcycle but with a touching vulnerability which needs protecting and a sensitive ego which demands gentle, kind care and attention. Is this a unique set of needs? Far from it. Many high achievers, in whatever field, are high maintenance and emotionally fragile.

The final part of the equation is the arrival of baby Alessandra Maria. Children affect parents in different ways. Some mums and dads treat the kids as administrative inconveniences and just get on with their lives.

Others let the child dominate them so that they cease to be sentient adults.

In my case, I fell out of love with having a real job and wanted to be with our new baby for no other reason that I loved being with her. Changing diapers – which I did incredibly badly – singing to her – which I also did badly – or just stroking her head and watching her smile at me were never chores but complete pleasures.

Casey Stoner is a giant-killer so far this season  exceeding expecation on the Marlboro Ducati and owning a 10-point lead in the championship after his Istanbul victory - Istanbul
Stoner in 2007 riding for Marlboro Ducati, the year the Aussie won his first MotoGP championship title.
In my case, I gave up a very well paid job, with a polished briefcase and a smart suit, simply to be with my new toy. I have a feeling that Casey is in the same ball park. Baby Alessandra isn’t interested in lap times or race results but only whether Casey strokes her cheek and smiles at her. It’s a powerful drug and one which I guess has got Casey well and truly hooked.

So, how good is, or was, Casey in the pantheon of motorcycle greats? To answer this question, I am in the privileged position of having seen some of the finest motorcycle racers over the last 50 years. With this long view, I would make the following observations.

In terms of outright ability to ride a motorcycle very quickly Casey is one of the greatest riders of all time. His ability is sublime and I feel privileged to have seen him on the track. Probably only Mike Hailwood had as much natural ability – and for me Hailwood was, and is, the greatest motorcycle rider of all time.

However, Casey rates less highly as a motorcycle racer than he does a motorcycle rider. As a racer, Rossi is a galaxy better – tactically and in terms of winning races in all conditions. Forget the current blip with Ducati, Rossi is in a different league to any other rider.

Fifteen-time World Champion Giacomo Agostini also possessed a sublime riding talent combined with an immense racing brain, so this puts Casey down into the second league of motorcycle racing Gods and leaves unanswered questions. Given another five years, how good would he have been?

I feel that we will never know. I remained convinced that he will stay away from bike racing not the least because he has already been offered a highly paid, and very comfortable, job racing V8 cars in Australia.

Additionally, the Stoner family has been very careful with Casey’s money. Honda offered to double his already very generous pay if he would ride for one more year and Casey turned them down, so he clearly won’t be applying for food vouchers in the near future.

I think that he is a wise young man and I admire and respect his decision. Motorcycle racing will be much the poorer for Casey’s absence but he has already given us so much that we need to be thankful – and wish him God’s speed for his new life.

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Comments
Desh   June 5, 2012 01:20 AM
Hmmm Rossi is a galaxy better racer? Forget his current blip on the Ducati? I think not. Go through and count the number of races Rossi has shown amazing racecraft since he's been at Ducati. There'll be one maybe two races. That's because the Ducatil is a bike which severely limits a guys tactical options in a race - the only way it'll work is if you ride the hell out of it for 100% of the race and that's not even an option for Rossi as by his own admission he can't ride it like Stober could.. Now consider that the vast majority of Stoners time in GP was aboard the Ducati and look at how he's been able to race with and beat guys on better bikes. And look at his time since then at Honda where he's only been off the podium once so far in over 20 races, and has demonstrated the ability to cut, thrust, and race more strategically because the bike allows him to do so. If you had only started watching GP since Rossi got on the Ducati what reason would you have to rate Rossi higher than Stoner in any way shape or form? People will say its because of the bike, but Stoner still had a winning record head to head with Rossi even on the Ducati! Nobody can deny Rossi's statistical achievements, but having seen Stoner and Rossi on the track together for about 10 years and the relative quality of their equipment during that time, nobody can tell me Rossi is a superior motorcycle racer to Stoner, at all.
Stravoxylo   May 27, 2012 11:17 AM
Another great article by Mr. Melling. Like most enthusiasts, I've read several of the motorcycling press' "opinions" on Stoner's decision to retire, and this is by far the best thought out. Casey is going to be missed. He had a special quality. He just wanted to ride his motorcycle to the absolute limit, and the other rider's were just in the way of his perfect lap. Consequently, as Mr. Melling points out, his race craft was far from the level of Rossi and some others. You can tell that Rossi respects Stoner's ability. It lit a fire under him. Rossi wants to mix it up with the best and come out on top. He clearly considers Stoner one the best. That's pretty high praise. It is refreshing to see a well paid athlete hang it up while at or near the top, and not just stick around to run mid-pack and collect a big check year after year. Good luck to Casey & his family. Hope he sticks around the 2 wheeled world.
dhumale   May 26, 2012 01:18 AM
This is an eye opener for all of disappointed casey stoner fans such as myself. I will miss watching him at philip island where he was invincible. I wish him all the best in life and thank him for giving us some good race battles to watch over the years.
CommutingMotorcyclist   May 24, 2012 05:51 AM
Great article with some heart. I admire Casey for deciding he's raced enough and to put other things first. It's rare these days of hanging on for one more paycheck. When the passion goes it's time to do something else. Talented racer, I've enjoyed watching him.
fuzzandtanya   May 23, 2012 07:41 PM
Wow, it's nice to see an article with genuine thought and care put into it. Not just another, typical, racer-boy interview. It helps us remember that there is actually a person inside a helmet. Motorcycles are great, but no matter how much you love them, they're a very unimportant part of any person's life when compared to the things that really matter. Well done.......well written.
Shaphan   May 23, 2012 12:25 AM
Hi Frank I enjoyed reading this article very much! Must say it's very well written, thought out and phrased! Wonderful piece! Good job! Regards Shaphan
Rucuss54   May 22, 2012 03:42 PM
Thin skin and being a famous rider don't mix, either you harden up or you do a Stoner..quit. Fast but not much of a dogfighter on track.
shalbleib   May 22, 2012 01:12 PM
I like this site. I really do. But this article is ridiculous. I clicked the link hoping to read an interview with Casey Stoner, not someone psychological dissection of a man he (admittedly) barely knows. i don't doubt that some of the suggestions are probably very true, but to make that assumption about someone is dreadful journalism. I'm surprised it made it onto the site.
wc524   May 22, 2012 05:44 AM
Great write up Frank!

I totally agree on all levels. Casey is by far one of the best racers in the GP Paddock of today, and he will always be well respected.

I too have a small 9 month old son and I know what children can do. They are a drug that you can't get enough of and those first few years are something you will NEVER get back. The best advice my father gave me was to enjoy these first few years with my son and don't take each day for granted; because, before too long he will want to play with his own friends and do his own sports without me.

Take advantage of every second you get with family. Money does not replace time. You can always get more $Money$ but you can't buy time.
rogase   May 21, 2012 09:48 PM
Very good piece. I saw Casey giving an interview to Australian TV on the weekend and he was clearly very upset about how he was treated in the past. I thought Ducati where looking to replace him with Lorenzo when he got sick. Those guys at Ducati clearly cant come to terms with the fact that their bike is s---t. They didn't realise how good Casey was when he was making them look good, whilst giving Melandri the number of a sports phycologist. Rossi and Ducati will clearly end in tears, even though what he is now riding could hardly be called a Ducati anymore.
Kevin2009   May 21, 2012 04:05 PM
Well said. Casey definitely seems to be a sensitive sort but what does bother him about some of his treatment in GP would bother anyone. Rossi has slighted teams for less poor behavior. Casey is probably one of the most talented riders to ride a bike in decades. Rossi and Hayden have both said as much. Few can cut a faster lap than him. And the comment about Rossi being a vastly superior races is true! And Casey is no slouch. What I regret not seeing is Rossi on a bike he can ride well and Casey on a bike he can ride well (ride well easily that is, he rode the Ducati well but it wasn't easy - something I doubt Rossi will ever be able to say- Casey will always have that over Rossi). E.g. Both on Honda or a Yamaha or either one on one or the other. The one thing I can identify with is your comments on children. Having a young son and being lucky enough to spend time with him everyday, I would never want to miss him growing up. No amount of money or promotion is worth that. Cheers to Casey for being a family man! One thing to remember, motorcycle DID give Casey A LOT. He was able to do something he loved (and he said he loved it, one reason he is quitting because he doesn't want to lose that love for it). Which one of us has never had a crap boss? Had to do work we couldn't stand? Watched someone not as deserving get the promotion? For many people out there, they work because they have to work and the vast majority will never come remotely close to seeing the kind of money Casey has seen. Or have the luxury to quit our work and live very well just because we've had enough of it. He got to do this because he had a God given talent (and a drive and work ethic) for doing something as silly as riding really really really fast over and over and over again around the same curves and down the same straights. So yes, he owes motorcycle racing something too. I'm not saying he doesn't know this but it might be good to hear him say it. Maybe he has. I will definitely miss him being on the track. It will be a while before someone else wins a race or a championship without me wonder "what if Casey had been riding?".