He strode the '80s GP stage as the man who won two world titles in a year and was the Rossi of his day. Step forwards, Freddie Spencer
Talking to Freddie Spencer takes time, simply because there's so much to hear. But it's all worth it and any chat with the modest icon makes you realise just how much he's done. In short, absolutely masses.
He can recall his GP days, or any other period for that matter, in great detail and with total accuracy and enthusiasm. He speaks clearly, sincerely, and with lots of belief. Freddie's a committed and clinical sort of guy, just as he was when he was racing.
Now the delivery of his impressive tales might not be done in the most exciting manner but because the nature of the topics he talks about is special, it captivates and excites anyway. Freddie might be modest about his achievements, but he's clearly still mighty. He can honestly be judged as down to earth, but his reputation is from another world. He's done stuff we can only dream about.
Freddie was at tyre giant Michelin's main factory in Clermont-Ferrand when I met him. Dressed smartly and always acting like a gent, he confused me at first. He seemed too nice to have ever been a hardened 500 rider who pushed himself and his rivals to the edge. His placcid demeanour made it hard to imagine he was the guy who once nerfed Kenny Roberts Senior off the track in order to win a crucial race, and as a result got his adversary to moan, "if he wants the title that bad, he can have it."
He's a pro, and always finds time to be your mate. That's what his formal upbringing, both social and professional, has always taught him. He's charming and polite, hospitable and friendly and he never swears (once I realised that, I had to censor much of my input and response to this interview). Just as he learned to ride bikes in a serious and scientific way - and because of it, ended up a supremely gifted pilot of a 500GP bike - he's clued up about getting along with people.
It doesn't take too long to get him to relax though, and banter on more freely about past, present and future. Despite having a lot on his plate - he's got a CBR race school to take care of, young guns for Honda in AMA racing to nurture, he runs a Michelin tyre distribution business, hosts bike launches for Honda in the US... oh, and he's got his family to look after back in Los Angeles.
And still he finds time for less than fascinating duties like this gig. If I was him I'd have claimed I had back ache or something and not turned up. But if he was cheesed off with the prospect of mixing with a bunch of boring journos and then doing some laps on a wet test track with them, he never once showed it and always looked like he was genuinely lapping it up, if you'll pardon the terrible pun.
He admits to still loving bikes to this day. "I can't remember not riding," he says. I started when I was four, and every single day for years afterward. It was the natural thing for me to do. It's like I could ride better than I could walk."
He raced bikes well before his age reached double figures, winning countless events in the States, and was then noticed, earning himself a bit of supportive skill from renowned tuning guru Erv Kanemoto. Spencer then came to Brands Hatch as a complete unknown, kicked big-boys Sheene and Roberts' arses, and left the Kent track a sensation. In the coming years, he then took on those same GP boys on their home turf. And once he got sorted with proper kit, he did it all over again on the world scene. He was the Rossi of his day.
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