When Mackenzie met Schwantz

Niall Mackenzie interviews former team-mate and 1993 500 Grand Prix Champion Kevin Schwantz

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Submitted by Niall Mackenzie on Wed, 11/08/2010 - 17:12


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The first time I met Kevin Schwantz was at Misano in 1986. He was already on his way to becoming a superstar, with some amazing performances in the AMA series as well as showing us what he could do at the Transatlantic Match races that same year on the GSX-R750. He was lanky, he was blond and we were both testing the last of the square-four Suzuki RG500s and both desperate to get into 500 GPs. I guess that's why we were polite to each other, but wary of one another too. But we both made the grade and actually became team-mates at Suzuki for 1990 after I was drafted in to replace Kevin Magee, who was injured at the beginning of the season. One of the big things I remember about Kevin is he used to throw stuff around the garage when things weren't going too well, which is why I used to keep my helmet on... With some of the questions I asked him for this interview, I stuck my AGV back on again, but he's a bit more relaxed now, unlike me who's doing his first superstar interview - even if it is with a mate...

So Kev what are you doing here at Knockhill?

You rang me up in the winter and asked me to come over for this race.

Sorry, I forgot...

How do you reckon race bikes have changed in the last 10 years?

I remember being at the launch of the GSX-R750Y in 2000 at Misano, and after a few laps I was convinced I could have taken that standard road bike and set pole and won the 1988 Daytona race - I did that on my works Yoshimura GSX-R750. Today's road bikes are that good, you could win whole Championships on them a few years back, no question. What's great in the British series are the 1,000cc machines. I rode John Reynolds' bike and I'm taking all the information back to the States in case we do something similar with the rules. It's been a unique opportunity.

Are four-strokes in GPs boring and missing the point? I mean, can anyone ride one compared to a two-stroke?

Yeah, anyone can ride them. But once up to speed, they'll be more difficult to ride on the edge. At the moment with Valentino Rossi, the best rider is winning on the best bike.

Rossi now, Doohan and Rainey before, will there always be one dominant rider in GP racing?

Yes, I think so, but guys like Rossi, Doohan and Rainey just found a higher level of confidence. The only person knocking on the door of Rossi at the moment is Biaggi, but perhaps he should have found that confidence by now.

Why do people remember the late '80s and early '90 s as the glory years of GP?

I think because at that time everyone was racing for the lead, not second or third. Four or five of us would be going into the last corner together. There was a different winner every weekend.

As a bike racer winning the MotoGP Championship is the ultimate accolade. It's something you achieved in 1993, winning the 500cc Championship. Does it
change you when you finally do it, or is it no big deal?

It's more of a relief, that's what I felt, anyway. I was more fired up than anything as Mat Oxley (racing journalist and author) had told me I was well past my sell-by date. I wanted to give him a good kicking, but instead I just tried to be better. Also Wayne Rainey was my motivation. I always wanted to beat Rainey throughout my career. I was consumed and obsessed with that guy.

Why did you stay loyal to Suzuki when Honda and Yamaha were arguably making better bikes? Was it the cash?

It was never the money, because there were some equally lucrative offers around. For example, in 1989 I almost signed up for Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha team - where you ended up that year - but he couldn't guarantee me Number One status. Then again in 1991, Honda made me an offer, but the same deal - I wanted to be Number One for that factory. Cash wasn't a problem but Number One status was. I think also when you look at the Japanese way of doing things, there's almost an unwritten law that says the factories shy away from signing the opposition's Number One riders to maintain a balance.

You and Rainey battled together for years, but did you despise anyone in particular in the paddock.

You mean apart from Mat Oxley? Well, possibly Wayne Gardner. Rivalry between me and Rainey was competitive, but not personal. Gardner used to upset me 'cos of the things he'd say. He would just say things that weren't true and that would motivate me that much more. Right now Wayne Rainey is one of my best friends. I have ultmiate respect for him.

Did you really say about John Kocinski in the 1994 Championship that "he'd 'fall apart like a cheap watch?"

Oh yes... I said it.

And is the rumour true that to try and out-psyche him, you put a $50,000 purse up for the person who would shag his girlfriend?

No that's not true, it was only $10,000 dollars and no-one ever claimed it...

Looking back which rider admire most and why?

Definitely Wayne Rainey as he put up with Kenny Roberts for so long... That was a major achievement along with his three 500 GP Championships...

And who's the most over-rated rider?

Without a doubt, Carl Fogarty.

Oh... why?

Because there's no way he'd have been able to ride a 500 competitively to save his ass...

Right, juicy stuff. It's half a decade since you retired, what's the best GP story you will now own up to?

I'll own up to any one you like - I'm not married and have no responsibilities. It's the other guys I'd worry about...

Erm, you weren't looking at me then, were you?

Silence...

Moving swiftly on. Why did the UK fans take you to their hearts as an honorary Brit?

Possibly because of the team being UK-based, so it was as close as we could get to a home GP. I guess I made a big impact in the 1980s in the Transatlantic races as well, perhaps that's it. And I always went well at Donington. I've met every fan personally at Redgate at one time or another... Either on top of the bales or under the tables at the Redgate Bar!

How may broken bones have you had?

Too many to count, but everything works reasonably well now, I don't hammer my body so much anymore.

So does it ache like fuck when you wake up in the morning?

It's not too bad, but I take a drug called Vioxx, which is a mild pain relief drug if I'm doing anything stressful.

What's the worst thing about getting older?

Well, I'm not 38 yet, but I don't have a problem with getting older. I wouldn't be able to do what I used to do on a 500, but I do a bit of supermotard on a DRZ400 and run at the front, so I'm happy with that. I do some cycle racing as well.

What's your ideal evening? Sitting back in your favourite rocking chair on the front porch with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a chromed Desert Eagle, taking potshots at horses and people?

Until today and these pints, I've had no booze for three years. And I like horses, so I only take potshots at people... Is Mat Oxley here?

What do you do with your days now? Car racing?

Nah, the car thing is all finished. I look after a Suzuki Race school at Road Atlanta where we run GSX-R600s and SV650s. We have nine dates a year there and you can contact us on www.schwantzschool.com. I'm also on the AMA pro-racing board of directors there as rider representative. I look at track safety and basic superbike rules. The post covers motocross, hill-climb and road racing. I also work for Suzuki at all the AMA rounds.

Any kids? Still got the old sex-drive or has that headed south now?

Man, it's headed north, I can't get enough now I've stopped racing!

Final question. Can I have that fiver back that you borrowed in 1989?

Sorry mate I don't carry any cash!

This feature was first published in the October 2002 issue of TWO

The first time I met Kevin Schwantz was at Misano in 1986. He was already on his way to becoming a superstar, with some amazing performances in the AMA series as well as showing us what he could do at the Transatlantic Match races that same year on the GSX-R750.

He was lanky, he was blond and we were both testing the last of the square-four Suzuki RG500s and both desperate to get into 500 GPs. I guess that's why we were polite to each other, but wary of one another too. But we both made the grade and actually became team-mates at Suzuki for 1990 after I was drafted in to replace Kevin Magee, who was injured at the beginning of the season.

One of the big things I remember about Kevin is he used to throw stuff around the garage when things weren't going too well, which is why I used to keep my helmet on... With some of the questions I asked him for this interview, I stuck my AGV back on again, but he's a bit more relaxed now, unlike me who's doing his first superstar interview - even if it is with a mate...

So Kev what are you doing here at Knockhill?
You rang me up in the winter and asked me to come over for this race.
Sorry, I forgot...

How do you reckon race bikes have changed in the last 10 years?
I remember being at the launch of the GSX-R750Y in 2000 at Misano, and after a few laps I was convinced I could have taken that standard road bike and set pole and won the 1988 Daytona race - I did that on my works Yoshimura GSX-R750. Today's road bikes are that good, you could win whole championships on them a few years back, no question.

Are four-strokes in GPs boring and missing the point? I mean, can anyone ride one compared to a two-stroke?
Yeah, anyone can ride them. But once up to speed, they'll be more difficult to ride on the edge.

Rossi now, Doohan and Rainey before, will there always be one dominant rider in GP racing?
Yes, I think so, but guys like Rossi, Doohan and Rainey just found a higher level of confidence.

Why do people remember the late '80s and early '90s as the glory years of GP?
I think because at that time everyone was racing for the lead, not second or third. Four or five of us would be going into the last corner together. There was a different winner every weekend.

As a bike racer winning the MotoGP Championship is the ultimate accolade. It's something you achieved in 1993, winning the 500cc Championship. Does it change you when you finally do it, or is it no big deal?
It's more of a relief, that's what I felt, anyway. I was more fired up than anything as Mat Oxley (racing journalist and author) had told me I was well past my sell-by date. I wanted to give him a good kicking, but instead I just tried to be better. Also Wayne Rainey was my motivation. I always wanted to beat Rainey throughout my career. I was consumed and obsessed with that guy.

Why did you stay loyal to Suzuki when Honda and Yamaha were arguably making better bikes? Was it the cash?
It was never the money, because there were some equally lucrative offers around. For example, in 1989 I almost signed up for Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha team - where you ended up that year - but he couldn't guarantee me Number One status. Then again in 1991, Honda made me an offer, but the same deal - I wanted to be Number One for that factory. Cash wasn't a problem but Number One status was. I think also when you look at the Japanese way of doing things, there's almost an unwritten law that says the factories shy away from signing the opposition's Number One riders to maintain a balance.

You and Rainey battled together for years, but did you despise anyone in particular in the paddock.
You mean apart from Mat Oxley? Well, possibly Wayne Gardner. Rivalry between me and Rainey was competitive, but not personal. Gardner used to upset me 'cos of the things he'd say. He would just say things that weren't true and that would motivate me that much more. Right now Wayne Rainey is one of my best friends. I have ultmiate respect for him.

Did you really say about John Kocinski in the 1994 Championship that "he'd 'fall apart like a cheap watch?"
Oh yes... I said it.

And is the rumour true that to try and out-psyche him, you put a $50,000 purse up for the person who would shag his girlfriend?
No that's not true, it was only $10,000 dollars and no-one ever claimed it...

Continue the interview

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