Graziano Rossi - The God's father

While Valentino proves proves his class in MotoGP, Niall Mackenzie speaks to The Doctor's daddy, Graziano Rossi

Nurture or nature? Graziano Rossi will surely go down in history as a man that possessed both in abundance. Three times a grand prix winner, he quit racing in 1982 after a serious head injury and then spent the next 13 years guiding his only son, Valentino, to his first GP season in 1996.

A warm-hearted man who remains totally unaffected by his son's success, Graziano is happy to stay in the background while observing the phenomenon he created attend to his business. I first met Graziano in the early '90s when he introduced me to his nipper, who at the time was cleaning up in mini moto races. I remember him as a bright-eyed, likeable kid with more than a passing interest in racing. No one could have predicted what the future held. I caught up with Graziano once again for a chat.

Where were you born and brought up?
I have always lived near Pesaro, which is south of Rimini and close to Misano.

When and where did you start racing?
I started racing at around 17, which is quite old now as many children start at 12 or 13. I raced motocross on a 250 Maico for a few years, then switched to road racing on a 250cc air-cooled Benelli. The bike to have was a 250cc Harley-Davidson, which cost five million Lira (around £2500), but there was no way I could afford that so I bought the Benelli. The Harley made 50bhp, but I had a brilliant mechanic who got the Benelli from 20 to 45bhp. My first race was at Vallelunga near Rome.

Did you ever race four-strokes?
Sure, but mostly in endurance. I raced Moto Guzzis and Hondas, but my favourite four-stroke was the 750 Kawasaki, which I won the Imola 200mile race on.

Tell me about your move to the 500cc class in 1980.
I signed for the Nava Olio Fiat Suzuki team in 1980, but I had a stupid crash rallying in the winter and suffered a bad head injury. I finished fifth in the world championship, but didn't have the same form as previous years.

How motivated were you as a rider?
I was 100% motivated. The problems came later in my career after some serious crashes. Until then, injuries and pain were for other riders. I never related racing to pain. After my accidents, my motivation suffered and I found I couldn't commit like before. The other problem I had was that I enjoyed being friends with everyone and that's no good for a racer. When you put your helmet on you must show respect to no one. Valentino is good at this.

After your 150mph crash at Imola, did you know it would be impossible to come back?
I was in a coma for half a day, but Doctor Costa created one of his first miracles and saved my life. It was time to stop.

Did you have a best buddy in the paddock back then?
Marco Lucchinelli. He was my team-mate in 1980 and I needed to beat him more than anyone, but being a friend made this difficult for me. At the last 500GP of the season, we went to the old Nurburgring in Germany. It was much too dangerous to race there. I found it dangerous even trying to learn it on a 30bhp Yamaha XT 500. Anyway, Marco and me decided to start the race but pull in on the
first lap. I did but he didn't and went on to win. Even then I was pleased for him as he won
his first 500GP.

Quite a few top level Italians have come to the Isle Of Man TT over the years. Was that something you ever considered?
No. I have never even been to the Isle of Man. It never really appealed to me as I thought maybe you have to be a little mad to race there.

Did you spend any time with British riders during your career?
Barry Sheene was around of course, but he was much too important and busy so I didn't spend a lot of time with him. I was and still am friends with Steve Parrish.

Steve Parrish says you caused him problems as his girlfriend, Linda, lusted after you.
No, that can't be true. I don't believe you. Really?

Apart from helping Valentino, what did you do after quitting racing in 1982?
I started rallying - a fantastic sport that I love - but I never raced professionally. There are probably two reasons why that didn't happen: I was maybe too old, or not fast enough. Or
possibly both!

Now that you no longer race, do you still like to ride motorcycles?
I still love to ride. We have about 20 friends, including Aldo Drudi (now famous for the Rossi and Schwantz helmet designs), who all ride for fun. We have enduro bikes with knobbly tyres on the front and intermediates on the rear, which we slide around supermoto style. We have proper races but, most important, we have big post-race celebrations. Valentino uses these days for training but also has fun.

Your family name is now one of the biggest in motorsport. Does that cause you any problems?
For me no, but for Valentino it is now difficult to be anywhere in public in Italy.

How many GPs will you travel to in a season?
Normally all the European races.

Continue the Graziano Rossi interview

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