When AMA dirt tracker Kenny Roberts arrived on the European 500 Grand Prix scene in 1978, road racing would never be the same. Not only did Roberts win the 500 GP title in his rookie year, as Marc Marquez did in 2013, but he also brought with him a radically new style derived from dirt track in the USA.
Robert’s style was of course, immediately copied by his rivals, much like Marquez’s dynamic style is being imitated today. KR, and the Americans that followed him, embraced dirt track lines, sacrificing entry speed, picking the bike up early and launching out of the corner, rear wheel spinning and handlebars crossed up.
Putting the bike sideways with the rear wheel 100mm out of line, steering with the rear wheel was the new way to ride. Dirt trackers then pretty much dominated 500 Grand Prix for nearly two decades between Americans: Roberts, Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Schwantz and the Aussies: Gardner and Doohan.
A few Europeans dropped in the mix as well, most notably Alex Criville. However, KR actually taught him the dirt track way at the Roberts training ranch in Spain – another dirt tracker.
Rossi too has a dirt-track facility near his hometown of Tavullia, and has used dirt track as his principal training method since he was a kid, winning the final 500GP title on two strokes and the first MotoGP title on four strokes.
Dirt track seemed to drop off the radar when high corner speeds became the name of the game during the 800cc era, which favored 125 and 250 riders, with perhaps the exception of Casey Stoner.
Fast-forward to 2015 and perhaps dirt track has come full circle with the Europeans now on top. Marquez recently won the Superprestigio in Spain, beating the world’s best and current US dirt track champs Brad Baker and Jared Mees in the process.
Dirt track events are now popping up across the globe. WSBK legend Troy Bayliss is responsible for the dirt track renaissance down under, with former Grand Prix winners Chris Vermeulen and Garry McCoy also getting in on the action.
Dirt track is not just the ideal training for road racing but for everyday joe’s to learn better bike control when the tires are beyond their grip.
Photos: © 2014 Andrew Gosling / TBG Sport — All Rights Reserved
Mark McVeigh is a former international motorcycle road racer and MotoGP engineer who now works as a moto-journalist and development rider.