Trackside Tuesday: Chemin Dangereux

09/04/2012 @ 7:02 pm, by Scott Jones8 COMMENTS

Going through images of the 2008 British GP at Donington Park, I got to thinking about what a strange road it has been for Ben Spies. It started when Loris Capirossi was injured and Suzuki needed a rider to wild card at the event. Ben was their hot young AMA Superbike champ, and together with Mat Mladin, accounted for years of utter Suzuki dominance in the class.

I spoke briefly to Ben that Thursday as his #11 was displayed to replace Capirossi’s #65 for the first time. As soft-spoken and affable as ever, Ben didn’t seem over-awed by MotoGP, but just got about his job of not crashing Loris’ motorcycle. He would later go on to win the World Superbike title, and was rookie of the year at Tech 3. Again, all with his typical composure.

Since then we have seen his rising star take a sharp turn to port. He has managed to show signs of his potential, such as his win at Assen last year. But this year in particular he has been a frightful reminder that talent, hard work, and a good machine are not quite enough for success as a motorbike racer. As Ben’s bad luck has refused to come to an end, I’m not the only one in the paddock thinking about it. In Ben, the riders have another walking reminder of the uncertainties they face.

MotoGP riders are several things at once. They are human beings like the rest of us, and at the same time they are much, much better at riding motorcycles than most of us will ever be at anything. They face mortal peril every time they mount up to do their job and they manage that risk by cultivating confidence in their equipment and abilities, while intentionally not thinking about what might happen if either fails at the worst time.

When off the bike (which due to testing limits is most of the time), they have many opportunities to consider if what is happening to Ben Spies could happen to them. Short of a career-ending injury, could they become the next talented rider to lose a MotoGP seat for some reason other than merely not being good enough? Are they the next Marco Melandri? John Hopkins? Are they the next Ben Spies?

Given the treacherous career path these riders tread, certain examples of longevity are even more remarkable. Colin Edwards, Loris Capirossi, Nicky Hayden, and others have made long careers of riding at the top-level. Each has reasons for deserving their long runs, but each also avoided what Ben is going through. For a MotoGP rider, to make it to retirement in one piece, and on your own terms, is an accomplishment in itself.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • TexusTim

    Just proves that “riding talent” is only one part of the game in moto gp….. “karma” (lucks older sister) has a lot to do with a riders life and longevity in the moto gp paddock. karma and good luck go hand in hand, you have one you get the other so to speak.
    my guess is that in the latter years of his life Ben will wake up one day (just like casey) and say to themselves ” I gave up what factory moto gp ride making millions that is every racers life’s ambition, I said what about Moto GP as if Im a spoiled kid who didnt get my way so I took my ball and went home to watch tv and play x box?…….so they have CRT’s that are seconds a lap slower…so they want a more competitive race by having a common friggin what the best will still win and as things change the teams will adapt or dorna will revise the rules ……there at the top and guy’s like edwards,hayden and rossi have it fiquerd out……..If your the best shut up and win then you can speak your mind a little……if you not a top finisher shut up and be happy for a ride in moto gp…after all they want a full paddock and not everyone can be an allien.

  • A.Skipper

    You spelled alien wrong. I agree with winning to gain creability. Yet he not only won but finished first in that assen gp. Rossi on the ducati didnt manage that in the same season on his favorite course. So i think its all popularity parlortricks. Rossi is headed back to take spies seat. Its not his fault. He just cant compete verbally against rossi. In the fact that winning to gain a voice regard.

  • Robert Liddell

    “If you’re not a top finisher shut up and be happy for a ride in moto gp.”

    I think it is extremely important to understand that if you are the type of individual who can actually find your way into moto-gp, you are not the type of person to passively accept what ever life throws at you. In fact if someone is near the top of any field, let alone a sport, it is very likely they have a minimalist outlook upon life. They know they’re good at something, therefor that is the reason they were put on this earth. And to be second best at the reason you were put on this earth is not acceptable. And if you realize any circumstances are preventing you from becoming what you know you can be, your reactions will be drastic. Spies may be not be outwardly emotional like some of the more flamboyant racers, but he is obviously very contemplative, and I think he takes great pride in what he does, as well as how he’ll be remembered.

  • Patron

    + 1 Robert. It is not in their DNA to tread water or just float around. They take risks. With outcomes unknown they would rather just keep swimming.

  • Damo

    You spelled ‘credibility’ wrong.

  • Westward

    LoL, why you english spelling nazi’s…

    I think Spies is going to be remember as the first person to win a MotoGP championship on a factory spec Ducati satellite team, and again on the factory team…

    But thats after he proves to be a regular podium attendee and race winner his year on a bike thought to be a fourth place finisher at best…

    Spies wants to win the premiere crown of motorcycle racing, It’s like you guys have said, it’s in their DNA. WSBK, been there done that as a rookie, best debut ever by a pilot in that series. Has nothing more to prove there. Could come back to that series in his late thirties and pull a Bayless, Biaggi, or a Checa, and become the all time champion as he wins another four titles…

  • A.Skipper

    Damnit! Sure did. After i catch a mistake. I make one. Caught up un the rapture. Lol. Credibility.

  • A.Skipper

    Spies wants to ride. Regardless. Best regards to him & yamaha. I think w. Dovisioso headed to fact Ducati. Spies will be alongside the brit in black. I also think thats why he changed his texas star pattern on his lid…