With Ben Spies already retired, Colin Edwards about to retire at the end of the 2014 season, Nicky Hayden struggling with a wrist injury, and Josh Herrin having a very tough rookie year in Moto2, there is growing concern among US fans about the future of American racing.

What is to become of the nation that once dominated world championship racing, with existing stars in decline and no fresh blood ready to replace them?

Perhaps the brightest point in the firmament for American racing is PJ Jacobsen, currently racing in the World Supersport championship for the Kawasaki Intermoto Ponyexpress team.

The native of Montgomery, New York has been quietly building a reputation as a fast and promising young racer, stringing together a series of top ten results in the competitive WSS series in his debut year, and coming very close to scoring his first podium.

Jacobsen’s World Supersport debut comes after an impressive first year racing in the British BSB championship with Tyco Suzuki, which earned him a move to the world stage.

We caught up with Jacobsen a few weeks ago at Assen, ahead of the third round of the World Supersport championship. There, we spoke to him about the state of American racing, the difficulties faced by American riders trying to break into a world championship, and the path he took to the world stage.

Jacobsen covers BSB, living in Northern Ireland, and how his background in dirt track helped in road racing. PJ tells us about how BSB is a viable route into a world championship, and just what it takes to make the move. It was a fascinating perspective from an extremely talented young racer.

A&R: First, a little background on you. You started your career racing with Barry Gilsenan in the AMA with Celtic Racing?

PJ Jacobsen: I’ve been racing for [Barry Gilsenan] since I was twelve, he was the first person that got me on a bike.

A&R: He got you onto a bike, he got you racing, what was your path to World Supersport?

PJ: I was racing 125s in the USGPRU series in the US. He got me involved in that, and I won a title with him in the States. Then I came to Europe to race in the Spanish championship, and was in the MotoGP Academy.

Then I went back to the US and rode for them in the AMA on a Suzuki 600. I rode for them for three years in the States. I rode in the Daytona Sportbike class, that’s when everything was kinda turning around there.

My last year with him was on the Ducati. We had a really tough year with the Ducati, the 848. Then I was supposed to ride in World Supersport in 2012 for PTR, but sponsorship stuff fell through and I had no ride.

A&R: So you had no ride at all in 2012?

PJ: Actually, one of my mechanics who I have been with since I was eleven riding for Barry, he got me a test with Tyco, TAS Suzuki, and I actually finished the season with them on the Supersport bike and in Superstock in BSB. That got me a year in BSB, which was last year.

A&R: It’s a very long route to travel to get into a world championship. Was there a plan behind it, or was it just a struggle to find sponsorship?

PJ: When I was little, I always wanted to be a professional dirt tracker, a guy like Ricky Graham, Chris Carr, Jay Springsteen, people like that. I didn’t think about coming to a world championship.

But yeah, it’s been a goal now since I was twelve years old on a road race bike to get into the world championship. I feel like I’ve already achieved a goal in my own eyes, just by being here now.

But I wish that I’d got my first year in the world championship in 2012, just to get my feet wet. Instead I’m doing it this year for the first time.

I think it’s just difficult right now for Americans to get into the world championship. I think the BSB and the Spanish championship, they just have really good series going right now and it’s bringing all these fast kids through. America is just, there’s just not much interest over there in motorbikes. It’s hard to keep the series going I guess.

A&R: You can’t put your finger on one particular thing why there’s no interest in the US? Because it seems to have been reduced to the real hardcore of fans.

PJ: I probably wouldn’t be the best person to ask about this. But giving you my opinion and everything, I think just a lot more Americans are involved in NASCAR and stuff like that. But also it’s just a shame that this year, the AMA has, what, five or six rounds.

Then they have this other series going with John Ulrich, which I think is only three rounds. It’s like, who do you claim to be the national champion? If two guys win the two series, it’s totally different, I guess. I don’t know, it’s just very hard for Americans to come back over here right now.

A&R: Are you glad that you came to Europe when you did?

PJ: Yes, I think that I wouldn’t be making it back to Europe if I was in the States right now. It’s definitely not easy. There are so many other fast kids over here coming through, you know, so I think like the teams, Italian teams, Spanish teams, just teams in general are not looking at American kids.

There’s just so much talent right now, and I just don’t think that they’re really looking towards the other side of the ocean.

A&R: Do you think that the year you spent in BSB helped you come here?

PJ: Yes, I think so for sure. I think I matured a lot last year riding in BSB. Josh Brookes was my teammate, I had no clue what the series was all about, I wouldn’t have really followed it too much or anything like that. So yeah, once I got into it last year, I was like, wow, I just jumped into a fish tank, it’s pretty crazy.

But I definitely think it made me mature, and towards the end of the season, I was getting steady top fives. I was really happy with that, and I was getting pretty excited to go into a second year in BSB, and actually see what I could do, having the knowledge of all the tracks. I just got the chance to come to the World Supersport level, which is like a dream, so I had to take it.

A&R: But again, you’re faced with a lot of tracks to learn. Even in Spain where you’ve ridden, you have Aragon, where you probably didn’t race.

PJ: No, I never raced in Aragon, but we did have a two-day test in November, so it wasn’t completely new for me. At least I knew a little bit of the track.

A&R: How is the transition from BSB Superbikes to World Supersport? What’s different, and what’s the same?

PJ: I think the competition is nearly the same. In both classes, it’s really hard and there’s a lot of good talent in there. I think it took me a lot last year to get used to the superbike, just riding style and picking the bike up, and the Superpole, things like that going on.

I think I kinda had to lose all that to come back to a 600 and get some more corner speed, and just ride the 600 totally differently.

A&R: Is it easier going backwards to a 600?

PJ: In my eyes, a bike’s a bike. You just have to get your head around it and at the end of the day, it’s still just a motorcycle and you’ll figure out how to ride it. It’s getting better and better each round, I think I’ve got the 600 back to my riding style now.

A&R: The Kawasaki is clearly a competitive package once you’ve got it sorted.

PJ: Yeah, the bike is really fast on top speed. It’s a little stiff in the corners, but I think we’re getting better and better at it. My teammate Florian Marino has been putting it on the podium and just off the podium, so yeah, the bike is there.

I think it’s just me, just getting settled in. For qualifying I’m there, top five at Phillip Island and second in Aragon, so it’s just time to put a result together and get my head around it.

A&R: What is the hard part? Where are you struggling in the race?

PJ: I think, I was a little bit nervous at Aragon, because it was my first actual race, I didn’t get the chance at Phillip Island, because we had a motor mechanical. So there was a little bit of nerves, and I had a pretty bad crash in qualifying.

We actually changed a couple of things before the race, which we probably won’t ever do again, and I should have known that, having the experience already. It was a Sunday to kinda forget about. First race, and it was just one of those Sunday’s to forget.

A&R: You raced here at Assen last year, so you already know the track …

PJ: Yeah, I raced here last year, I had my best result here, I got second in BSB. It was a pretty close race that’s for sure. I think this weekend is going to be the same. Real hard competition and stuff.

So I think I just need to settle in, I know this place really well, see what we can do on Sunday. [Jacobsen would finish the race in Assen in 9th.]

A&R: Are you based in Europe or do you fly back to the US?

PJ: I’m actually staying at this guy Mark Hamilton’s house, he used to own the magazine in Northern Ireland called Irish Bike. So he’s just letting me stay with him…

A&R: Because I think you’re picking up a bit of a Northern Irish accent…

PJ: I try not to, I definitely try not to! It’s from hanging out with all my buddies in the town and stuff…

A&R: Do you think this is the only way you can do this, to come over to Europe and base yourself here to be in a world championship?

PJ: To tell you the truth, I haven’t got really too much help on what to do or how to go about this. I’ve asked Nicky Hayden and John Hopkins on some pointers, some advice if I need a question or something, and they’ve been right on the spot and answered me right away. But yeah, I think basing yourself over here is the best thing, because it’s way too expensive to fly back to America.

And just getting used to the timezone and everything like that. I really had a good time last year, because the TAS shop was based in Cookstown, Northern Ireland, so I made a lot of friends there, mountain biking, bicycling, so I decided to move back there this year, and I’ve been having a great time.

I think that’s it, it’s just the easiest way. I don’t really miss home too much.

A&R: You said you grew up riding dirt track. There’s something of a dirt track revival going on among racers in Europe. I went down to watch the Superprestigio in Barcelona in January, which Marc Marquez organized. Do you think that dirt track still has things it can teach you?

PJ: Yeah, I think so. The way Marquez rides the bike, it’s kinda like dirt track. I think it still has a big part to play. He’s sliding the bike everywhere, leaving black marks everywhere.

A&R: You think it also has lessons for riding a 600 which you don’t slide around so much?

PJ: I don’t know about on a 600. On a 600 you want to keep your wheels more in line, it’s kinda hard to slide the 600. I think on a Superbike and bikes that have more power, you see those guys just sliding like crazy. I try to slide on the 600 sometimes, but it doesn’t work out too well!

Photo: © 2011 Daniel Lo / Corner Speed Photo – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Jw

    Best of luck, I hope someone helps you reach your dreams. Not many American names left anymore, sad to see it dwindle.

  • CB

    Good luck PJ. I agree with Jw. This article pretty much sums up the unfortunate state of affairs for US motorcycle road racing and future talent. Just a poor reflection on the leadership of AMA and DMG. Seems things really started to spiral when DMG got in the game. Upset the manufacturers, upset the sponsors, lose the TV, lose the series.

    Then again, maybe just a lack of interest in motorcycles due to NASCAR and not as many kids riding bikes at all. The few that do are Supercross fans which is doing great…..which seems to be a paradox…….plenty of interest in motorcycle racing.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Kids dont’ ride anymore? since when?

    I don’t understand why some of the american riders don’t try their hand at Moto2, WSB, or BSB? Roger Hayden, Josh Hayes, Cameron Beaubier? Why do they whirl around in this near-dead american series?

    Cameron Beaubier especially. Why isn’t this guy in Moto2. I don’t want to knock Herrin, who is having as bad a season as humanly possible (has he finished a race yet?…actually, has he completed a full lap in a race yet?). Doesn’t Beaubier have a bigger up-side than Herrin?

  • Innis

    I would guess they don’t just pop over to try moto 2 because of the costs to operate a race team abroad. It for sure a way better feeder series but it may not be accessible

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    I’m not assuming a rider in the States gets into a series like Moto2 simply by creating his own team/ride. I’m wondering why a talented rider like Beaubier (just as an example) isn’t picked up by a moto2 team. Surely there are teams mining for talented riders.

    I also wonder this–Kenny Roberts where have you gone? or better yet, where has the next Kenny Roberts gone?–the successful GP rider turned successful GP team manager/owner. Whatever happened to that model of success.

    Why are there no American teams in any level of world championship racing?

  • Jw

    Surely even Dorna must realize that keeping 1 or 2 American GP riders in any of the classes would be a good idea if they are going to continue with the 2 USA circuits. I hate to see GP leave the country like they have done before. Next year Hayden – Herrin are the only USA riders left and unfortunately may have a limited number of seasons left. I am a USA citizen and I know Hayden cannot podium on the POS honda right now, but I still root for him and feel more connected to the sport when he is on the grid.

    Dorna are you awake?

  • Tanner Cortes

    Well since we don’t have many American’s in any of the world’s top championships, I’m going to support PJ along with Nicky Hayden, John Hopkins, Josh Herrin, Colin Edwards and Kevin Schwantz till they ride their last race. GO PJ GO.

  • “PJ: I don’t know about on a 600. On a 600 you want to keep your wheels more in line, it’s kinda hard to slide the 600.”

    I’d guess that has a lot to do with the tires. There’s sure no shortage of sliding/backing it in in Moto2!

  • MikeG81

    It’s all well and good to suggest that Dorna and DMG get together and hash things out to try to get more American riders in the sport at the world level, but to blatantly steal a line from another racing news website; “Daytona does not go on bended knee to anyone”, and I doubt Dorna would either. The other side of that, is it even in their interest to do so? Dorna has expanded the sport world wide, and new fans in other countries could replace the small segment of road racing fans lost in the US. Even though the US is still a large bike market, not all bikers are racing fans(ie. How many go to Bike Week in Florida, AND attend the 200 and other races; a very small percentage). DMG doesn’t care because they are not involved with GP’s or WSBK in terms of those series and DMG’s bottom line.

    The glaring problem with US road racing is the marketing aspect of it. US SBK doesn’t have it’s own identity. If you ask a casual racing fan, what comes to mind when I say “Daytona”, the first thing the majority of the time would be NASCAR or the Daytona 500. So DMG has a class called “Daytona Sport Bikes”, trying to associate motorcycle racing with something completely unrelated other than they’re both motorsports and have “Daytona” in their name. On top of that, if I was Road America or another race track owner/promoter, why in the hell do I want the 2nd most important racing class of the day named after another track?

    It’s the same with the sports car racing scene in the US. I was watching a US “Le Mans” series endurance race, I forget the track, and there was a class called “Daytona Prototypes”.

    Before anyone from the US get their knickers in a knot, I get the history of Daytona and the great AMA racing that has gone on there(I have the ’93 race on VHS and watched Miguel Duhamel win on the RC51 there). But the only way for the sport to survive(and get more riders into the world scene) is for it to get out from under that cloud that is “Daytona” and forge its own identity. Easier said than done, of course.

  • Kevin White

    I completely agree with Chaz about Beaubier. Phenomenol racer.

  • Frank

    @Chaz and Kevin – Yes. Beaubier should be in Moto2. When I heard Herrin was going over I was happy for him, but wondering if it was going to work out. I really felt like we weren’t putting our best foot forward. I mean, Herrin won the Superbike championship but he is not America’s strongest rider. Beaubier’s problem is Herrin’s poor results only make it that much more difficult to convince a GP team to take a chance on another American rider.

    When the season started though I thought, man – maybe Herrin is in a good spot. He has an experienced teammate and Zarco was fast – capable of challenging for podiums with his pace and Caterham seemed to really care about their riders putting a solid package together. It has been noting but a nightmare of a season for them so far. In Austin, I couldn’t believe what happened to Herrin. I picked up his bike out of the gravel trap in Turn 6 completely ignorant of his first lap/first corner kamikaze manuever that ended the race for several other riders. I couldn’t believe he went down there but was even more disappointed when I saw the first corner incident when I got home. He is now a liability on the grid given his inability to finish a race. I wish him the best and really hope he can turn it around but he is clearly not ready for the world stage and if he can’t turn it around soon, Beaubier will be stuck in the US squandering his talent. Kenny Roberts has been rumored to want to return with a team and Jordan Motorsports is uncommitted as of now – hopefully we can get some more options for American riders soon.