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GP Week : Issue 181
10 GPWEEK.com // 10 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The first MotoGP in Texas was inevitably larger than life in many respects. And remarkable in one other. There was no elephant in the room. No. The pachyderm was outside, having earlier been escorted off the premises. ‘Elephant’ may not be the best way to conjure up the agile and aggressive talent of Kevin Schwantz, but the size is appropriate. He was and remains a giant of motorbike racing, and his absence from the inaugural GP at CoTA was a stain that could not be ignored. This issue of GPWEEK carries an inter view with Schwantz, who was told at tests a month ago that he was not welcome at the circuit he had helped to design. He decided not to confront the issue at the GP, staying away to avoid further tarnish to an event for which he was prime mover. The rights and wrongs will be decided in a forthcoming court action brought by Schwantz against CoTA; but there was unsurprisingly a groundswell of support, expressed in various ways – from a “Free Kevin” T-shirt on sale (proceeds to the Simoncelli foundation) to a message of support from Laguna Seca, pledging that Schwantz was welcome there. The support feels right, for this hero of the Golden Age. The case does, however, pose a larger question. What does it mean to have been a great champion? How are they valued, once the time is over. Kenny Roberts had no illusions. “My brother-in-law calls me ‘The Was’,” he told me, only a few years after his retirement. “Because I was world champion.” (Three times in a row, by the way.) Looking at sundry great champions of the past, the degree of post-career popularity and respect hinges almost entirely on personality. Smooth and elegant, Giacomo Agostini moved into team management and then into gentlemanly retirement and family life. Pushy and aggressive, Jim Redman turned his back on racing to put the same skills into sundry business ventures. It’s a little different in the modern context: post-racing life depends on how much you want to be remembered, and how media-savvy you are. Barry Sheene (pictured left) was the king of this, during and after his career. Accordingly, he was respected and adored; his fans still gather annually at Phillip Island. Phil Read, the man he supplanted, is the opposite. Inside racing his reputation was of a loner who went his own way, regardless of the consequences. He won many more GPs and titles than Sheene – 52:23 and 7:2 respectively – but although he tried his best, in his loner’s way he never did charm the public. Read came back to racing as a highly effective classic racer and was also eventually if guardedly welcomed as an honoured guest by Yamaha, for whom he won five of those titles. But in the intervening years Phil got nothing back of what he’d given to racing. Is there a debt – in this case unpaid – to riders after they’ve stopped being riders? Back in Austin, it seems many people think there is. THE ELEPHANT WITHOUT OPINION OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor