Q. After spending years on your privateer Yamaha Superbike and Supersport bikes, what were the first few races like riding for the factory Honda team?
A. This will sound silly, but one of the hardest changes I had to get used to was learning to keep my hands off everything. At Daytona last year I was trying to work on my RC30 with my leathers and gloves still on; then I realized I should just leave that to the pros. I had to learn to put 100% trust in my mechanic Al Ludington and crew-chief Ray Plumb, those guys are a couple of the best in the business. When they took complete responsibility for the equipment I was able to concentrate fully on my riding and with Honda's suspension guru Ron Heben, getting my chassis sorted out.
Q. What is the relationship between Mike Smith and yourself? It is said you two were not close coming up through the ranks.
A. It is true that Mike and I were not close coming up through the ranks. I barley knew him when we showed up at the first test at Laguna last spring. I think that it was primarily due to the fact that we were from two different organizations. Mike had run the WERA thing and I had run AMA, that's what it came down to. We really didn't mix too much.
The relationship now is good. We keep to ourselves a little bit more on race day but that is when things are the busiest. We rap on the phone and now that Mike is out in San Diego I want to go out to see him and do some riding.
Q. How do your riding styles differ?
A. Early in the season, at the first few events, Mike was able to make an early break in Supersport and get out front real quick. I was not getting quite the jump that he was on the first few laps and it made all the difference in the world. Laguna is a perfect example and Daytona too, races like that. Like I said it made all the difference in the world for him and it wasn't until about halfway through the season where I was able to put that together and make that a priority. Knowing that it was what it took, to keep from banging bars with the rest of these guys and slowing your laps down. When everyone else is banging bars, you can just get out and go. Like I said, about half way through the season I was able to take the same approach and it helped me out a lot. I don't think that is the main difference, Supersport racing, I don't think the difference is quite as big as it is in Superbike. I don't know if Mike had more confidence in the bike or had a better feel for it in the beginning on the RC30 but he definitely hung it out, way more than I did. I was not going to do something that I wasn't comfortable doing. I think he just pushed it harder and hung it out a little bit more than I did.
I don't think our styles differ too much more than that. Mike had been with Yoshimura for a season and I think that it just took me a half a season or so to really know what to expect and what was expected of me on a factory Superbike team. I was tip-toeing through the first half of that season.
Q. Your 600 Supersport season had some ups and downs, what were the memorable ones for you?
A. The only low was the opener at Daytona. On the last lap I got tangled up in traffic in the chicane and finished a real disappointing fourth place. Everything else was a high. Al Ludington and I had a game plan for each race, as well as the whole season. Everything went perfect. I didn't need to win at Texas, but I raced real hard and lead from start to finish. That was, more or less, to show why I'm going to wearing the number one plate next year. I didn't have to do that, but I wanted to go out winning that last round. Plus, I hadn't beaten Mike in a heads up race until that point. That is as far as me finishing the whole race or he doing the same. That was an important race.
Q. Now you have won the championship and your next obstacle will be Miguel DuHamel and his Muzzy Kawasaki. Any predictions?
A. The Dunlop tire test at Daytona was real positive for us. Tom Walsch and the guys at Dunlop worked real hard developing a new front tire that would eliminate the small chatter problem that we experienced at times during the 1992 season. They developed a tire that worked real well. It has good grip and stability and has the turning capabilities much like those slicks on my Superbike. The Honda needed something to help it turn quicker and I think with this new development I will be able to run quicker at most tracks on my Supersport Honda than in 1993. I don't think there was anything alarming about how fast the Kawasaki went at Daytona. It had top end on us, which I think, is due to a very efficient ram air system that would work well at a track like Daytona. I doubt if they can get the Kawasaki to handle as well as my Honda F2.
And as far as the championship goes, I think I have every bit as good a chance this year as I did last year. My goal from last year was the championship, I went into the season with that as my goal. Daytona was really the pits for us, I was really unhappy with fourth. We went into each race with a game plan and stuck to it. We won when we could do it and not too much risk involved and we sat back in second when we had to. I did not drop that bike one single time all season.
I didn't want to get hurt, that is one of the things that really worries me about this Supersport class is getting hurt for my main priority, which is the Superbike class. I kept that in mind all season. I didn't ride over my head and I did what it took to win the championship and nothing more. It wouldn't be good if I got hurt in that class and wouldn't be able to race my Superbike.
I think you have every bit as much a chance of getting hurt in a Supersport class as you do in Superbike, not more, but every bit as much. It is a lot worse out there than you can see from the side of the track. I come off the track after almost every race with tire marks on my leathers or my bike. There are plenty of times that I came in with cracked fairings, the Camel decals scrubbed right off the fairing and black marks on my leathers and bodywork. Not that anybody does it intentionally, but to stay out front or to stay ahead of whoever you're racing, the bikes are so close, almost the same across the board, that you have to ride like that. These Supersport bikes, it is real easy to feel comfortable on them and the mile per hour is down a bit from the Superbikes so when you get out there you're going to see some more banging and more aggressive riding. Nobody is really trying to hurt each other or to put somebodies life in danger, but you can get away with more.
It is a serious class. It really is. I don't think that people realize how much we put into that class in preparation and hard work. It's not just something that we go out there and ride for a warm up for the Superbike race. It's very competitive and we work real, real hard at staying on top.
Q. How do you mentally prepare for a Superbike race?
A. By the time we go to the grid I already know what my game plan is. It does not do me any good to stew about it for those few short minuets before I go out on the track. The warm-up lap is plenty of time for me to put it all together and get re-focused. Ray Plumb with the help of HRC Japan has been working really hard to come up with a solution for the clutch problem that has been a weakness in the RC30 for some time. It seems to be working well in recent races, so when I come back to the grid I am thinking first lap strategy and what is the safest and quickest way to smoke everyone off the line. What really works well for me is to get as relaxed as possible, joke around with my mechanic, whatever. I just try to stay loose because you should already have it worked out in my mind as to what you're going to do, what your strategy is. There is no sense sitting there on the line just getting yourself all worked up, it's not going to do you any good. I come back from the warm-up lap and the only thing I'm thinking is ... smoke em'.
Q. Do you think that starting, getting the hole-shot, is one of your better talents?
A. I started racing motocross at a very youg age and I think that is why I get good starts. The years of practice starting motos helped me refine into getting better starts in roadracing. I think I am one of the better starters in the series. It is the same thing like we were talking before, getting out front, making a break. You have to get out front with the fast crowd. You can't stick around and race with somebody who is your speed or slower.
If you can't get out there and chase your qualifying time, and have clean corners and good lines then you aren't riding very well. Let's put it this way: If you're riding defensively, you're only going to slow down.
Q. You were linked to an Oscar Rumi Honda AMA or WSC Superbike ride for 1993. What could he offer you that Martin Adams couldn't?
A. Merlyn Plumlee. Merlyn is now with that team and he was very open and honest about what they were going to do. I probably would not have made the offer an option with anyone else. About the only thing that could tear me away from Commonwealth racing is a WSC ride or a deal including a WSC Honda supported ride for 1994, with Merlyn overseeing the whole thing. That, at that time, could not be guaranteed. Knowing that, I would have been a fool to leave Martin and Commonwealth. The Commonwealth team, with the help of RJ Reynolds, is going forward and is the premiere AMA Superbike team in the series. We're handicapped by the equipment right now but that is going to change.
Q. Larry Scwartzbach was a friend of yours, has his tragic death affected the way you look at racing?
A. Larry's death really weighed heavily on me. He was a good friend to me and his generosity and good nature was good for our sport. If you never think about getting hurt or shaken up after a near high-side at a place like the banks of Charlotte, then you have no right being on the same racetrack as the rest of us. A person like that has no respect for his body or anyone else's for that matter.
Yes, it's a job for me but I would not be doing it unless I truly loved it. The hard work and dedication have done nothing but make me a better person. I believe what I do is good and I'm really happy that my father got me involved in racing when I was a kid.
One way or another I'll be involved in racing until I'm done.
Q. Is your father still a big part of your racing effort?
A. Yeah, oh yeah. Maybe not so much in the same way that he once was, he doesn't get the same hands on involvement that he used to, like when he did some of my motor and chassis involvementon my Yamaha, although he may sometimes want to (laughs).
The big guy has been involved in many different forms of racing for a long time and he has a real good understanding of some of the larger racing organizations. Wiseco has been booming lately and he's probably too busy with all of that, but I'd like to see him get involved one way or another to help solve some of the problems in the roadracing end of the AMA.
He helps out in a different way now, he spends a lot of time watching me on the course, getting split times and watching my lines. He does help out in the pits as well sometimes. He helps me out on the day to day stuff and even some of the larger decsions that have to do with my career. Whether or not he misses all of the frustration and hard work from the early days, I doubt it.
I don't miss it too much.