Interview: Kevin Schwantz

Paul Carruthers | June 17, 2010

When you think of Kevin Schwantz, you tend to think of Suzuki. After all, he honed his skills early on GSX-Rs in AMA racing and his 1993 500cc World Championship and all of his 25 GP wins came on Suzukis. So when news broke in Monday’s Cycle News earlier this week that Schwantz would be the team manager of American Honda’s one-race Moto2 effort with Kevin Erion and Roger Lee Hayden, it came as a bit of a shock.We caught up with Schwantz today to talk about his new role for the Indianapolis U.S. Grand Prix on August 29.So how did all this come about?It probably started at the end of last year. Ray [Blank – American Honda’s VP] called me and asked me what I felt about it. I told him that I wasn’t sure at this point that the future of the class is a spec engine. I think once the economy starts to turn around and motorcycle sales get back to where they need to be, I think it’s better to let every manufacturer have a place – with a certain specification of engine. With that he was hinting around with maybe doing something at Indianapolis. I told him I could help him with picking out a rider if he needed it. It was just a case of if he wanted to put a young kid on it or someone with a lot of experience. He said he wanted somebody with a big name to manage it for him. He’d read about me trying to get Suzuki spots and running their Grand Prix team and he’s always hinted around with, ‘Well, if it doesn’t work with them, call me and maybe we’ll have a spot for you.’ I think at one point I said, I’d be really interested in running that team if it’s something that will fit.’ He thought about it for awhile and over a couple of emails and text messages, it was like, ‘Well, I think having you in that spot would be good for you to see what team management is all about for just one race. And maybe you find that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for since quit racing.’ So it’s been in the works.We juggled riders’ names around with maybe 10 of them in a hat. Some of them were too old being there’s a 28-year-old limit on being a wild card. Of course, Honda wants to make an impression like no other and want to run right there at the front of that group. We narrowed it down from a kid with a brilliant future in racing, somebody young, like a Cameron Beaubier to a JD Beach, to the opposite extreme like a Miguel [Duhamel] or a Jamie Hacking, to somebody that actually met all the regulations to somebody who, if we get him enough testing time on the bike, could put up a good fight and that’s where Roger’s [Hayden] name came from.Will you be able to test, based on Roger’s schedule and such?We’re supposed to have a bike by the end of June. So it will be a couple of weeks to get it put together and built and get everything in place and start testing in late June – so that would give us the whole month of July and August to do as much as possible. The problem we have is the complication of RL [Hayden] having another full-time commitment. We can’t just have him for two solid months, but we will try and get five or six days under our belt – whether it’s at Barber, maybe at someplace close by from California, and likewise at Indianapolis. I think we will get a little time there [Indy] too, which is something that’s okay for a wild card. Anybody who is a full-time championship contender can’t test racebikes at racetracks, whereas wild cards don’t have to abide by that rule.How do the Moto2 bikes stack up as far as getting them set-up, etc.? Will it be a time-consuming project to get the bike right, or a piece of cake?That’s what I thought – it’s got to be fairly simple. But because there are so many different bikes out there… it’s almost Superbike complicated with offsets, clamps, linkages. They are about as adjustable as any GP bike out there, or even some old-style [AMA] Superbikes. The one thing we’re fortunate of is that there’s not a whole lot of electronics involved in it. There’s telemetry and stuff, but as far as spin-control and all that goes, I don’t think there’s any involved in the class. There’s a common engine and ECU for everybody.Was Hayden’s existing Pedercini team in World Superbike okay with him doing the race?I think they realized that the effort that they’ve got there is nowhere a long the lines of what this effort could be. Really, it can’t do anything but bring more recognition to the team. [Lucio] Pedercini is a buddy of mine, a guy I used to race against… I think he’s kind of excited to see my name back in the mix of racing as well. There was hardly even a hurdle there.Does it surprise you that you’re getting this opportunity and it’s not with Suzuki?I guess in a way it does, but at the same time I had gotten to the point where I’ve asked and I’ve asked and I’ve made sales pitches as best that I can. I’ve talked to Suzuki and the Japanese as much as I could to try and convince them that this is something that I wanted to do and to put a big effort in to get it done. I had made up my mind a year ago that if something else came to me, and it happened to be with a different brand, I wasn’t going to stand around and wait anymore. It’s just fortunate enough that it’s a wild card thing, a one-time deal. We may knock this thing out of the park and Honda may decide this is something they want to do full time. As it was in my racing career, behind every door there’s another opportunity and you just have to keep walking through those doors like it’s just a door. You have to see what’s on the other side and what life brings ya.What is going to be the biggest challenge for you in this role? Is there a lot of logistical stuff to take care of?Not really. With Kevin Erion on board… it’s going to be his truck, he’s helping put all the people together, he’s the one ordering the parts… for me, what I’m going to do my best with is trying to make sure our rider is as ready as he can possibly be. From the very first time he [Hayden] tests the bike – to riding it, to watching him and if we test at Barber maybe even being out there on the track with him and watching him and seeing what he’s doing and what he can do differently… Logistically, it’s an Erion effort and I will do my best with the rider. For the past six or eight years, that’s what I seem to enjoy the most and can assist the most with.We’ve heard that this is all leading to an American Honda AMA Superbike team with Mat Mladin as the rider…Whoa… Jiminy Christmas [laugh]. Like I said, behind every door there’s always another opportunity… but that’s nothing I’ve heard or have been talked to about yet. If something like that was thrown on my plate, I’d have to see what I think and sit down and think about what the future holds and either go with it or turn it back. But I haven’t heard anything like that. That’s a good one… a two-rider team, or just Mat [laughs]? The problem is I still don’t think anybody at Honda has enough confidence in what is happening at the DMG to do that.How is your confidence in the DMG? It has gotten better, hasn’t it?I’d like to say that it has, but then again the Cycle World Superbike thing… we sat down in a conference call with them once, and then sat down with them once, and discussed Cameron Beaubier riding the bike and they said, ‘Yes, move ahead, we love the idea.’ Young kid, spec bike and he will progress from his first time on a big bike with a couple of tests and start doing some racing and hopefully we get him inside the top 10 when it’s all said and done. That’s where the story was. Two weeks after, the AMA calls back and says, ‘you can’t do that we want you to run Eric Bostrom. ‘ That to me showed that there’s still not one person there who can make a decision. There’s got to be somebody there who is the go-to person… it was [Al] Ludington, it was [David] Atlas, it was Dave McGrath, it was everybody in on the conference call. Even the new PR guy. Initially, they liked the idea and thought it would work great. So behind the scenes, it’s still a mich-mash. Racing-wise, organization-wise, it’s gotten better for sure.

Paul Carruthers | Editor

Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.