Interview: Kevin Schwantz

Paul Carruthers | June 17, 2010

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Kevin Schwantz was winning the 500cc World Championship, so it’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since he started the Kevin Schwantz School at Road Atlanta. This weekend, the Texan will embark on his 10th year of the school and its second year at its new home of Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. We figured it was a good time to catch up with the 45-year-old to get his thoughts on the eve of the school’s 10-year anniversary. While we had him on the phone, we figured we’d also get his feelings on the start of the AMA Superbike Series at Daytona.So you’re about to start your school season off with the first one of the year. Is the first one the hardest one?It always seems like it is because we don’t know when we’re getting the new bikes and it seems like the new bikes always show up the week of the school. Then we have to hustle and get the bikes turned around, get the old ones moved out, get the new bikes all ready – water put in ‘em, safety wired, the tires changed. It’s a bit of a rush and it all seems like it’s pretty last minute for us. Once we get the first one up and running, it seems like everything else happens a lot easier. There’s space available for this weekend – Saturday and Sunday.You’re also headed back to Greece for a school this year… We go to Greece the week right after Jerez [MotoGP]. The school there is actually middle of the week, May 3 through the 9th. I will go to Jerez with Red Bull Rookie’s Cup and then I’ll go from there straight to Greece and then come home to another school at Barber, May 13-14.And you also inked a deal to do another school at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.We have two schools, Thursday-Friday, Saturday-Sunday, two, two-day programs the weekend before the Grand Prix at Indianapolis so we’re pretty excited about that and we might even get to a third a school there, but we’re not real sure about that one yet.We all know the economy is the way it is, but are you expecting a big year at the schools?We’ve only done the one year here at Barber, but I think the added attraction of what a beautiful facility this is… having the museum here, etc. When somebody looks at spending that money to come to a school, to come to a facility that’s as first class as this one is, and to have the opportunity to be in the museum, I think it adds a lot. Our program is pretty much the same as it was since its inception 10 years ago so it’s good. It’s a bit tough right now and we have to cut back on any extra instructors and we’re doing all we can to pinch pennies, but still give that top-level program to the people who do come.Did you come away with any surprises from Daytona?I think it all happened as expected. It was interesting for me to see and hear, I guess more hear than anything, about the changes that might be coming. Whether it’s the 200 going back to Superbikes, an increase in prize money… things they are going to continue to work on. Whether they are really going to try and get the factories back involved, like they need to be. Last year everybody, from a manufacturers’ standpoint, was so shoved to the side with ‘We don’t need you; we can do this without you.’ That way of thinking was in place last year seems to be completely different this year and I hope it all continues to go the way we would like it to and expect it to. The new guys have to show us now. They’re in place and they’re talking a great game now all they have to do is to do what they’ve talked about. I think they are genuine in what they are trying to do and hopefully… I think if we could get racing back to where it was with all the factories involved and try to find a way to cut back in testing and spending. The equipment has gotten less expensive now so if we can cut back on the testing and some of the other stuff that costs all those extra dollars, we might be able to get racing to turn motorcycling around for us. The sales from the manufacturers’ standpoint are really soft for the first couple of months this year as well so everybody is looking and trying to figure out what the problem and solution is from the manufacturers’ standpoint so we just have to wait and see over the next event at Fontana. If things continue to move in the direction that people want it to move, then racing will continue to grow and get better.Did Jake Zemke’s performance surprise you at all?I think from a Suzuki standpoint that we’ve always looked at the Jordan team and have known than the National Guard equipment was just great bikes and I think Zemke just got everything out of that package at Daytona. I’m not sure if you would have asked me the week before the race if I thought Jake Zemke would dominate both races, or run right at the front and win both races, I’m not sure I would have picked Jake Zemke to do that. It was a little bit of a surprise, but we all know what a talented rider Jake is. Give him the right equipment and he’ll do his best to get it as far up to the front as he can.What about your protégé Blake Young? He had some issues in the second race when he ran straight in turn one a few times. What did you think of his performance overall?I was expecting a lot more from Blake over the weekend. I think fifth in the first race and right there just on the tail of the lead group was a respectable result. We talked a little bit about what he should try and do different on the second day and I think more than anything he just got really impatient. He wasn’t paying attention to what the actual distance to the front was, he just realized at the time that he was seventh and wasn’t really moving to sixth, fifth and up to fourth. He was just kind of stuck there right then. He made a couple of little errors getting into the first turn and it’s easy to do that at Daytona. You get sucked into that draft and maybe there was a bit of a tailwind on that second day… and the next thing you know your eyes have gotten big and you’re out wide is where you are. He salvaged some points – definitely not the points that Blake wanted to get from the weekend, but we’re off to Fontana where we can get back to racing.And what about John Hopkins?For me John Hopkins was quite a disappointment. I understand the mechanical failure on the first day, but I guess the disappointment stems from what I heard as what the issue was on the second day – and that was that the shift lever felt slick and he thought there was some oil on it. For a guy who is coming from where he’s come from and to step into this field, I know from what I would try and do, I would be trying to everything I could to let everyone know that I was there to compete. That I was going to do everything I could at this level to try and run right at the very front. It just didn’t show much desire to me, on John’s behalf. He should have come in and maybe had a look at the thing… if there’s no oil on my boot on no great amounts of it down there, I’m going to continue going until something otherwise happens. I’m going to try and get the most out of that equipment, especially after having such a disappointing first race when he actually had a mechanical problem. Once again, Daytona is one of those places that really intimidates a lot of people – the speed, the banking and everything about it. And Hopkins has been used to, for the past six or eight years, racing on world-class Grand Prix and World Superbike level tracks so to be up there, that close to a wall for as long as you are, it might make me re-think things right now too.At the Fontana test, you could tell that John just hadn’t been on a bike in awhile and he ended up getting down to a pretty decent lap time. What John has to do now is figure out how to do that consistently so he can run with those guys up front and try and be more consistent.We heard you did a mountain bike race recently? We also heard you fared pretty well against Blake?We rode different classes, which are age specific. He could have stepped up and ridden my class, but he didn’t. The only thing we did was a time trial and I beat him by two and half minutes. It was a short track, kind of like a criterium but on the dirt, on Saturday morning and then Saturday afternoon we did a four-mile time trial that was actually part of the race course that we raced on for the Sunday race, which was a 23-mile cross country race. I was sixth in the crit, second in the time trial, sixth in the cross country race on Sunday, so for the three events in my age group in category one, I finished third overall. It was good. He [Young] was supposed to come to the school, but he stayed back in Texas and he’s doing a bunch of bicycle riding with some buddies of mine so hopefully we get him in the right frame of mind when he gets to Fontana.

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.