For Americans road racing overseas the year 2000 was a good one. Two World Champions were crowned – Kenny Roberts Jr. in Grand Prix and Colin Edwards in World Superbike. For both Roberts Jr. and Edwards it would mark their first World Championship, but for Edwards it was not his last. He would go on to win another World Superbike Championship in 2002, before joining Roberts Jr. in the recently rebranded Grand Prix Championship, MotoGP.
For this week’s flashback Friday, we go back to that year known as Y2K and our interview with the newly crowned Edwards where he talks about growing up, racing, and his championship season.
By Henny Ray Abrams
Colin Edwards left home when his stepmother caught him spitting in the shower. He was 14. The way he describes her brings to mind a cross between Norman Bates and Cujo. That she listened to him showering may prove his point. The spitting incident isn’t what caused him to leave, it was the smashing of the television.
Edwards started riding when he was three, racing when he was three and a half. He did it continuously until he was about 14, at which point he was burnt out. Instead of riding he was working, cleaning oil stains off garage floors with gasoline and kitty litter. It was hard work but it paid well and before long he’d made his first major purchase – a $250 color television. Embodied in that TV was everything he’d worked for to that point, which is why it hurt so much to see it destroyed.
“My dad’s new wife had problems with me. Come to find out she’s schizo,” Edwards says.
The argument over the shower incident had ended and she’d gone away, only to return with evil intent.
“She comes back, rips the TV off the counter and smashes it on the floor. I moved out the next day. It was just a bad situation.” With his father’s blessing, he moved in with a friend of the family. He’s been on his own ever since. “I think that’s halfway why
I ‘m the way I am,” Edwards says of his decision to strike out on his own. “I was out of the house early. I took care of myself early.”
Edwards recounts the story without the slightest a tinge of regret.
“It worked out good. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Edwards said from the driver’s seat of his oversized Dodge Ram dually driving from George Bush International Airport in Houston to Conroe, the town he grew up in and calls home about half an hour north of Houston. Edwards is driving, talking, and spitting. Because of his fondness for snuff – Skoal Rough Cut – he always has a can or a bottle nearby, anything to drain hi s lower lip of the syrupy mix that looks like a mixture of dinosaur pus and espresso. Once, at Monza, when he ran out of snuff, he broke open a cigarette and stuffed that in his gums.
Colin Edwards has a fiercely independent streak.
It’s in his blood. His father, Colin Sr., is an Australian who worked in the oil business and chased work wherever he could find it. The younger Edwards was born in Houston, then moved briefly to Australia, then to Aberdeen, Scotland. The Edwards clan settled back in Houston when Colin was three and he began to ride and soon began to race. The racing was extreme, Friday night and Sunday, up to three classes, two different bikes, 40 weekends a year, but there was never any pressure from his father. If Colin gave 110 percent, Colin Sr. would give 110 percent of his time and money.
“I thought we were loaded,” Edwards said. “Come to find out we were $40-50,000 in debt at the end of the year. It was never a matter of how we were going to pay the bills. The order was where was the race? Where were we going to eat? How were we going to pay our bills?”
Colin Senior’s prized possession was a Rickmanframed CB-750 with a supercharged engine. He traded it in for two Kawasaki KX-60s and a KX-80.
By the time Edwards was eight he had over 250 trophies. A house fire claimed most of them and the rest he donated to a local motocross track. He burned out on motocross by the time he moved out of his parents’ house. He was already a factory rider. Tom Halverson, who heads Yamaha’s road race team, worked on his machines at Loretta Lynn’s. When he was home he’d get picked up after school, ride for three or four hours, clean the bike, wash the filter, wash the riding gear, get ready to ride the next day, eat a little dinner, do a little homework, then crash. This went on for three years.
“My whole life to that point was riding,” he says. “It was good, but there was no time to be a kid. I was working for a goal that was 10 years down the road.”
Was it dedication, passion, or zealotry? A little of each, but mostly just that he’s an extremist. In the lake house he shares with his wife Alyssia and their three dogs for the three months of a year he’s home in Conroe, he works on his golf game. For hours at a time he’ll practice his golf swing on a piece of AstroTurf in the living room, irons and wedges first. When he tires of that he breaks out a few balls and putts them at a tin of Skoal on the living room floor.
Golf is only his latest passion following tennis, ping pong, bowling, and wakeboarding. When he was into wakeboarding, he’d do it day and night, his wife holding a spotlight on the pitch-black lake so he and whoever was driving the boat could see where they were going. Photography is also a passion, and his wife is often his willing subject. He has a closet full of equipment and a mini-studio on the second floor of his house. There is progress in his pictures, which are mostly portraits in black and white.
Racing was an extreme passion while it lasted. He remembers a race at Ponca City.
“Crashed big time, couldn’t hardly move my neck. I had a good chance of winning the stock class, but I was all banged up and beat to shit,” he recalls. “Dead last when I started out in the final. Finished I don’t know, 15th or something. At that point, I don’ t know, I scared myself; I crashed and was banged up. My dad pulled me to the side and it was kind of a heart-toheart moment and he said this next race could win or break or us for the next year if we get factory bikes next year or not. I had like five points going into the third moto. I was crying, he was crying. I know I can win. It was just one of those minutes I could never explain.
“I went out the next race, beat to shit, couldn’t move my neck, hurting like hell. Holeshot and just blew them away and won the National. I’m just that kind of guy. It’s not physical. If I perform, it’s mental -99.9- percent mental. It doesn’t matter what physical shape I’m in. If I believe I can win, I’ll win.”
He was 13 at the time and a year later he was out of the sport and on his own. At the end of 1988, he decided at Loretta Lynn’s that he was through with racing.
“Dude, I’m done,” he told his dad.
His dad thought he might go into road racing, but he wanted out. “If I started when I was six, seven, eight, I’d still be doing it. Instead I was three and a half.”
By then he was at Conroe High School, home of the Fighting Tigers, a school where he’d complete his education and meet his future wife, Alyssia, then, as now, a cute little redhead with a hint of the devil that redheads are blessed with.
In high school he says he “saw what kind of trouble he could get into – alcohol, drugs. I found I couldn’t afford it,” he says.
Eventually his older brother moved back to the area and they rented a house together. On Friday nights it became beer party central with crowds of 150 to 200. Inevitably the police would show up. “We’d lock the doors and wave at them,” Edwards says.
There were a few years when he didn’t race, didn’t ride. But, looking back on it, he believes his father had a master plan. When Edwards was 16 his dad bought a beater Yamaha FZR1000. It’d been loaded on a wrecker and the bodywork was destroyed. They cleaned it up and Edwards thought he’d like to ride it. He went to the motor vehicle department, passed the test, “and the next thing you know all of a sudden my dad didn’t own it any more. I was on the thing all the time. I got to where I could wheelie that son of a bitch through every gear, set it down at 130 mph and hope that the front forks wouldn’t break in half.”
His father remains a central influence, but now at a distance. Because Colin travels so much, he doesn’t get to see “Pops” as much as he’d like, and his father can’t travel like he once did. A few years back, the elder Edwards underwent a liver transplant and he’s had a rough time ever since. The course of anti-rejection drugs is brutal. It didn’t stop him from attending this year’s races at Laguna Seca and the final round at Brands Hatch where he got to see his son officially crowned World Champion.
They greet each other with a hug at his father ‘s apartment not far from Edwards’ house. Edwards Sr. looks well, but, on this day, he moves slowly. The house, which he shares with a trio of dachsunds, is filled with mementos of Edwards’ career, framed covers of Cycle News and lesser road racing monthlies, one now defunct. There are photos everywhere along with a few helmets. In the pictures, the younger Edwards appears only slightly younger than he is now, the buzz cut he wears now replaced by a vertical quiff. The smile is just as bright, the teeth, notwithstanding the years of snuff, just as white. Edwards appears ageless, though his body is a little thicker and tighter than it was when he started, even if he doesn’t work out much.
“In 1999 I worked my ass off and Fogarty still kicked my ass,” Edwards complains.
The world is available to his father through the Internet and he keeps in touch that way, monitoring the news on websites and communicating through e mail.
For a time, his father managed his son’s career, but now he’s more of an advisor. Edwards doesn’t have a manager, doesn’t want one. One of the highprofile moneymen offered his services for a mere 25 percent of Edwards’ earnings.
“I know what I’m worth,” Edwards says.
The Edwards’ men have been known to drive a hard bargain. There was the time when Edwards was in limbo after the 1997 season. He had an offer to ride for the Red Bull Yamaha WCM 500cc GP team. Most riders would have jumped at the chance, and the money wasn’t bad, but it was a third less than he’d made that year racing a Superbike for Yamaha, so he turned it down. Instead he ended up at Castrol Honda for even less money, but the chance to be on a winning race team.
“It wasn’t really until I got with Honda that I understood what we were out there for,” Edwards says.
For his 17th birthday his father bought him a Kawasaki ZX-7 and financed it with money he didn’t have. It meant they could ride together and one day his father suggested they ride to a local road-race track in Henderson, Texas. Local meant three-and-a-half hours away.
Jeff Covington was racing that day and Covington was a rider Edwards had beaten in motocross. “I thought, ‘I know I can do this,”‘ he says.
They remembered each other and he allowed Edwards to borrow his Ninja 250 on a practice day. Stuffing himself into his mother’s orange and black two-piece leathers, which matched his father’s old Rickman, Edwards went out and started dragging his toes, motocross style, elbows up, feet hanging down. “I came in and the first thing I told my dad is I can go fast on this thing.”
Before long he was endurance racing and winning and learning.
“And all it was was track time, getting more and more and more track time. The more I learned the faster I was and that was really instrumental into where I’m at today.”
He was hooked. “I’ve got 11 years, here I am, 16 years old, 11 years motorcycle experience, I may as well try to put it to use. From that point on I was looking ahead. I wasn’t even thinking about the alternative. I was thinking, I know we can go far with this. I knew that [Doug] Polen had come out of here and [Kevin] Schwantz had come out of here, and their stories are more or less similar. I knew that as long as I did the right things and knew the right people and kept winning, something might happen.”
As a Novice he rode a trio of bikes, a Yamaha FZR600 and TZ250 and Honda RC30, and he went undefeated. Novices started at the back of the Expert fields and there were some races where he beat all the Experts as well. At the Daytona Race of Champions in 1991, he won five titles and eight more at the WERA Grand National Finals at Road Atlanta. His sponsor was Eric Klementich, a fellow Texan who owned OTS, Oil Technology Services, the backer of Chris D’Aluisio. Edwards and D’Aiuisio would be teammates in 1992. In 1991, Edwards traveled to a few of the AMA rounds to enter the endurance races on his Novice license. He earned his provisional Pro license just before the final round of the championship at Miami and finished second to Jimmy Filice.
The following year would be defined by his yearlong battle with Kenny Roberts Jr. It began with Edwards, who rode the year with a broken wrist, winning at Daytona and ended with Edwards winning at Texas World Speedway – and there were three wins in between. He beat teammate D’Aiuisio for the title by 35 points.
“We had some good races,” he said of his brief rivalry with Roberts Jr.
One of the best was at Brainerd where they both looked certain to crash in every corner, but didn’t “Brainerd, he tracked me down and tracked me down and it come down to the last lap. We were both on the fine line. At the beginning of the year I think people expected Kenny and D’Aluisio. There was a little buzz about me in the air, but I think once the first race, after Daytona, I won that, then I think it kind of shifted. In my mind at that point, I was winning. We won five of the nine races. I think that year I was not so much lucky, but I think it panned out to where Filice was on the Honda that year and that was not the bike to be on that year. If he had run the Yamaha, who knows.”
The next year, he auditioned for the Vance & Hines Yamaha seat made available by the death of his friend Larry Schwarzbach. Schwarzbach was from Houston, and he was one of the riders Edwards looked up to. Vance & Hines brought their trailer to Henderson, the track where Edwards got his start, for a tryout.
“I knew the track like the back of my hand. I went out there and I was two or three tenths off of Jamie’s [James] times, first time out on the bike. I was happy with it. I knew there was a lot more there. At the same time I wasn’t a crasher. I didn’t want to go out there and chuck it down the road. I knew that I could go fast. I just needed to learn a little bit more.”
What he also realized is that he was developing something of a split personality. A week before a race, tension would develop between Edwards and his wife.
“Looking back I know I would demand some things or I would maybe be an asshole, but that was just knowing that I ‘m going to race and getting kind of in the mode, getting ready. It went on for probably about a year. And then finally we sat down one night and it was like, ‘okay, we’ve got to figure out a plan here. A week before a race, just let’s try to control this thing some way. Try not to mess with me too bad and I’ll do my damnedest not to nitpick at little things.’ We fought it pretty hard. Now we’ve just refined into a few minutes before and after a race. I think where it comes from, not that it’s a second personality, but it’s a pressure-packed personality. You’re about to go perform, you’re about to go put your balls on the line, you’re about to go do what you do best and you need to be focused.”
The two personalities still exist, but now they ‘re more controlled.
“I’ve got the easy go lucky, hang out, drink a couple of beers with the boys, relax. Nothing flamboyant, don’t get loud when I’m drunk. Don’t do anything really off the cuff. I do what I do. Three, four, five minutes before I get on the bike and probably about 10-15 minutes after I’ve gotten off the bike, I’m a different person – I switch into race mode. Whenever I’m in race mode, basically don’t fuck with me. Don’t mess with me. I have a job to do and I would appreciate it if you let me do my job. It’s just a matter of just a couple of minutes to focus. That’s the only thing about it. On the scooter riding up to the garage, I ‘m just a normal guy. But once I get in the garage and I’ve got photographers all over the place and I know I’ve got five minutes, start putting my earplugs in and start getting ready, I’m a different guy.”
There are occasional lapses.
“I do some things every now and then that I can lose my temper. It’s not that I’m a spoiled brat. Some people think I am when they see these things. I busted my fucking ass when I was a kid. I worked in a damned garage to make four dollars an hour. I sacked groceries at Randle’s to make $2.50 an hour plus tips. I’m by far not spoiled. It’s just my emotion comes out when I don’t win or when I don’t perform up to my capabilities.
“Once I get to the press conference I’m usually okay. At the podium straight after the race I’ll still be the other guy. I’m still the race guy. When I get to the press conference and questions are asked and this and that, I start to calm down and I’m back into the normal guy set. It’s not something I control. It’s just who I am. I get the race fever.”
His team knows how he acts and how to react and forgives him his occasional indiscretions.
“Monza, I owned it this year. I was a second faster than everybody. In the first race [Pier-Francesco] Chili beat me fair and square and kicked my ass. And I was pissed. And it stemmed from the week before when he sprayed me with champagne. I had won the first race at Donington. He sprayed me with champagne after the first race. It’s kind of an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement that we’ve got another race. I love Chili to death. He is probably the most awesome guy out there and we get along great. Good friends. I kind of didn’t make a scene, but I said, ‘Chili, we got another race.’ [This is at Donington]. ‘Okay, sorry, sorry.’ Sure as shit after the first race at Monza he was happy. I mean the guy is full of emotion. He’s nothing but emotion. He won the race and he was excited about it. He rode his ass off. And he sprayed me with champagne. And before I could catch it or even think about it I just dropped the champagne bottle on the podium. Which, looking back, it was stupid. Then again, that’s emotion coming out. I was pissed that I lost. And the fact that he just sprayed me with champagne when I got another race to go, the second weekend in a row, that just pissed me off more.”
Edwards finished sixth his first year on the Vance & Hines Yamaha team and wasn’t a world-beater the next year. By now he was in the house with his brother and his best friend, Mark Meyers. They worked, Edwards raced, and they all spent time on racing projects.
“We spent six months of our lives converting two KX80 big wheels and a YZ80 into lOOs. We’d stay up until three four in the morning, drinking beer, listening to the radio. Get the blow torch out welding, cutting, grinding.”
Early one morning while channel surfing, he came on an infomercial touting the benefits of positive thinking.
“Sold me on it. Picked up the phone, called them up, said I ‘ll take them. $39.95 or whatever it was for six tapes.”
The tapes were called Passion, Profit, and Power. Edwards only listened to the Power tapes. They changed his life.
“The key is to listen to them over and over, but I listened to them one time, gave a couple of minutes to think about it, tested out some theories and listened to them again. Now I’ve got the thing memorized.”
What the tapes taught him was to be supremely confident: To know something in your heart, not your mind. To removes words like ‘can’t,’ ‘won’t,’ and ‘hope’ from your vocabulary. “Hope…I hope I’ll win. You just replace it with ‘will.’ I will win. The key to the whole thing is to believe in your heart. The key to this whole thing is you can believe in your head all you want, but if your heart’s saying, ‘Man there’s some stiff competition out there, I don’t know, it’s going to be tough today,’ you’re beaten, you’re done, you’re finished. You might as well go home.
“If you wish for it, you’re not going to succeed.
You’ve got to know and you’ve got to be confident that you’re going to succeed. And I just turned that around into racing. I went to Mid-Ohio and I’d been listening to these tapes for a couple of weeks and I said, ‘Okay, well, lap record, pole position, and win the race. But, it’s easy to say it and it’s easy to lie to yourself all day long and it’s easy to think that. But what this guy really got across to me is that you’ve got to believe it wholeheartedly and you have to commit to it. I went there that weekend and people would ask me, ‘You haven’t won a Superbike race? What are you going to do?’ ‘I’m going to win.’ ‘Well that’s a little cocky don’t you think.’ ‘Well, that’s what I’m going to do.’ And you find that the more you commit, the more you start to believe in your heart. And that’s what really, really counts.
“I went there that weekend, new lap record, pole position, won the race. First race I’d won on a Superbike. Went the next weekend [actually two weeks later at Brainerd] and did the same. Went the next weekend [three weeks on] and did the same at Sears Point. Went three in a row there. That’s my whole philosophy; you can’t think, you can’t wish, you can’t hope. As long as you know, it’ll happen.
“And I see people all the time, Supercross, road racing, NASCAR, whatever sport may be. They get on the podium, or they finished fifth. You hear people say things aren’t going too good, I just hope to get on the podium today. Well that’s bullshit. Why even waste your breath. Getting on the podium is not getting on the top. That’s the only place to be. If I finish second, I’m pissed. If I finish 10th, I’m pissed. The only thing I’m happy with is winning.”
Which is what made the transition to World Superbike so difficult.
Edwards was the wunderkind who, along with Yasutomo Nagai, would spearhead Yamaha’s entry into World Superbike. At Yamaha’s U.S. headquarters, he was told that he didn’t have to win, and it enraged him.
“I still remember his name, Tom Watanabe, he sat me down in Cypress, California, and said, ‘Listen, we’re not too worried about you winning races, we just want you to go out there and give Yamaha a good image and be good to the fans.’ This was at the end of ’94, I’d just finished my last year here. That just pissed me off. Why am I here? Maybe in his mind he was saying there’s no pressure, but he was saying: ‘Don’t worry about winning any races.’ Whenever I got to Honda there was no other thought, ‘Just go win races. And that’s all we care about. We want Honda to win some races. The more races the better, and if the championship comes along with it, then great, but we want to win races.’ “
The years at Yamaha World Superbike were fallow, especially following his breakthrough in America.
“I never really was happy, but I knew that I put in the best ride that I could’ve put in on the day,” Edwards says. “And there wasn’t a lot of times I was happy with the results, but the way I rode I was happy. And I brought that out of it. I rode my balls off. I damn near crashed 10 times saving the front and just learning. I crashed the thing big time and I hurt myself quite a few times trying to ride it. I wouldn’t change that for anything. That right there is what taught me to ride it at its full limits. And once I got on a bike that was capable of winning, then I won.”
At certain tracks he was competitive, and Noriyuki Haga proved that if you ride with no respect for life you can win on the Yamaha, occasionally.
“I almost won a couple of races in Australia. He [Haga] won some races in Australia. Donington it went pretty good there. He won both races there. He started finishing sixth and eighth and I think it was for him… the first few races, I don’t know what he was running on, I want some of it. He was out to prove himself and in the process he hurt himself at Monza pretty bad trying to get the thing around the track – just the same as I did. You push the bike to its limit and then it bites you really hard.”
The handling wasn’t the problem, it just didn’t have the grunt and raw-speed power you needed. It would work at finesse tracks to keep it in line. At a power track, it was hopeless.
Compounding that were the problems Dunlop was having in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake. It wasn’t until his final year with Yamaha, 1997, that he began getting tires that he felt were up to the job. He didn’t get much chance to use them.
At the fourth round of the series, in Monza, Italy, he was knocked down in practice. The injuries kept him out of the rest of the year. Scott Russell flew the Yamaha flag and Haga would join him in 1998. Edwards was offered the Red Bull Yamaha WCM ride, but declined. He had nothing but a tentative offer for a private team with Yamaha support. Within a week he was on the Castrol Honda team, thanks to John Kocinski.
Kocinski had won the World Championship for Castrol Honda in 1997. It earned him a seat on Sito Pons’ 500cc team. Honda needed a rider and Edwards had just turned down the Red Bull offer.
“It was a blessing in disguise. I was out in the cold for a week. Finally, John [Kocinski] went to Grands Prix and we called up Honda and they said we didn’t know you were available and within a week it was done.”
The transition was quick and smooth.
“Third race of the year we did the double at Monza. That was for me, that was a big learning year, new suspension, new bike, new tires, some new places. Some places that year were hit or miss, big time. Sometimes we would take the thing off the trailer and it would work like a charm. Sometimes we would jack around with it all weekend and we couldn’t hit our ass with both hands.”
Going from Dunlop to Michelin was made easier by his extended lay-off.
“It had been so long since I had been on the bike, that by the time I got on the Honda I didn’t know what to expect. I knew what the tires did and stuff, but once I got on it, I just kind of learned the Michelins pretty quickly. I think I had enough time to actually forget about what the Dunlops felt like, got on the Michelins and then it was good.”
The RC45 had a fatal flaw. As soon as you let the front brake off, the front end would pop up and, nine times out of 10, when Edwards crashed it was by losing the front. New Zealander Aaron Slight was his teammate and Slight had developed the 45, so he knew to ride over the front wheel. “He was all over the front of it keeping it loaded. And my style slowly progressed into that throughout the three years I’ve been with them, but that’s just a Honda character. You look at Mick [Doohan] and they’re all over the front of the thing keeping the thing loaded and I looked and I learned and finally I started adjusting my own way of riding to get the thing around the track.”
The RC51 would be similarly problematic this year, and it wasn’t until late in the season that he got it figured out.
Edwards was second to Carl Fogarty in 1998 and again the next year, though he’d hoped for, and predicted, better. It was at the Nurburgring that his season disintegrated.
“I went into that year really ready, determined.
Probably the whole season shifted in one race, which was at Germany.”
In the first race he had a second-and-a-half lead when he hit oil in the first corner and rode through a gravel trap. He fell back a few spots, but was on the move when he crashed on the same oil patch. There’d been no warning, no flag, even though a total of six riders would crash.
“I just thought, if there’s oil there’s going to be a flag. That’s basically where my judgment was wrong. The race went on and I ventured kind of back out into the pack and crashed. I was already pissed, because I’d already had the win taken away from me right there.
“I lost a little faith in the whole organization there. Here you’ve got six bikes down the road and there’s still not a red flag out. I crashed in the oil there and I was pretty pissed off about that. I should’ve won that weekend. I was going better than everybody all weekend and I should’ve done the double and it was taken away from me by the organization, more or less. I crashed my good bike and I got on my spare bike and it wasn’t what I wanted.
“Up to that point I was 20 or 25 points behind Fogarty and then I crashed and he won. Then it went to 50 points instantly. Honestly, I think it was just myself. I just lost faith in the organization and what we were out here doing. Those guys were playing with my life for no reason.”
It took a few races to get the confidence back. At Brands Hatch he did another double. “By then the fight was kind of over. Fogarty was in.”
Entering the 2000 season Edwards was supremely confident. He’d had a hand in developing the RC51 and he knew how good it could be. The pre-season tests had gone well. In the opening round of the season at Kyalami, South Africa Edwards gave the RC51 its first major race win. Then Fogarty crashed in the second race at Phillip Island and the championship was wide open.
The saying for the last few years is that if you can beat the fastest Ducati you can win the championship. All of a sudden, Fogarty wasn’t there any more. Edwards never saw Fogarty at the opening round in South Africa where Edwards won one leg. In Australia, he says he felt Fogarty was struggling.
“He just wasn’t on like he normally was and you could tell by his riding and I think he saw the championship going away at the second race. He was down on points already. I think he saw the championship drifting away in the second race. However he crashed, he crashed. Obviously, it was just kind of take a step back and say we got it, win some more races, keep the thing on two wheels and we’ll have it. To be honest, at that time I thought this was going to be a piece of cake, really. Then again, I’m learning. There’s nothing in this world that’s going to be a piece of cake.”
Over the course of the 2000 season, Edwards went through nine or 10 sets of leathers.
“It just happened to be every time I crashed the thing I was on a brand new set of leathers. Thankfully, only two of them were in a race.”
The team couldn’t figure out why he kept falling. “We’d done pre-season testing and everything was halfway decent, the bike was a lot of, as long as you do the same thing you’ll be all right, brake the same place, turn the same place, because it worked the last lap, it’ll work this lap. Basically not a whole lot of feel with what the front was doing. And some times you did the same thing that you did the lap before and it would just go away. It was just after mid-season that we decided we needed to seriously reconsider what we’re doing here. So that’s when we jacked the thing way up and got a whole lot of weight on the front. We jacked it way up and in turn of jacking it up, we got a little bit steeper steering angle, a little more weight on the front and we were able to feel a little bit better what was happening and that’s what really turned us around, and we won four of the last six.”
The controversy of the season didn’t involve Edwards. It involved Yamaha’s Haga. The Japanese rider had tested positive for ephedrine, a banned substance that was an ingredient in the herbal supplement Ma Huang, at the first race of the year in South Africa. It would be three races before it came to public light, and it would be the final race of the year before there was a resolution. All season, Edwards raced as if Haga would keep the points he earned by winning in South Africa.
“We went the whole year, every race, after every race, we were giving him 45 points and taking off five points for me.”
That, like the punishment, was simple math for Edwards.
“When you’re caught with it in your system, take the points away, whatever, it should have been taken care of.”
Haga and Edwards are friends, and when Edwards saw the trimmed down Haga at the first race he asked how he’d done it. Haga freely had admitted that he’d used ephedrine to lose weight.
“He said he wasn’t even working out a whole lot.
Go sit in the sauna and do some stuff and the weight was just falling off of him.” He’d lost about 20 pounds. People don’t understand that that in itself is a performance enhancer. Whatever the ratio may be, I’ve heard seven pounds to a horsepower, whatever
you want to put it down to, that in itself is a performance enhancer. It was ignorance, really. He didn’t know that it was wrong, I know that for a fact. He didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.”
Rumors about his punishment were rampant. Initially he was going to get his points taken away. He was going to get banned for a year. He was going to get banned for a race. It all went in one ear and out the other. Edwards was willing to win the fight on the track. Yamaha wanted to fight with the FIM. When the races ended at the penultimate round in Germany, where Edwards did the double, he held a 52-point lead. Barring Haga getting his points back, and competing at the final race in Brands Hatch, Edwards was champion.
The final ruling came down just before Brands Hatch. Haga was out and Edwards, who’d already celebrated the title, was indeed World Champion.
There was little time to celebrate. By the time you get this, he will have been to England and South Africa, tested twice in Australia, visited Thailand and the Philippines, gone off-roading in the Canary Islands, and accepted his World Champion’s trophy at a ceremony in Monaco. Then he heads for an extended snowboarding vacation in Jackson, Wyoming, before the start of serious testing in January. Ducati has a new motorcycle and will start the season with a trio of very hungry riders.
Edwards wants to win more races and retain his title, but sees the Ducati team as the main obstacle. Bayliss, with a full season’s experience and a fresh start to a full season, will be formidable, he believes.
“I look for [Ben] Bostrom to come around. He knows the tracks, he knows the culture, he knows the people. He’s definitely got talent – he’s got loads of talent. I just don’t think he was ever really happy. The one race of the year that he was happy was Laguna. He had all his friends and family there. He just seemed to get along with the tires instantly and get along with the bike, get along with the track. I look for him to turn it around next year. He’s got a lot of pressure as well.” Bostrom was occasionally criticized for his off-track behavior, the fancy leathers and cowboy hats and disco ball in the motorhome. Edwards isn’t buying it.
“He knows when it’s time to switch into a different mode.”
In one way, the season may be less difficult. Haga has gone to GPs and Yamaha has pulled out of World Superbike, which was a body blow to the series. Edwards is a staunch supporter of Superbikes, believing that they draw nearly equal or bigger crowds most places, with some obvious differences. In Spain and Holland the GP’s are much more popular, while in England and the opposite is true.
“In my mind, Grand Prix has always been the pinnacle. I’m not going to deny that at all. It’s always the dream, the 500 Grands Prix. But, at the same Superbikes have grown well beyond my expectation. I first came to Superbike as a stepping stone to get Grands Prix, learn some tracks, learn the European mind frames, but it’s grown to such a caliber that I think it’d be silly to give it up to go to a lesser package that you’re not sure you can win on.”
Honda has a four-stroke Grand Prix machine in the works. It will likely debut in 2002 and Edwards knows it. Should he successfully defend his title, his ascent would be almost guaranteed. “I’ll have nine years experience racing four-strokes. If four-strokes do come into Grand Prix, who better to ride it than me?”
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