“My first question when I heard that was, why?” Why did reigning World Champion Casey Stoner announce that his MotoGP career would end at the conclusion of the 2012 championship? That’s what Wayne Rainey wanted to know. And he wasn’t alone. Everyone in motorcycling wanted to know why Stoner would quit while at the very pinnacle of the sport. But Rainey, like fellow 500cc World Champions Kenny Roberts and Kevin Schwantz, has a special insight into the mind of a champion and understands, more than all but a few, what it takes, as Roberts says, “to get up every day and bolt them leathers on and be the fastest guy.
“I think it’s okay,” Rainey said. “I think it took a lot of courage to step up there and say something like that when you’re at the top of your sport and you’re leading this year’s championship. You’ve won championships already. He obviously had some time to think about it. And he’s absolutely 100 percent right. If you don’t have the passion, if you don’t have the desire to go do everything it takes and still put up with those sacrifices, it’s not worth it. You never know when the perfect time it is to actually walk away from the sport and sometimes people do stay too long.
“Obviously, he doesn’t enjoy it and I can definitely relate to that.”
By the time Rainey’s career ended in a gravel trap in Misano Adriatico, Italy in 1993 he no longer enjoyed racing.
“From my experience, I wasn’t enjoying doing what I was doing at the end of my career,” Rainey said. “And I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to go. I had kind of a forced retirement. I think Casey’s doing the right thing. Only he knows inside his mind and in his heart what he truly feels when he’s out there taking the risk. And I’m okay with it. I’m completely 100 percent behind him.”
Travel is one of the biggest drains on the riders and their families. That they fly first class lessens the string, but doesn’t erase it. Rainey, Schwantz and Roberts share with Stoner the distance of home. Even though he has a European base in Lausanne, Switzerland, Stoner’s home is in Australia.
“It’s not like he can just go home after each race. Being an American and racing over there, it’s a huge, huge sacrifice. It’s much, much different than what the Europeans have to commit as far as having that home base.”
Rainey and Roberts had homes in Spain, while Schwantz spent much of the time between races on the continent.
From Stoner’s comments, Rainey believes he still has the passion to race a motorcycle, but the patience to put up with the ancillary headaches are what drove his decision. Stoner specifically mentioned the media; Rainey mentioned the rise of social media, “and the only time away from that is when you’ve got your helmet on and you’re actually on the bike and you’re out there doing what you love to do. That part it sounds like he still loves to do. It’s all the other crap. It’s the way the sport is; it’s the way the world is. To just show up and race would be the ultimate job, but there’s so much more to it. And, obviously, he’s tired of that stuff. You just gotta be able to enjoy the whole process. And if you’re frustrated and you carry that over when you put your helmet on, that’s not always a good thing.”
Roberts agrees that if a rider isn’t driven to win World Championships, it’s in his best interests to walk away.
“I mean, the thing is to go out and put that bike in a position to win World Championships day in, day out… testing. You know, there’s a lot of bricks that get put in your backpack and every year there’s a few more. And after a while - I always said the same thing - when I no longer eat, sleep this thing, I’m done, because it’s a lot of work.
“Of course I had children, so that was another reason. If it’s not the main thing in your life, I don’t believe you’re going to be good at it. So maybe he wants to quit on top, because when you’re heart is no longer in it you’re not going to push it to that limit day in and day out, and maybe that’s what he’s thinking about. Maybe it takes too much out of him to push it to that limit now.”
Schwantz got word of Stoner’s announcement in a text from Yamaha’s Ben Spies. At the bottom of the text Spies wrote, “‘Stoner’s just announced his retirement.’ And I thought, ‘Are you f*&kin’ jokin’? How old? 26. Wow! I guess that’s probably all I can say is, wow! I would have never suspected that. I haven’t read anything.”
Once Schwantz was made aware of Stoner’s reasons, his take on Stoner was that he’s “always kinda been his own person and if that’s what he’s decided, that’s okay.”
Schwantz had been critical of Stoner earlier in his career, but after watching him in last year’s championship the Texan had newfound respect for the Aussie. Now he thinks MotoGP will miss him after he’s gone, though his rivals may not.
“I think the sport will miss him, but I’m not sure all his competitors will,” he said, adding “and I don’t mean that in a negative, I mean that in a positive way, because you’re not going to have to figure out how to beat him.
“I guess I’m just very surprised, but I’ve always been a pretty firm believer in the fact that a child is always going to change the way you think about life in general. Maybe he wants to be a more hands-on father and he wants daughter to grow up in some atmosphere besides racing.”