Photography by Gold & Goose
Although Kevin Schwantz is currently heading back to his home in Austin from the Texas coast where he’d spent a few days fishing, apparently the 1993 500cc World Champion isn’t quite ready to spend all his days with a fishing pole in his hand. There’s at least a few more hours on a race bike in his immediate future as the announcement came out earlier today that the Texan will race in the Suzuka 8 Hour at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan in July – the site of his first 500cc Grand Prix victory in 1988 on a Pepsi Suzuki.
“I talked about doing it last year with one of my teammates from the 8 Hour, [Satoshi] Tsujimoto,” Schwantz said today on his drive back to Austin. “He raced in the AMA Championship in, I think, ’87 as my teammate. He mentioned it last year when I went over in March to do a big promo event they had going on at Suzuka. He put the idea out and we just didn’t manage to get it put together, but I guess there were people who saw that I was somewhat interested in doing it and that I’d get back on and ride again if the right opportunity was there. They spent another six or eight months working on it and they’ve got all the things needed to put forth a decent effort.”
Schwantz will ride alongside Noriyuki Haga and Yukio Kagayama on a Suzuki GSX-R1000.
“Kagayama actually replaced me on some Lucky Strike stuff as a wild card in Japan the last year I raced a Grand Prix there,” Schwantz said. “I’ve never raced with Haga or against Haga but I’ve watched how he rides and it should be a good fit.”
The 48-year-old Schwantz will be 49 by the time the race rolls around. He knows from experience just how physical the race can be in Japan in July, but also knows that the race consists of three-rider teams now – and not the two-rider teams from when he last competed there.
“Having it be three riders now… it used to be a really, really physical race and it still could be stinking hot and even an hour or two on the bike could be tough, but I think I’m up for it,” Schwantz said, who retired in 1995. “I’m fit enough I’ll add to my fitness some. I may not be 8-hour fit now, but I did an endurance race a Texas World a few weeks ago and I did an hour on the bike and saw what it felt like. I know what I need to work on to be better prepared and there are a few different tests coming up before the event. I think I will be ready.”
Suzuka obviously holds a spot in Schwantz’ heart with his upset victory in 1988 ranking as one of his greatest memories.
“I never have won the 8 Hour and I’m mot doing this thinking it's a possibility,” Schwantz said, before hedging on that bet. “Okay, yes, it’s a possibility but there are going to have to be a lot of things to happen right for us to win it. I don’t remember how old Senior [Kenny Roberts] was when he went back and rode it. I will be 49 when the race happens, so at almost 50 if I can still do that than I can consider myself lucky, very fortunate.”