Legends: Kevin Schwantz
Want a racer who delivered excitement? Think Kevin Schwantz.
He had spectators on the edge throughout his ten-year road-racing career – typified by his snaking pass on arch-rival Wayne Rainey in the last heavy braking area of the 1991 GP at Hockenheim.
Schwantz won 25 GPs and one championship in a great era, when 500s had 150 plus horsepower, weighed as little as 115kg and did not take prisoners.
“I’d say to myself this is going to be big, about the time I was doing the second flip. The silence is not a good thing,” Schwantz once told Australian journalists.
Schwantz emerged from a trials and motocross background in Texas, before riding Yoshimura-Suzuki Superbikes. His distinctive style and determination to beat Rainey set him apart.
Suzuki hired number 34 as a full-time GP rider in 1988 and he won the season-opening race at Suzuka. The following season he won the most races (six), but not the championship.
Many reckon he was the fastest in golden period that included Doohan, Gardner, Lawson, Mamola and Rainey. Championship honours finally came in 1993, but it was also the year Rainey was paralysed. Schwantz’ motivation wasn’t the same thereafter and he retired in 1995.
Post-career, Schwantz realised he missed out on having a mentor, in the way Rainey had Kenny Roberts. And his fortunes improved with the experienced Stuart Shenton as his race engineer.
“It wasn’t until Stuart joined the team in 1992 that he started pulling in ideas to change the bike to make it better. Up until then, I had been beating my head on the ground trying to win races even when the bike didn’t work.”
Schwantz and New Zealand’s Hugh Anderson jointly hold the record of 25 victories for Suzuki. In the late 1990s, Schwantz tried his hand at NASCAR racing. He now runs a riders’ school.