In­ter­view: ‘Fast Fred­die’ Spencer

With ‘Fast Fred­die’ Spencer com­ing down to In­dia Bike Week with Bike In­dia, TVS Rac­ing, CEAT Tyres, Mo­tocult, and Arai, we sat down with the rac­ing leg­end for a chat by the pool, talk­ing about ev­ery­thing from how it all be­gan to the NR500 and his ex­clu­siv

Bike India - - CONTENTS - In­ter­vIewed by: ASPI BHA­THENA & JIM GORDE Pho­tog­ra­Phy: SAN­JAY RAIKAR

we sit down with the liv­ing leg­end for an in-depth chat about his mo­tor­cy­cling jour­ney

Bike in­dia (Bi): How did it all start?

fred­die spencer (fs): I re­ally was in­spired by my mom and dad, brother and sis­ter, and their love of rac­ing and sport. It be­gan, for them, in the 1950s. My brother, sis­ter, and dad all raced gokarts. They stopped do­ing that in about ’58-’59. I was born in ’61, but they’re the rea­son I got ex­posed to it all. My brother was 11 and my sis­ter was 14 when I was born. By that time, my sis­ter had stopped be­ing in­ter­ested in go-karts and go-kart rac­ing was drop­ping off. The new thing in Louisiana, in that part of the United States, was mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing — en­duros, flat-track­ing, TT scram­bles — and it got my brother and my dad in­ter­ested. My dad had al­ways liked mo­tor­cy­cles. In high-school, he rode a bike. In my book [Feel, My Story], there’s a pic­ture I put of my dad and mom on bikes, and my grand­fa­ther and grand­mother, who I didn’t know were in­ter­ested in mo­tor­cy­cles. That kinda fell into place and af­ter a cou­ple of years I got in­volved, and had my first race when I was four years old.

Bi: How much suc­cess did you have in dirt­track rac­ing?

fs: Dirt-track rac­ing was a very im­por­tant, piv­otal part in my mo­tor­cy­cling, be­cause when I was two years old I fell in a leaf fire. It was very dif­fi­cult for my mom, specif­i­cally. I’d burned my hand up. I was run­ning and I tripped on a root and fell in. It burned the skin off my left hand. I had seven skin-graft op­er­a­tions from the time I was two till I was five years old, and it hurt every day. But the one thing I could do that al­le­vi­ated that pain and made it feel better was rid­ing. And I rode in my yard. That was on the dirt. It was slid­ing the bike. Through that process, I learned bike con­trol: how to re­ally, re­ally con­trol the bike, us­ing throt­tle and body move­ment, and de­vel­oped an in­cred­i­ble re­la­tion­ship very early in my life. And from that, all the rac­ing in the United States was flat-track­ing; even smaller than a quar­ter-mile. We’d run very short. Some tracks only first gear. Very tight rac­ing and very lo­cal. But the re­ally great thing was it was sup­ported by lo­cal deal­er­ships from all the towns around the part where I grew up, by a lot of mo­tor­cy­cle clubs. It was com­mu­nity driven and I learned, again from a very early age, rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle helped with my hand, it helped me de­velop th­ese skills of how to work with some­thing, work with the mo­tor­cy­cle, but I saw it in the way we all in­ter­acted to­gether, and that’s car­ried through my life. It’s given me the un­der­stand­ing of how to in­ter­act. Bi: What bike were you rid­ing? What did you learn on? fs: The first lit­tle bike I had was called Mini Trail 50. Be­fore that, it was a Briggs & Strat­ton

lawn­mower en­gine in a lit­tle tubu­lar frame — so sim­ple and not very fast. In fact, in its first race, when I was five, every time I turned to the right, my chain would get knocked off so I fin­ished dead last. It was a four-lap race. I fin­ished two. I fin­ished dead last. I was al­ways the youngest kid on the track. I learned in my yard on that lit­tle bike. And then the ‘Mon­key’, the minia­ture 50-cc Honda came out and that was my first real mini bike.

BI: When did you switch from dirt rac­ing to the tar­mac?

FS: My first road race hap­pened in 1973. I had been rac­ing since 1966. I was 11 years old and I’d seen a pic­ture in Cycle News mag­a­zine about a month be­fore that road race. It was a pic­ture of Kent An­der­s­son, the 125-cc world cham­pion, and Di­eter Braun. Now this is be­fore Kenny Roberts, be­fore any Amer­i­cans were road rac­ing. I also saw a movie ear­lier, called On Any Sun­day, the Steve Mc­Queen movie, and there were all th­ese lit­tle things that fell into place. See­ing this photo, I was just in­trigued by it. This far­away place I’d never heard of in Ger­many. About a month later, we ran a race in Col­leyville, Texas, and over the last week, they an­nounced they were go­ing to have a road race at a track called Green Val­ley. My dad had raced go-karts there and I said, “Dad, I want to race there!” We don’t have a bike or any­thing, and I knew if he asks Mr Carter, I know he’ll give me one. You’re 11 years old, you don’t know any dif­fer­ent. So, any­way, they agree.

The next morn­ing we go to the deal­er­ship and the only bike I could fit on was an RD100, the twin-cylin­der street bike. The class was 0-250 [cc]. So we got this bike. I could sit on it but I couldn’t touch ground. I could touch the han­dle­bars and Dad could hold me up. We go to the track and — I’ll never for­get this — we walk into this lit­tle area where they had the sign­ing in. So we’re stand­ing in line and they ask Dad if he’s go­ing to ride, and he said, “I’m not gonna ride, my son’s gonna ride.” And the look on their faces. They still tell sto­ries about it. They’ve never had a kid at a road race. Back then, there was re­ally no or­gan­ised cham­pi­onship. The only thing in ex­is­tence was the AMA Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship at Day­tona on Wed­nes­day of Speed Week and you could lit­er­ally win the na­tional cham­pi­onship by win­ning one race

be­cause there was no or­gan­ised se­ries. It was just a few years later that it ex­ploded. But that day in 1973, 11 years old, on the RD100, and Dad would al­ways tell me this story: he’d never been so happy to see me fin­ish last. It was my first track and I was very happy. I loved it. I fin­ished dead last, ev­ery­body was on 250s. The next youngest rider there was Pee­wee Glee­son and he was 21. Ev­ery­body else had rid­den their bikes to the track, taped up the lights and stuff. But it’s just some­thing I wanted to do. Less than year later, I’m rac­ing at Day­tona on a T125 — a bike like I saw in that pic­ture of Kent An­der­s­son — and I al­most won the cham­pi­onship but the bike seized with a few laps to go. That was when I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I had al­ways been one to come up pretty quick. My brother’s 250 I rode when I was nine. In a few laps, I was go­ing quicker than he was. I was al­ways able to adapt very quickly, which, of course, worked well for me in the world cham­pi­onship. It was years for the road rac­ing, be­cause there was no struc­ture, so my fo­cus till 12-13 was on flat-track­ing and I was just learn­ing that craft of bike con­trol rid­ing 100-125-250s and, within a cou­ple of years, the road rac­ing re­ally started to be­come or­gan­ised. My dad and I—I was 15 — were trav­el­ling all over the United States for 30 races a year for road-rac­ing. I was still dirt-track­ing, but it was not all. By the time I was 15, it was 70 per cent road rac­ing and 30 per cent flat-track­ing. BI: When you did 30 races a year, were you spon­sored or were you do­ing it out of your own pocket or was your dad sup­port­ing you?

FS: There were two ba­sic av­enues that pro­vided the funds. One was my mom and dad. They owned con­ve­nience stores. Dur­ing that time, th­ese mom-and-pop stores were very pop­u­lar and you could make a good liv­ing. Also, be­cause they owned the stores, we could travel. My dad could take time off. The other part that was just as crit­i­cal was the sup­port of the lo­cal deal­er­ships: Ed Pi­quet Ge­mon Bosie City gave me my first dirt-track en­gines. JW Gor­man’s Honda sent me my Mini Trail 50 and Ed Pi­quet my lit­tle ’duro. And then my first Yamaha was given to me by Dani Davers Yamaha Shreve­port, my TA125, or at least I got a good price on it. If it wasn’t for the sup­port of the lo­cal deal­ers and com­mu­nity, we could not have trav­elled all over. I also had good sup­port from my school. The prin­ci­pal al­lowed me to travel and do my home­work. Ed­u­ca­tion: very im­por­tant. Stay fo­cused. Even though I was do­ing good at rac­ing. We had the sup­port.

BI: What would you con­sider your ma­jor suc­cesses in the US be­fore head­ing across the At­lantic for rac­ing in Europe?

FS: I won state cham­pi­onships when I was a kid in flat-track­ing, en­duro cham­pi­onships, Louisiana State cham­pi­onships. Then once the am­a­teur se­ries of road-rac­ing started to come to­gether, and they had na­tional cham­pi­onships that started with re­gional and kind of a year-in cham­pi­onship. That’s when I started get­ting no­ticed and that’s when they had the cer­e­monies and things. This was all be­fore I turned pro­fes­sional at 16. So those cham­pi­onships, the re­gional and pro­duc­tion ones: the GP, TZ, TA125, TZ250 cham­pi­onships were re­ally when I started get­ting no­ticed. Those kinda meant the most to me be­cause it was more sim­i­lar to what it would be like as a pro­fes­sional. And I started get­ting a bit of sup­port, a lit­tle bit of help from Yamaha. Then when I turned pro­fes­sional in 1978, it was my dad and I on a TZ250 and that’s when I had a club race for the first time, like a na­tional cham­pi­onship. I started get­ting no­ticed in those cham­pi­onships.

I got my first con­tract with any­one, it was Arai hel­mets, in 1978. I got two hel­mets and $225 a month — which bought my first car! Those cham­pi­onships would be the ones that opened doors slowly to ob­vi­ously the day that came when I signed with Honda. Be­fore that, I would say 1979, Kawasaki was my first man­u­fac­turer spon­sor­ship. Our con­tract to race in a cou­ple of races. I won the su­per­bike races at La­guna Seca and Sears Point in the sum­mer of ’79. And un­known to me, Honda were putting to­gether Amer­i­can Honda, their first or­gan­ised road-race team in 1980, their su­per­bike pro­gramme, which was ul­ti­mately what I got the call for to be in­volved with. So it fell to­gether like that.

BI: You’re the only per­son to have won a race on the NR500 oval-pis­ton bike. Could you share your ex­pe­ri­ence about that with us? FS:

That came about af­ter I’d signed with Honda for the GP pro­gramme be­cause there was no ‘HRC’ or any­thing. 1981, I knew, and it wasn’t an­nounced yet, that HRC were build­ing a two-stroke Grand Prix bike. To be able to do it,

We don’t have a bike or any­thing, and I knew if he asks Mr Carter, I know he’ll give me one. You’re 11 years old, you don’t know any dif­fer­ent. So, any­way, they agree

they were cre­at­ing a com­pany called ‘HRC’. Mr [Shiochiro] Iri­ma­jiri had cre­ated this team. So, it was in July 1981. I’d rid­den the NR once at Suzuka just for a few laps. They wanted to bring it to Cal­i­for­nia to La­guna Seca be­cause there was no US Grand Prix at the time and they knew that they were go­ing to be build­ing this two-stroke. They’d built the en­gine al­ready. They wanted to let the Amer­i­can fans to see it. At that time, Amer­ica was the largest mar­ket in the world, as In­dia is now. It was the largest sport bike mar­ket. West coast Cal­i­for­nia got to see it run. They didn’t ex­pect very much be­cause it had never won a race, never saw suc­cess, never scored one point at a Grand Prix. The other rider that was there was Kenny Roberts. Kenny would al­ways do La­guna Seca, which was al­ways in July, be­cause it wasn’t the world cham­pi­onship event. I re­spected that as it was im­por­tant for the Amer­i­can mar­ket so Yamaha would al­low Kenny to come, more like a play race for him, he would wheelie around and stuff. Honda was there with the NR500 with me, and Kenny and I had al­ready de­vel­oped a lit­tle bit of a ri­valry be­cause of what hap­pened at the races in 1980. So it was a great op­por­tu­nity. I went out and I rode the bike. The first time it was amaz­ing to ride be­cause 1) it was like noth­ing I’d ever rid­den: it idled at around 7,000 rpm and the power­band, they told me, was 13,500 to 20,500 rpm. The first few laps I went around, it just didn’t have any torque so it just revved. But if it did have a lit­tle bit of power, it was between 17 and 20[000 rpm]. So I came in and told them that if we could gear it down some­how, I could go quicker. I didn’t know they had a cas­sette gear­box in this thing, I’d never seen one be­fore. So they did and, long story short... We didn’t have qual­i­fy­ing back then so no­body knew what lap times ev­ery­body got. They’d run a five-lap heat race. The lights start, I push start, and I got in front of Kenny on the start. For five laps I held him off and won the heat race. You would’ve thought we won the world cham­pi­onship, be­cause this bike, I can­not tell you how much bad press they’d got­ten. But it was an amaz­ing thing and I beat Kenny in the heat race. In the main event the next day, it broke, like it would do, a lot, it would break the valve springs. Lit­er­ally, the valve stems and springs would just col­lapse. This bike was so ahead of its time as far as de­vel­op­ment and the un­der­stand­ing and the ma­te­ri­als it used for dis­si­pat­ing the heat and things. Ev­ery­body talked about it be­ing a fail­ure but it wasn’t. It re­ally was Honda at their best of push­ing tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­op­ing things and try­ing things that no­body else would. We didn’t re­ally see the po­ten­tial in the NR500, but we saw it in all the V4 projects af­ter that, In­ter­cep­tor, all of those. BI: Just a cou­ple of years later, you won your first cham­pi­onship in 1983? What was the feel­ing like? FS: Re­flect­ing back, at the time the one thing I was think­ing about was that there was no next year. One of the dreams I had, once I re­alised road-rac­ing was what I wanted to do, I’ve al­ways said, was his­tory. It’s such an im­por­tant part of un­der­stand­ing what you’re do­ing in the present is to un­der­stand the past. It’s what I try to tell younger rid­ers. What­ever you wanna do, un­der­stand the past, the his­tory, it gives you what you should be do­ing and why it mat­ters, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of what you’re do­ing. So I was al­ways like that and one of the goals I had was that I wanted to be the youngest world cham­pion, es­pe­cially once Kenny [Roberts] got there, I could see my own path of re­ally get­ting to the world cham­pi­onship. Once I got the Honda, once I won the races in 1980, I beat Kenny [Roberts] and Barry [Sheene] when I was 18, at Brands Hatch and I knew that’s where it was go­ing: to be the youngest world cham­pion. Be­cause of my choice to not leave Honda, even af­ter the NR didn’t work, I was get­ting of­fers to sign with other com­pa­nies. Honda ac­tu­ally said that if I wanted to get out of my con­tract I could, but I stayed be­cause I be­lieved that’s where I should be.

So, now, it’s 1983, the sec­ond year of the GP pro­gramme. We’d al­ready won a cou­ple of races the year be­fore. This was go­ing to be Kenny Roberts’ last year; that was cer­tainly an im­por­tant part for him. He was gonna be at his best. It was also gonna be my last year I if was gonna break Mike Hail­wood’s record, it would have to be that year. There was also the pressure, even though it

was only HRC’s sec­ond year, be­cause of all the money they’d spent on the NR project, there was a lot of pressure from them from the head of­fice: ‘We need the 500 world cham­pi­onship’. Also, Mr Honda, who had been wait­ing ba­si­cally for 40 years to win the 500 world cham­pi­onship. He had two dreams when he started the com­pany: he wanted to race and win at the Isle of Man, and win the 500 world cham­pi­onship.

This was 1983 and I’d al­ways have a say­ing on Satur­days when we talk about the bike and the best that we could get was that there was no to­mor­row. That to­mor­row was up to me and we had to do it. So there was a lot of pressure on my­self and on the team. It was an amaz­ing year be­cause of the bat­tle with Kenny and the fact that out of the 12 races, he’d won six, I’d won six. We had the same amount of sec­ond places, but he had a third and a fourth, and I had two thirds. That was the dif­fer­ence. We had the same amount of DNFs [did-not-fin­ish re­sults]. Just the con­trast between our per­son­al­i­ties, our rid­ing styles, the V4, he was on the V3, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the bike, all made for a great cham­pi­onship.

BI: What was the dif­fer­ence between the four­cylin­der and the three-cylin­der bikes?

FS: The four-cylin­der’s ad­van­tage was very spe­cific. From my per­spec­tive, and it was more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple out­side to see, and was more pro­nounced as he went on, it was ac­cel­er­a­tion. He would jump me. Ev­ery­thing I had to do on cor­ners, entering mid-cor­ner to get a run on him, and that was just to counter-bal­ance. Once he’d be­gin to ac­cel­er­ate, he would jump, but with my run, I could kind of negate it a lit­tle bit. In fourth, fifth, sixth gear, they were pretty sim­i­lar. In the be­gin­ning, I’d have a lit­tle more top speed, but once we got to Sil­ver­stone in Au­gust, he was not only ac­cel­er­at­ing better, but his top speed was better, too. Just the fact that Swe­den and Imola, the last two races, helped bal­ance it out, but that was the main ad­van­tage. I wouldn’t say it was the nim­ble­ness of the three-cylin­der en­gine, like a lot of peo­ple thought, be­cause our bike didn’t re­ally steer very well, that’s why you see pho­tos of me in ’83 a lot of times with the front-end tucked. I was ac­tu­ally forc­ing it, to drive it in, then the rear would ro­tate around and I would save it; which is what Marc [Mar­quez] does. It’s the rear that saves his front crashes.

BI: In 1984, you also rode the rad­i­cal NSR500 with the petrol tank be­low the en­gine and the ex­haust un­der the dummy tank. What was that ex­pe­ri­ence like? What sort of prob­lems did you have with the bike?

FS: I was so look­ing for­ward to Kenny af­ter we won the cham­pi­onship in 1983. I got to meet Mr Honda for the first time. Now we go to Suzuka to test the V4 for the first time, lit­er­ally the Mon­day af­ter. I hadn’t gone home yet. And I’ll never for­get, I hadn’t seen the bike first-hand, but I’d heard ru­mours about it but didn’t know ex­actly what it was go­ing to be. When I walked in, it was al­most the same re­ac­tion that we had the first time we saw the three-cylin­der (it’s miss­ing a cylin­der!) be­cause ev­ery­body else had V4s. With this V4, the gas tank they had the fair­ing on, was on the bot­tom, the pipes over the top. The look on our faces — it was amaz­ing be­cause it was beau­ti­ful in its com­plex­ity. I had no idea what it was go­ing to be like to ride it but I knew right away the first time I rode it that it was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent. One, it was the first bike to run a ra­dial tyre, which no­body had run be­fore. The other, its char­ac­ter­is­tics. And, at Suzuka, I no­ticed right away at the right-han­der at Spoon, the dou­ble-left lead­ing on, very sta­ble, es­pe­cially with a full load of fuel, but right away the big­gest prob­lem, I knew, we had was ground clear­ance be­cause they’d done all the de­vel­op­ment work with the bias-ply tyre be­cause ra­di­als were not around then, in the early part of ’83, when I was do­ing all the de­vel­op­ment work.

Right away, with the grip from the ra­dial, I was drag­ging. That was ba­si­cally the first nail in the cof­fin for that tech­nol­ogy and that bike, be­cause as soon as I got on it and pushed it, it fought harder with the ex­tra grip of the rear ra­dial, and that ground clear­ance, the only thing they could do was nar­row the bot­tom of the bike. What that meant was they had to take away the baf­fling in­ter­nal sta­bil­i­sa­tion they had be­cause we had to save the same fuel ca­pac­ity, and they also had to start mov­ing up the lit­tle in­lets, just try­ing to keep the ca­pac­ity but give me more ground clear­ance, so I’d go quicker. And, as the tyres started im­prov­ing, that’s ba­si­cally what caused us the prob­lems in ’84; the crash at Don­ing­ton.

There was also an issue with the pipes be­ing over the top, be­cause of the V con­fig­u­ra­tion, it was just so tight that they had prob­lems at al­ti­tude when the air was thin­ner. Not enough cool air in them. So it af­fected the en­gine per­for­mance. It was a process that didn’t work very well. If I would’ve run the ’84 three­cylin­der, I mean, you can never say for sure, be­cause you don’t know, but, every time I rode it, I won on it, and I wouldn’t have had the crashes I’d had, be­cause we wouldn’t have had the prob­lems of in­sta­bil­ity. You never know, but I prob­a­bly could have won the cham­pi­onship in ’84 on the three-cylin­der. But, what we learned from that — I’m one of those half-full in­stead of half-empty — if you look at the sit­u­a­tion, you’d un­der­stand, just like the NR500, maybe only won that one race. And it won in the rain at Ja­pan. It taught them a lot about en­gine tech­nol­ogy. What the ’84 bike did was it showed us what didn’t work, which was the be­lief at the time.

If you put one of my three-cylin­ders of 1983 against one of the 500s from 1990, there’s no com­par­i­son in the ride height, the size, the rear end, the rake and trail, all those things. It was the ’83, es­pe­cially the ’84 bike that taught us that. So we learned from that rad­i­cal de­sign, and, so, the ’85 bike, the con­ven­tional one, which was my favourite bike, not just be­cause I won the cham­pi­onship on it, but be­cause it was such an im­prove­ment right away not only in feel, in the brak­ing and ini­tial turn-in, but how it turned on the side of the bike, on the edge of the tyre. It ac­tu­ally would fin­ish cor­ners. And, just the

over­all bal­ance in the feed­back, it was in­cred­i­ble. That ’85 bike is what ba­si­cally be­gan the whole NSR500 win­ning, even though I won a cou­ple of races on the ’84 bike. But, it was that bike that, for the next 16 years, helped the Honda NSR500 be­come the most suc­cess­ful Grand Prix racer in his­tory. And I’m very proud of that, ac­tu­ally. I’m very proud to be in­volved with that. That al­lowed Wayne Gard­ner to win the world cham­pi­onship, Mick Doohan, Eddie Law­son, and Valentino [Rossi], you know.

BI: In 1985, you pulled off ‘The Dou­ble’, win­ning the 250-cc and 500-cc world ti­tles. Did you have to work on your fit­ness, be­cause, more than the 250s, the 500s were tough to ride. What was that like?

FS: Right away I knew it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult, not only phys­i­cally, but in my mind­set and that prepa­ra­tion. They were two very dif­fer­ent mo­tor­cy­cles. It had been five years since I’d rid­den the 250, ba­si­cally one race at Day­tona, March 1980. The last year I raced the 250 in a cham­pi­onship was ’79. So, here we are at the end of 1984, five years later, and I had no idea how much quicker or more dif­fi­cult the 250 had be­come to ride. Honda didn’t have a 250. A lot of peo­ple don’t re­ally know that. When I brought up the idea in June of ’84, it was [Sa­toru] Hori­ike

san who had three months, and he ba­si­cally de­signed and built this 250. It was an in­cred­i­ble project be­cause they gave him a clean sheet and he was able to build this bike from the ground up. It was the first bike that had the in­ner Prolink and more trail. It was the baby of what the 500 would be­come.

Other than just the bike de­vel­op­ment, there were the other things: prac­tice ses­sions be­ing back-to-back, the fact that at that time, in the mod­ern era, we were re­ally al­ready into so much to set up, sus­pen­sion-wise, with the im­prove­ment of the ra­dial tyres. There was a lot of de­brief­ing, a lot of de­vel­op­ment work and things that were go­ing on in between races, and so, the rider — with no teleme­try, we were the teleme­try — so, phys­i­cally, you’re re­lay­ing in­for­ma­tion that’s crit­i­cal not only to the crew and the chas­sis sus­pen­sion as­pect, but en­gine per­for­mance, be­cause we could do a lot of change in there: cylin­ders, pipes, move that around, and Erv [Kanemoto] and I spent hours look­ing at the trans­mis­sion gear-ra­tio sheet try­ing to get 50 rpm here or what­ever, you didn’t have a switch or any elec­tron­ics, it was all that. And, then, the tyres. I spent so much time with my tyre en­gi­neer, again, we didn’t have just three choices, we had 20 choices of tyres, and my in­put would de­ter­mine what would be built for next week. It was a lot. And I had two of those that year. That is what, I re­alised very early, was go­ing to be the most dif­fi­cult part: re­lay­ing the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion, keep­ing it sep­a­rate. And once we got into win­ter test­ing in Aus­tralia in 1984, there was a lot of sit­ting down and ba­si­cally sim­u­lat­ing what that was go­ing to be like. So, I would say, “okay, to­day,” be­cause we were there eight days, “to­day I’m go­ing to do ev­ery­thing back-to-back.” I’m go­ing from the 250 to the 500 and then sit down with ev­ery­body and go through a de­brief. That’s what, over time, re­ally was the most chal­leng­ing, tir­ing part, and the emo­tional as­pect, the men­tal part.

For ex­am­ple, at the Ital­ian Grand Prix, at Mugello in May of 1985, the 500 race was first, and I’m stand­ing on the podium, and they’re play­ing the na­tional an­them and, lit­er­ally, be­fore it was even fin­ished, ba­si­cally right when it was fin­ished, they were let­ting the 250s go out for the sight­ing lap. I’m still on the podium! So I popped the cham­pagne, couldn’t drink any. Nor­mally, most week­ends I’d have the time to go back to at least change a T-shirt, drink two bot­tles of wa­ter, and put on a fresh set of gear. I didn’t have time. I ba­si­cally handed the bot­tle of cham­pagne to Eddie, and I’ll never for­get, he goes, “Better you than me!” be­cause I had to race and we were ex­hausted from the 500 race. So I went to the pits as fast as I could and every rider, every bike had left, but Tony [An­ton] Mang. Tony ac­tu­ally was my main com­pe­ti­tion and he sat there. He’s Ger­man, he didn’t say much. He was just stand­ing there and I look and say, “Tony!” And then we went off and went to the grid. I talked about it in the book [Feel, My Story] I was feel­ing re­ally en­er­gised. I thought I was feel­ing okay, so we did the warm-up lap and came back again. At that time, it was push-starts so we had to kill the en­gine. The si­lence was deaf­en­ing. With thou­sands of peo­ple, you could hear a pin drop. So I’m there and I’m ready to go. And they dropped the flag; they used an Ital­ian flag to start. I go to push, and the bikes just start to go

whoosh, whoosh and I’m push­ing and I get started, and like, ev­ery­thing’s in slow mo­tion. That’s what it felt like. And I come around, and

on the video, and I’m in like 19th place — the one thing that I didn’t want to hap­pen was get a bad start. And I didn’t think I got it bad. I don’t know what hap­pened. The reality was, my dream was up, but I was ex­hausted, and got my sec­ond wind, and so I think I’m push­ing at real speed, but I wasn’t! Ev­ery­one said I kinda looked like I was in slow mo­tion. And I get on the bike and it about half­way through the race I caught the lead­ers. I ended up win­ning both races that day. It was the first time, about six races in, the Ital­ian GP, when I fi­nally won both races. It was an amaz­ing day, and the most dif­fi­cult week­end to do it. I don’t know how I was able to do it then.

BI: You’ve rid­den the mod­ern-day Mo­toGP bike with all the elec­tron­ics. Do they make it better or worse? Was it eas­ier to ride than the old 500-cc two-stro­ker, or more dif­fi­cult?

FS: The first time I rode a bike with elec­tron­ics was the very first [Honda] RCV, the 211. It was in Motegi in Oc­to­ber 2001. Honda were the first to début the bikes. Yamaha were work­ing on theirs, but they hadn’t shown any­body. And Honda were the first to show the bike, so they in­vited Mick [Doohan] and I to come and ride the bikes, do a cou­ple of laps, show the world what th­ese bikes were like. There’s a video of me com­ing on the front straight and Mick’s be­hind me and we’re ac­cel­er­at­ing, it breaks trac­tion, and cor­rects it­self and we go on. And so we do three or four laps and come in, and we’re sit­ting in front of press, and they’re ask­ing ques­tions about the bike. Fi­nally, some­one goes, “What do you think about elec­tron­ics?” And this is what I said 16 years ago. I said, “It’s go­ing to be the most in­cred­i­ble thing for the av­er­age rider.” And I meant a lot more than the av­er­age rider, be­cause it’s go­ing to help them on the road, if you’re go­ing along and you hit some­thing slick, it’s amaz­ing. I’ve rid­den BMW bikes, off-road bikes, a mod­ern Fire­blade. It’s come along from that day in Motegi when I rode it where it was more re­ac­tive to proac­tive and you don’t no­tice it. It also helps Grand Prix rac­ers that maybe aren’t as smooth with the throt­tle in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. It helps a mo­tor­cy­cle that doesn’t have a very good power­band, it smooths it out, al­lows a rider that’s not very good on ini­tial throt­tle, and you have a bike that’s very peaky, elec­tron­ics can help with that. So it’s pretty good.

The flip­side to that is the ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing. I al­ways said my only issue with elec­tron­ics would be if it in­ter­fered with my rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I hear peo­ple of all abil­ity lev­els and ages, not just older rid­ers, but younger rid­ers that specif­i­cally say they don’t re­ally wanna have elec­tron­ics; they want to ex­pe­ri­ence mo­tor­cy­cling in its purest form. I’m happy I came along at a time when it was all de­pen­dent on what I did — my abil­ity of throt­tle con­trol, to an­tic­i­pate, be­cause even fuel-in­jec­tion has made that eas­ier. Back in the days with car­bu­ra­tion, you’d move the throt­tle and the slider would move but the en­gine didn’t re­spond, and you had to an­tic­i­pate that, you had to learn to look ahead and an­tic­i­pate ex­actly where the bike would end up in front of you. All of that and those skills, when I ride a mod­ern bike with elec­tron­ics, and I’ve had the best of both worlds, and so, I’m not one of those that doesn’t think elec­tron­ics doesn’t have a place. I think it does. When I rode the mod­ern Fire­blade at Por­timão, at the world launch, I’m out there with Tito Ra­bat, Ste­fan Bradl, or even Nicky [Hay­den] — it was the last time I saw him, and we rode to­gether. And it helps, in cer­tain ar­eas. And so, I think it has its place. But, if we al­ways have a choice, if we can al­ways have a per­sonal choice, rid­ing a bike is all about that per­sonal free­dom. You’re in ac­tion, that in­de­pen­dence is in­di­vid­ual, you’re re­spon­si­ble.

BI: This is your first time in In­dia. What do you think?

FS: Well, I want to thank you, Bike In­dia and TVS Rac­ing, and the or­gan­is­ers of In­dia Bike Week for invit­ing me and hav­ing me and kinda giv­ing me one of my goals. I al­ways wanted to come to In­dia and in all those years, I never had the op­por­tu­nity. Af­ter com­ing here, the plea­sure of see­ing the amaz­ing cul­ture. One of the great things about our time on this earth is our di­ver­sity, our dif­fer­ences. That is in­spir­ing and also very en­rich­ing. It makes us strive when it makes us un­der­stand each other and when we get the op­por­tu­nity to share that, it’s price­less. And it’s mo­tor­cy­cling, as I’ve talked about it, that gave a kid from Louisiana, at 11 years old, a chance to see the world and, more im­por­tantly, to share the world with oth­ers, and share mo­tor­cy­cling with oth­ers. It’s such an ex­cit­ing time in In­dia just at the be­gin­ning of what mo­tor­cy­cling is. It was in­spir­ing when we were rid­ing from the air­port to see all of th­ese kids on scoot­ers. Cer­tainly, some of them were go­ing from point A to point B, but if we can ed­u­cate them, and through events like In­dia Bike Week, show them what the com­mu­nity of mo­tor­cy­cling is ex­actly and all that you get to share through mo­tor­cy­cling, not just rid­ing a bike. I got the ex­pe­ri­ence, trust­ing my­self, to get to Mr Honda’s house, cer­tainly to achieve, to teach and to share, and I feel like In­dia is a place that that is just in the be­gin­ning, and it’s just amaz­ing. The smile on peo­ple’s faces, it’s en­gag­ing. Last night, the first night at In­dia Bike Week, when I was up on stage and I was talk­ing about what mo­tor­cy­cling has given me, and the look on peo­ple’s faces, on young peo­ple’s faces, young gen­er­a­tion, old gen­er­a­tion, and all of that, was an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment. I was priv­i­leged to share that and I look for­ward to many more.

We didn’t have just three choices, we had 20 choices of tyres, and my in­put would de­ter­mine what would be built for next week

Fred­die and his Briggs & Strat­ton bike in his yard

An all-round nice guy, Fast Fred­die en­joyed speak­ing to us

Sum­mer of 1972: Nine years old, on a 100-cc Yamaha at Ross Downs Speed Way in Dal­las Fred­die (the lit­tle boy with the hel­met) and the big boys — Louisiana Sum­mer of 1964, Caddo Speed Way

Day­tona, March 1980: the newly formed Amer­i­can Honda Team Hero Bel­gium 83 (for so­cial)

First in­ter­na­tional race: Match Races — USA UK, April 1980, Easter week­end

At Spa in Bel­gium, 1983

Su­per­bik­ers event, 1980

Push-start­ing the NS500 at the Ger­man GP in Hock­en­heim, 1983

Cel­e­brat­ing with the team in Swe­den 1985 as dou­ble world cham­pion

Fred­die with Soichiro Honda in his house in Tokyo, 1983

Astride the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Honda NSR500

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