For the majority of us mere mortals, just winning a world title would be enough, but for two true World Champions from different decades, it was not. 12 world titles and 139 Grands Prix wins were not enough for legends Kenny Roberts and Valentino Rossi. Resting on their laurels was just not in their DNA. Kenny and Vale cared so much about a sport that had brought them fame and fortune, they fought to ensure future generations would benefit in the same way.
Vale brought such a brand-new audience to MotoGP™ with his riding, tricks and charm but even at the height of his fame, he was concerned about the future of his sport in Italy. The lack of Italian success and even riders in the smaller classes that had always been the breeding ground for future MotoGP™ stars was a worry. Instead of moaning, the nine-time World Champion did something about it. He formed the VR46 Academy, built the legendary training ranch at his Tavullia home, and fronted his own Grand Prix team. His support and belief in those young riders under his care has brought incredible results. When Marco Bezzecchi brought the Mooney VR46 Racing Team their first-ever MotoGP™ win in Argentina last week, it was the 17th time a rider from the VR46 Academy had won a Premier class Grand Prix.
Kenny revolutionized Grand Prix racing both on and off the track. He was never going to disappear forever onto the nearest golf course. The man who won three World 500cc titles and 24 Grands Prix. The Champion who smashed the European domination of Grand Prix racing with a sliding style never witnessed before, honed on the dirt tracks of America. A riders champion who took on the authorities in a battle for improved safety and prize money. He could have disappeared onto the first tee never to be seen again, but he didn’t
Instead, he led his own race team. First in the 250cc class with Wayne Rainey and Alan Carter and then into the 500cc premier class with the likes of Rainey, John Kocinski and Randy Mamola. Kenny built dirt track training circuits at his Ranch in his hometown of Salinas in California and at the new Grand Prix circuit in Barcelona.
Despite all the success at World Championship level for the likes of Kenny, Rainey, Spencer, and Lawson who were household names in Europe, they were virtually unknown back home across the Atlantic. I remember visiting Eddie Lawson back home in California when he switched from Yamaha to Honda. He was already a three-time 500cc World Champion, but his friends asked me over dinner one night what exactly Eddie did for a living. Kenny just could not understand why their World Championship achievements were not recognised by a patriotic nation. In 1993 he put in a massive effort to help organise the American Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, spearheaded by the three times Champion Rainey
Just one week before Laguna, Wayne was paralysed in that horrendous crash at Misano. Kenny was decimated but continued his crusade. Four years after the Rainey crash, he set up his own Grand Prix team based in England. It was tough, very tough, first in the two-stroke and then four-stroke eras. Pole position on the 500cc two-stroke ridden by Jeremy McWilliams was the highlight. In the end lack of sponsorship brought his dream to an end but he was rewarded in 2000 when his son Kenny won the 500cc title for Suzuki. The only premier class father and son duo to win world titles.
It’s a rare and encouraging story in the money-driven World of modern-day sport. Two true World Champions both on and off the track who cared about future.