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The Freddie Spencer Interview

I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending an hour with Fast Freddie Spencer, one of the greatest road racers that America ever produced – and it really was a pleasure. He is a friendly, sincere and proud man; proud not only of his achievements, but proud of his life as a whole.When you meet Freddie, it soon becomes clear that there are a handful of principles that make Freddie who he is. He is a fiercely religious man, clearly accepting that his success was driven not only by his obvious skills in the saddle, but also by the firm belief that his faith would see him through.

Freddie Spencer INterviewFor those unaware of his huge achievements, Freddie is a triple world champion. In 1985 he became the only rider to win the 250cc and 500cc Grand Prix World Championships in the same season. And without him, it would have been very unlikely that Honda would have stayed in Grand Prix racing – it was win or bust, and naturally he won.

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Freddie started young, and I mean very young! He was racing by the age of 5, winning regional championships by age 11, and was signed to Honda by the time he was 17. But it’s clear that it was not an easy journey. “I started riding when I was just 2 or 3 years old, and can clearly remember my first race. On every right hand corner, the chain came off, and I just did not want to come last. I just had to get better and I would work and work on getting it right. The feeling sitting on the start line at Imola was exactly the same as when I was a kid practising. It was just a case of getting everything right.”

Whilst achieving tremendous success in national amateur and club road racing championships, his big break came in 1979. “We were at Daytona. It was my first year working with Erv. I was still too young to ride in the Daytona 200, but I was spotted by Iri Mijari who reported straight back to Honda. Later that fall, I rode a Kawasaki at Sears Point and won both races – and I almost signed for Kawasaki then (but I left that job for Eddie Lawson). Shortly afterwards I was contacted by Honda. who were just starting their Superbike program. I signed the deal and the rest is history!” Once Freddie had signed for Honda at the incredibly young age of 17, he always knew he had a good chance of securing Honda their first Honda 500cc World Championship – the first since Mike Hailwood’s victory in 1967. But it was more than just a dream; Honda’s racing future was in the balance. “We just had to win, or we were all out of jobs…! But I’ve always believed, that if you have your heart in the right place, do the right things, and it will happen”.

Freddie’s first taste of international competition came when he visited the UK for the 1980 Trans-Atlantic Match RacesFreddie Spencer Interview – in fact I was in the crowd at Brands Hatch that weekend! He convincingly beat both Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts and made his mark on an amazed audience. “I remember walking out of the tunnel and thinking to myself – this is just where I’m supposed to be. You’ve got two choices when you’re in a place like that – you can either shrink back or just go on and do the best you can – I won both races!” But it was in 1982 that Freddie moved on from Superbike racing in the US, to start his career as a GP rider. And after just one year, and after an epic battle with the veteran Kenny Roberts, he secured the 500cc championship for Honda. It was some of the most dramatic racing ever seen and is still great to watch. “I remember racing against Kenny in Spain. We were full on from the green flag through to the chequered – I had nothing left. For every corner and every lap, I was on the edge and beyond, but just kept pushing. Can you believe that the very last lap at Spain in 1983 was a lap record. Tyres gone, everything gone. After the last race at Imola, Kenny said “it was all I had”. Fantastic!” Freddie still sees Kenny every now and again – and Kenny is still not happy about the race in Sweden when a “coming together” left Kenny off the track, but Freddie able to stay on and win the race. It just shows how seriously these guys take their racing even after 27 years!

1985 saw the pinnacle of Freddie’s racing career with the amazing feat of winning both the 250cc and 500cc titles for Honda. Without a doubt, Freddie states, the bikes that Honda were producing for him then were truly incredible. “They built the 250cc machine for me in 3 months starting with a blank sheet in June and by the 2nd week of September I was testing the bike at Suzuka. By the first morning I was setting lap records. It was the greatest motorcycle I have ever ridden – without question. I said just make me a 500 exactly like this!” Injuries, however, were to cut Freddie’s racing career short, with severe nerve problems in his arms making competitive riding very difficult indeed. But true to form, Freddie is equally philosophical on this matter as he is on the matter of winning. He finally retired from GP racing in 1988.

Freddie Spencer InterviewAfter finally quitting racing, Freddie left Shreveport and moved to Las Vegas to start his Race School. Many people doubted whether advanced riding skills could be taught in this way, but Freddie believes that the ability to ride well is in everyone – it is just about being taught what input is needed in order to react effectively to different situations. Over 6000 riders went through the school before it closed in 2008. There are some tentative plans to work on a riding instruction DVD, but it’s still “work in progress” and won’t be seeing the light of day for a little while yet – but we’ll keep you posted on this as soon as there is any news.

Of course, interviewing Freddie at the Classic Motorcycle Show, surrounded by bikes of yesteryear, conversation soon turned round to that of nostalgia (ah yes, I remember nostalgia, what a great thing that was…). As you can imagine, Freddie has more stories than we can possibly tell, but it was great to hear him reminiscing on his early days travelling between circuits as a young rider. My Dad and I would travel huge distances in the van – over 100,000 miles a year to circuits in someone else’s back yard. I remember Dumont, Iowa. A dirt track on a Friday night, and not knowing a soul. I’d get put on the back of the grid because the local guy’s uncle was the flagman. I’ve even been started on the back row pointing backwards because I’d supposedly jumped 3 times – but I know I never crossed that line! But anyhow I’d still win the race. We’d load up the bikes as quick as we could and get out of there real fast before the local guys came down to tell us what they thought… We left without even collecting the prize money. We’d just take the points and get outta there. Dad and I would laugh!”

Does he miss the competition? No, Freddie believes that he has done what he had to do. Should have won more world championships? No, he really believes that winning one race is an achievement, anything more is a bonus.

Freddie is under no illusion as to the importance of his parent’s dedication and support in the pursuit of his dream. They never pushed him, but rather gave him the support and motivation to achieve. And so to finish up, here are some wise words from Freddie’s Dad; I think we can all take something from this…

Be humble, don’t talk about winning, just do it on the race track. If you lose, shake hands, and beat them next week…

Posted December 3, 2010 by in | 3 comments

3 Responses to “The Freddie Spencer Interview”

  1. James Deady on March 9, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

    If you win you don’t have to brag, other people will do it for you. Nice job.

  2. Danny stanberry on June 27, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    I gave Freddie his first sponsorship riding for me when I owned Vivian Cycle in Vivian La. have lots of great pictures from the early days with Freddie, Danny and Fred. We won our first major race at Mid-Ohio against Nixon and several of the top ranked riders. I knew then that Freddie was on his way.

    Danny Stanberry

  3. When I was a club racer at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosemond (Mojave Desert), California racing an ’86 FZ750, Freddie came out to race a Superbike race. It was after he retired from GP racing. I had an 8×10 photo of me going through turn 4 and I asked Freddie if he’d sign it for me. I still have it on my wall. There were lot’s of American greats back in the day…Kenny, Randy Mamola, Lawson, Baldwin, Merkel, Rainey, Schwantz, Cooley, Felice, Kozinski, Russell. But of them all, it was the young Freddie Spencer who inspired thousands of fans and brought a spirit of competition and American domination to Superbike and Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Not since those guys have Americans so dominated road racing. And not since then have I been as excited about motorcycle road racing. It’s still fun to watch, but watching those epic battles between those guys still gives me the goose bumps!

    Thanks Freddie and the rest for giving it your best and making professional road racing the sport it is today.

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