MotoGP, the world’s premier motorcycle race, hits the Circuit of the Americas in Austin this weekend. For most Texans, it’s a chance to see an exotic spectacle — multi-million dollar bikes flying by at 200-plus miles per hour — that they’ve never witnessed before. For Ben Spies, whose first bearings on a motorcycle came on his dirt bike as a child in Longview, it’s a homecoming.
“Anytime I’m in Texas I feel like I’m at home,” says MotoGP racer Spies. As he begins his prep for the weekend's race, Spies — known colloquially on the circuit as “Elbowz” for his unique riding style — is happy to show his fellow racers what Texas is actually like.
“They think I have horses in the backyard. That’s the whole stereotype; as soon as they hear you’re from Texas, they think you’re riding your horse up to go get dinner. They’re always thinking of barbecue and horses.”
"It’s a really long track, really technical, twenty turns. It’s got some interesting corners that even for the best drivers come F1 or the best racers with MotoGP, it’s a really challenging track. I’d say the most technical track I’ve ever been on, but at the same time the most fun, too." - Brad Spies
Yes, Spies actually does own horses, but that’s at his ranch in Longview. His main residence is in Dallas, and Spies is thrilled to finally be able to race so close to home. “I never thought a track like this would be in America," he says. "To be in Texas, and to be three hours away from my house, it’s incredible.”
Not only does Spies have the home field advantage, but he even had a say in the design of the Circuit of the Americas track.
"Kevin Schwantz, he worked a lot with COTA in the beginning to design the track. He came to me with a couple ideas. Basically what happened was they just put the dream sections of five famous tracks all in one. It’s a really long track, really technical, twenty turns. It’s got some interesting corners that even for the best drivers come F1 or the best racers with MotoGP, it’s a really challenging track. I’d say the most technical track I’ve ever been on, but at the same time the most fun, too."
With three AMA Supersport championships to his name, Spies first joined MotoGP — the equivalent of Formula 1 racing in cars — in 2008. Since then, Spies has made his way up the leader boards. On MotoGP's inaugural 2013 race in Qatar earlier this month, Spies placed 10th.
With 200 mph straightaways and turns that pull 1.5 Gs on the body, there's an unavoidable riskiness to the sport. But Spies, who has been on a motorcycle since he was a boy, takes it in stride.
"There is a danger level that’s in it. Most of us are wearing the best equipment you can get. My suit actually has an airbag built into the shoulders. But yeah, your talent takes you to a level and then it’s a little bit of that close your eyes factor and maybe I can go a little bit faster."
"A lot of people think [racing motorcycles] is crazy and it’s dangerous... and to a certain point it’s definitely a more dangerous sport, but it’s in a controlled environment; we’re not just on the street going crazy with cars around and stuff like that," Spies says. "I’m not against street riding at all, but I’m definitely against doing dumb things on the street. We’re riding on that extreme, over the edge level, but everything’s as it should be."
Ben Spies takes to the COTA track this weekend. MotoGP runs April 19 - April 21.