Lone Star Racer
Dallas MotoGP racer Ben Spies is not afraid to go 200 mph
The world’s premier motorcycle race, MotoGP, hits the Circuit of the Americas in Austin April 19-21. For most Texans, it’s a chance to see an exotic spectacle — multimillion-dollar bikes flying by at 200-plus miles per hour — 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 preps for the weekend's race, Spies — known colloquially on the circuit as “Elbowz,” due to his unique riding style — is happy to show his fellow racers what Texas is actually like.
“[Circuit of the Americas in Austin] is the most technical track I’ve ever been on, but at the same time the most fun too,” Spies says.
“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.”
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 also had a say in the design of the Circuit of the Americas track.
“Kevin Schwantz worked a lot with COTA in the beginning to design the track. He came to me with a couple of 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, 20 turns. It’s got some interesting corners that even for the best [F1] drivers or 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,” he says.
“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.
“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.”