I was lucky enough to be invited to help out at an Arlen Ness dealer event a few years back in China. Greenstar (licensee of the Arlen Ness brand for motorcycle leathers and riding gear) was one of my sponsors at the time. I was really looking forward to the event as Ruben Xaus, who was racing for Castrol Honda in World Superbike at the time, was also helping out. I had grown up following his career and I thought it would be cool to ride with him for a day, especially since we were both the ‘Instructors’ at this even. To be honest, at the time it would have been more fitting for me to be his student, but hey, I was going to take this opportunity. And if I had to ride over my head a little, then so be it.
We were both going to be riding race-prepped Honda CBR1000RRs. I think about 50-60 distributors arrived from all over the world; it was not surprising that all the buzz was around Ruben once he arrived, and not about me. The only questions they had for me were things like “Do you really live in igloos in Canada?”, “Are you a Hockey fan?” and basically, “Who are you and why are you instructing us and not some other famous racer?” The only thing I had going for me was I knew the Zhuhai track better than anyone, and had done a lot of instructing that year for my sponsor BG. One other cool thing about that day was that Canadian champ Rueben McMurter was there too, as he has a working relationship with Greenstar as well. I was really happy to see him after a number of years (at one time, he supplied my helmets when I was just starting out in Canada). We spent a lot of time catching up and it was great seeing another Canadian in China.
Once everyone got settled in, Xaus and I had a chance to talk and we immediately connected on several fronts. I did say one funny thing to him and at the time, though I was being completely sincere (which is why, looking back, it was quite funny). I offered to take him around the track for a few laps to show him the lines etc… he graciously declined and told me he had his own system for learning a new track, and he should be fine. When we finally went out on the track, I quickly realized that my offer to him was comical – he was backing the bike into corners by Lap 2!
We had a great day on the track and towards the end of the day, we went out alone with a couple of the faster riders (a couple of them raced in the European SuperStock series and were on the pace). Ruben and I ended up dicing for about 10 laps and we were probably within a second of the track’s race pace. It was then that reality kicked in and I realized there was still another level of rider skill separating me from WSB. It was good to be reminded and humbled; I was winning races in China, and it is amazing how quickly you forget there are plenty of riders out there quicker than you. One other indicator that Ruben and I were on different levels was when it came time for him and I to go out for our little mini-race spectacle, I had a set of fresh tires put on my bike. Ruben casually said there was no need wasting a new set for him. Yep, he went out on seriously used up tires and put on a show, spinning up the rear wheel while still entering the corner! I am proud to say that I can now ride around on worn out tires within a second of my race times. Aren’t Pirellis great?
That evening we had a big banquet dinner/reception and I sat with Ruben and continued building a friendship that really grew into us becoming close friends. The following nights in Hong Kong were loads of fun as we hung out and didn’t even talk about motorbikes (kinda hard to talk about bikes when you are singing karoake together!). Holly and I went to spend a few days with him and his family in Spain that summer, and went boating and just enjoyed Spain in the summer. He had a room with some magazines he has been featured in, and he has kept a set of leathers (new) from each year of his professional racing career. That was really interesting to me, since looking at each set brought back memories of me watching him on TV race for those various teams in both World Superbike and MotoGP. Kind of a cool moment. He later told me it wasn’t uncommon to go through 15 or more sets of leathers in a season (yes, he has crashed a bit in his time). Since then, we catch up in Europe, Hong Kong, or just about anywhere else in the world as we both travel quite extensively doing a variety of things. He recently came to a trade show that I had a booth at in Hong Kong a few months back, which was a nice surprise.
Getting to know Ruben really helped put a lot of things into perspective for me. Guys racing in the top levels are extremely talented but, in the end, they are just normal guys. Sadly, for many of them, the business side of racing has already taken much of the passion out of the sport unfortunately. I have been privy to a lot of stories from both World Superbike and MotoGP, and they couldn’t be less glamorous. The “pay to ride” phenomenon has really changed professional racing at the world level, and a number of extremely talented riders have been forced to retire or move down to British Superbike.
Another thing I now realize is that the team’s budget is critical to the success you will most likely have… or not have! There is a huge number of riders that could be put on the same bike and put in the same lap time. It is all about getting that opportunity and making the most of it. Luck does play a role… in fact, knowing what I know about racing in North America and now some of the stories I know about top tier racing, I feel more fortunate than ever to have a race program in Asia. I truly believe I was in the right place at the right time in terms of location, economics, and relationships.
I have gained a great friend as a result of racing and through Ruben, I have met other racers and crew chiefs in both series (I will refrain from name dropping) who are also great people, which gave Holly and I more excuses to visit Europe in the summer… which is never a bad thing, right?
One last note: Ruben is currently busier than he has ever been, and extremely diversified. He is running a riding school in Russia, very involved in mining precious metals in different parts of the world, and also involved with private equity investing. I bring this up as a segue to my next blog, which will talk about being diversified and how there is life outside of racing.
Happy Chinese New Year,