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Randy Mamola at the 2019 Grand Prix of the Americas
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Randy Mamola: the definition of the MotoGP Legend

Aug 262019

In April 2018 Randy Mamola was sobbing in front of friends, family and colleagues with decades of history in motorcycle racing. The Californian was at the Circuit of the Americas and being inducted into the MotoGP Hall of Fame as a MotoGP ‘Legend’. Mamola – a four times runner-up in the premier class [MotoGP was then the 500cc category] – was also part of the golden era of heroics and highsiding two-strokes, a boom of popularity, characters and TV coverage.

Randy was the 27th rider to make the MotoGP Legends list and the first to be inducted without an FIM title to his name. That might be a curious distinction but he was a rider that created such fond memories and was one of the most popular and spectacular racers of his generation. The fact that he was so heavily proactive with his charity work - and appeared to compete as much for his audience as for personal gratification - was also massively endearing.

This year Mamola will celebrate his 60th birthday. He is still such a part of the MotoGP fabric and is frequently representing the sport and continues to use his profile for good thirty years after retiring.

“I know who I am. I’m Randy Mamola. And if you want to tag the words ‘MotoGP Legend’ then call it what you will,” he says in a frank, dizzying and deeply emotional talk and perspective on his career and status. “I’ve been called an a**hole and many other things but I want to embrace it and I’m truly honoured and moved by this whole story.”

"Winning races was great, just making the podium was awesome. I got the buzz and the high like a rockstar does when he gets on stage and can direct an audience."

How do you react to becoming a MotoGP Legend?!

I was in the U.S. and I had a call from the Dorna press office in Spain at 4am and I was wondering ‘what the hell do they want from me?’ I was with the family and staying with friends in Southern California. So I replied to the WhatsApp call from outside at 5am and went into the car to turn the heater on because it was frickin’ freezing. The Dorna Press Officer Ignacio said the board had decided to make me a MotoGP Legend. I needed a bit more time to let it sink in. I went back into the house and my son Dakota was awake and asked why I went outside. I said to him “you’re now looking at a legend!” and he – in a jokey family-sort-of-way – just rolled his eyes. I was told it would be at Austin and I knew it would be a very special weekend, and it turned out to be much more than I expected in terms of what I felt and the emotions. There are two types: world champions and those that have to really earn that status in many different ways. I looked up the definition in several dictionaries. What does it mean? Is it fictitious? Is it a figure alive or past? I watched all the other ones – Kenny, Eddie, Kenny Jnr and I decided to wing it.

Why did I finish second so many times?

For me I was on top of the world, it didn't matter that I was second. The bonus was always the gold medal…but I got four silvers and two bronze. I have 57 podiums. If you took away the Cagiva years – because it wasn’t a competitive bike at that moment – then I was on the podium more than 50% of the time in my career. We made mistakes, I made mistakes. I was a terrible rider in the rain and then I became one of the best riders in the rain. I changed my mind, I changed my attitude. I’ve been a b***ard to people in this paddock and I have been good to the people in this paddock. Now I have a real reason to be nothing but humble and amazed and touched.

Where did the flamboyancy come from? Well….

I was born in 1959, so I come from the sixties. There were drugs around, the hippy movements, Harleys and Hells Angels: a whole shift of culture. In 1972 I got my first motorcycle at I’m twelve years old and immediately I take it-on. Two years later and I’m riding for a factory. I’m chasing Kenny Roberts as ‘the protégé’ and to be the next dirt track and Grand National star. Three years later Kenny goes to Europe [Grand Prix] and eventually I follow. Wayne [Rainey] and Eddie [Lawson] were the hotshoes down south in California and I was the one in the north. There is so much history. I raced for Indian Motorcycles when I was twelve-thirteen years old and they gave my free bikes through a Go-kart/scooter company in San Jose. It all happened so quickly. I used to run four times a week in three different classes. In road racing, when I was seventeen, I rode a 50, a 125 twin, a 250 and a TZ750 all in one meeting. One day I had to ride the TZ and then the 50! When I got on the second bike it would barely pull away. I had a lot of diversity and so did all the American riders then. The dirt track miles back then – wow. The shocks, the handling, the speed: it was frickin’ cool. There were Triumphs, BSAs, Hondas, Yamahas, Harleys all trying to be competitive with these 650 twins. That was the era. I was gifted to be able to pick things up easily. And I was a young teenager and it just took off for me. I was aware of stardom and being a showman. I was looking up guys like Kenny and my dog was called Rex, named after Rex Beauchamp who won the San Jose Mile. It was an upbringing like Nicky Hayden’s or the Marquez’ but what I found at the time was that my sport was not recognised mainstream; racing was big in the U.S. but the world championship was much more established.

I know I won over the fans…

Winning races was great, just making the podium was awesome. I got the buzz and the high like a rockstar does when he gets on stage and can direct an audience. This [MotoGP] is a show and as well as highly trained, gifted, responsible, fast, reactive athletes they are also showmen. I had great years. In my first I was battling with Kenny and it went down to the last race. Battling also with Wayne [Gardner] and Eddie and our job was to be consistently the best Yamaha team. In ’87 I beat Eddie who was a three times world champion on the same bike and that was all I could do. When I got to Cagiva the lessons I learned hit me and maybe Kenny took it a bit more seriously; I was doing things a bit differently because I found out way-earlier in life that giving to people is easily the best thing you can do. When I reached a stature in my sport then I also became renowned for giving away my boots, leathers and whatever else to the crowd, going to the camping areas, signing whenever I could: I think that's why I became so entwined with the fans. I remember in Assen seeing the sign ‘F**k Kenny Roberts and the rest, Randy is the best’ and that was when Kenny decided to take [Kevin] Magee instead of me and Rainey [in 1988]. I learned that giving to the fans was rewarded…and that was all I needed.

People remember me hanging off the bike with my foot off the peg. That was kinda necessary!

It started to come from riding the Honda and that’s because Freddie [Spencer] won the title in ’83 and in ’84 I rode the [same] three-cylinder and it was a really hard motorcycle for my style. I knew I had to change. Freddie was quite tall and the Honda seat was really wide and I couldn't get the bike to turn so I got-off as far as possible. If you see photographs then my leg is off the bike because I couldn't get it to turn. This might be the beginning of [dragging] elbows or whatever but we didn't have the tyres or the geometry or the things that are available now. Freddie was the greatest rider on that three-cylinder but I could not understand how he made it steer: it felt like it had a truck tyre on the back and a bicycle tyre on the front! I had to lean-off and that's where it started. Generally I think the flamboyance was a gift. It came from seven-eight years of riding - before I got my first shot with Suzuki – of multiple bikes and classes, from dirt track to road race. It was a discipline and humbleness. I embraced fame and I used it to help. And it was passion. I overly enjoyed what the sport has to bring and I wanted more people to come in and see it.

The greatest thing I have done is…

…be partly responsible for helping over fifteen million people. How can you really and properly put that into words? I’ve been to Africa and I have seen the reality but also the people there smiling and joking and playing in the worst conditions. I’ve been on top of the world, I’ve walked into a shop and bought a Ferrari but where have I learned the most? In Africa.

As a kid I was already trying to help kids…

I think it was the soft side of my mum attached to the hard of my father and the love of both. In my first years with Suzuki I went to a lot of children’s hospitals and I stayed in contact with these little kids. Why did I do that? It wasn't for ego it was just a desire to see kids and to want to help them, while we lived in England that's what we did. In ‘85-86 I started to wear a ‘Save the Children’ patch on my leathers. I took 20% of my 100,000 dollars from the FIM and gave it to Princess Anne. I gave money for the next three years and we did fundraising (I think the first one [Day of Champions] was at a British Championship race at Brands Hatch). Princess Anne said to me ‘you have to go to Africa, you have to see where the money is being spent’. This was in ’86 and I didn't want to go unless I could stay there for some days. I didn't just want to fly in, kick some dust and go home. I went to Somalia and Kenya. In Kenya I visited a school where you had to be poorer than poor to get in it. When I went to Somalia there were posters hanging up in huts four-five hours in the middle of nowhere and there were motorcycles in the area that were just destroyed and hadn’t been taken care of.
When Federico Minoli was the president of the Ducati factory, they were giving us a dollar for every motorcycle sold. It went from growing step by step to something much bigger and the fans really made this charity…and from seeing the riders involved with it. If the riders only knew: people are really using the bikes, and they are really saving lives. It is almost impossible to get a sense of what is going on over there unless you actually go. You can watch the videos but until you hear an African telling you how much they love and use their motorcycle to save their people then it doesn't have the same impact. It made a huge impression on me

For all I have achieved and for what I am, I also…

…know for a fact that I was one of the top motorcycle grand prix racers on the planet because I was battling with the best and the toughest guys. I’m thankful to have been able to do that and to compete with such great champions. We rode motorcycles, and right across the board: I didn’t stay with Yamaha all my life and I was successful on whatever I rode. For me that was enough. I was a fan of this sport and I always have been.

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