Kevin Schwantz is no example to follow: the kamikaze rider, the wild man who charges head down. With 25 victories in 500cc -one more than Rainey, Kevin took only one world title vs Rainey's three, because too often he threw results away by pushing the limit. But he was so spectacular, so acrobatic, so ingenious in his riding technique that no one even thinks of criticising him. Everybody loved him -even his mechanics, who'd spend their nights in the box repairing his disasters.
A Texan from Paige, born in 1964, at age 10 he'd already hopped on a bike, but wins were few: he was soon known as a hothead dedicated to spectacular crashes. The first to bring his name to Europe was Spencer: "We've got a living wonder," he communicated, "who's faster than everybody, and if he learns how to finish a race he can win five world titles." He showed up in 86, a week after his 22nd birthday. At Assen on the Suzuki 500, he didn't impress; then he took two 10th places, in Belgium and in San Marino. Kevin's talent didn't explode all at once, but you have to admit that Suzuki's bikes were behind the competition.
The '87 season also served to break him in, but in '88 when he won the opening race at Suzuka, distancing Gardner and Lawson, everybody understood how far his talent went. And Suzuki fell in love with their rider who was able to conquer Honda's track, the track he would have become the king of, with four career victories. Schwantz means Suzuki. The Texan developed the RG Gamma based on his personal needs. Kevin wasn't a superfine technician, but he knew what he wanted: agility, superbraking, grip. His riding style seemed derived from cross-country: he stamped on the outer slope of the curve like the acrobats on dirt. The '89 season consecrated him once and for all, and cleared all speak of him being just a wild rider. It's enough to say that Eddie Lawson, champion that year, took 4 wins, while Schwantz, with 6 wins and 8 fastest laps in 15 races, finished only 4th. That was a memorable year, with 7 crashes and leads of almost a second.
White hot battles, blazing confrontations. Kenny Roberts summed it up: "Texans are like that, they're nuts." Rainey was Kevin's most dangerous rival. With his 3 consecutive titles between '90 and '92, the Yamaha rider did wonders because he knew how to oppose the Suzuki man's fantasy with relentless regularity and concentration. It wasn't casual that Schwantz won the 500 title only in '93, when Wayne was thrown on September 5 at Misano and left paralyzed. Schwantz and Rainey's bullfight in Hockenheim in 1991 has gone down in history. Last stop before the Motodrom. That breakaway by No.34, from 300 km/h to 70 with their wheels locked, the bike sideways, jumping first here and then there, Rainey who stares at him dumbfounded, Kevin who makes a tight curve against all odds: this is motorcycling's finest moment. And Kevin wins - just for a change. 1992 is his dullest year; in '93 he takes the world title. Perfect balance between the two leaders, Rainey and Schwantz, 4 wins apiece. Then Wayne's slip in the Italian GP at Misano that seemed trivial, one like many others, instead would have nailed the mythical Californian to a wheelchair.
That Sunday Cadalora won, and Kevin took the 3rd step on the podium. There were still two races left: 4th at Laguna Seca -already enough- 3rd at Jarama, Kevin champion. That night in Monterey, the Suzuki was tactless: it was celebrating Schwantz's title at a big hotel in the center when Kenny Roberts - Rainey's manager- burst in and shouted at the new champion before everyone. I still remember his words: "Wayne's been in the hospital for a week," he yelled in his face, "and you, who never should have won, drink champagne!" Kenny was desperate, but the Texan didn't deserve the scene: he might have been a bit naive, but he was certainly a good and kind man. No reporter went home without his interview, both in good times and in bad.
Schwantz was always there for everyone. In his answers, first the litany of thanks to the sponsors, from the tobacconist to the tires team, then the pungent comments. He closed because he couldn't turn his right wrist any longer -the one for the gas. Too many fractures everywhere, a battered arm. Falling often costs a lot. And on this subject, a curious anecdote: when Kevin moved to Dainese, he asked for the same soft elbow protectors he'd always had for his suit. They replied: "Come to our lab, and we'll show you the absorption data for the composite protectors". He chose them. At the end of the 1995 season, Kevin Schwantz hung up his helmet.