The Best To Never Wear The Crown
NEWS February 14, 2014
Photo by Brian J Nelson
Written by Chris Martin:
February 14, 2014 - While we recently got done celebrating the greatest AMA Pro SuperBike champions in the series' long history, perhaps an ever better indication of the championship's historical strength are the standouts who never managed to take the crown.
I figured as the lack of a SuperBike title was the primary criteria for consideration to be included on this list, it would be poetic that no rider should be bestowed the title of 'best to never be AMA Pro SuperBike champion.' There will be ranking this time around -- consider them all co-runner-ups…
15 wins, 17 poles
Freddie Spencer was immediately placed on the path of greatness and had one foot out the door with an international career awaiting him almost as soon as he emerged an AMA Superbike star. That fact limited his opportunities to win a SuperBike title, but he still managed to rack up some remarkable numbers in the pre-doubleheader days.
Spencer, who won his first 500GP race at the age of 20 and his first 500GP World Championship at just 21, found his way back to Daytona Beach each spring to the tune of five straight Daytona SuperBike victories from '81-'85. That last Daytona win (along with victories in the Formula One and Formula Two races) served as the springboard for 'Fast Freddie's' monumental double 500GP/250GP title campaign.
Later in his career, Spencer returned to AMA Pro SuperBike racing full-time and scored three additional wins, a pair with Two Brothers Honda and one for Eraldo Ferracci's FBF Ducati outfit.
10 wins, 14 poles
Mike Baldwin was a dominant force in AMA Formula One during its days' as AMA Pro's premier class, winning five titles in all. He also contended for AMA SuperBike crowns, storming to eight wins on works Hondas to go along with a couple of early-era victories aboard Moto Guzzis.
Baldwin also proved himself a superstar at the world championship level. He beat Kenny Roberts and co. to win the Canadian round of the 1978 Formula 750 World Championship, claimed six total 500GP podiums on Suzuki and Yamaha two-strokes with a best championship finish of fourth, won the prestigious Suzuka 8-Hours on three occasions, and added a World Superbike podium with Bimota at the tail-end of his career.
9 wins, 9 poles
Kevin Schwantz is one of the most popular motorcycle racers of all-time due to his unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.
There was no one faster -- not in AMA Pro SuperBike, nor in 500cc Grand Prix racing -- but Schwantz's thrill-a-corner riding style that garnered him so many race wins and such acclaim, also resulted in numerous crashes, injuries, and championship near-misses.
Schwantz's win percentage of over 40% stands as the second-best in AMA Pro SuperBike history, but despite winning more than half the races during his intense '87 duel with Wayne Rainey, Schwantz lost the season-long points battle by a mere nine points.
That trend would continue as Schwantz won more 500GP races but saw Rainey claim three-consecutive world titles.
In 1993, a season marred by the career-ending crash of his rival, Schwantz stepped forward to secure his long-sought 500GP World Championship.
11 wins, 7 poles
Anthony Gobert was another freakishly talented, yet flawed racer. His innate talents were unquestioned, but the 'Go-Show' proved to be a wild card both on and off the track. He was a threat to win any given race, but putting together a full season was another matter altogether.
He never managed to win a major championship beyond the Australian Superbike crown he picked up as a precocious teenager but stormed to a slew of AMA Pro and World Superbike race wins.
15 wins, 6 poles
Eric Bostrom, meanwhile, was a solid racer, one built to win championships. Unfortunately for Bostrom, he was at his peak at an era that also featured the likes of Mat Mladin and Nicky Hayden, preventing the Californian from ever becoming #1.
Bostrom shocked the premier class during his '98 debut, when he was drafted up into the official American Honda outfit mid-season to sub for the injured Miguel DuHamel. Bostrom's job was to aid the championship efforts of his older brother (and fellow rookie) Ben, but in some ways he stole his thunder, winning two of his first three races in the class.
Ben went on to claim a winless-title victory, but was showed the door and Eric was retained in his stead. However, a Daytona crash robbed 'EBoz' of his mojo that season. He bounced back the following year with Kawasaki, where he would star for multiple campaigns.
Bostrom finished as SuperBike runner-up twice and did some remarkable things on that ZX-7R, including corralling a visibly faster Hayden behind him for full-race distance to win at Mid-Ohio in 2002.
Eric rounded out his 15 SuperBike wins with four aboard works Ducatis, including two at Pikes Peaks, a bullring track at which he won six SuperBike races in all (and probably could have won at on a Honda Spree).
9 wins, 8 poles
Like Bostrom, Aaron Yates was one of AMA Pro SuperBike's very best for an extended period -- however, a period defined by the dominance of Yates' long-time Yoshimura teammate Mladin (and later, teammate Ben Spies).
As a SuperBike upstart, the hard-charging Georgian pioneered the sideways-on-entrance riding style -- which he used to good effect to beat fellow rookie teammate Mladin in Sonoma to earn his first premier-class win in 1996.
Yates later transformed his style and developed into the king of corner speed. But no matter his approach, he was consistently capable of muscling his machinery into lines no other rider attempted.
While Yates' best season in SuperBike was his runner-up finish in 2003, he did manage to score five undercard titles.
13 wins, 3 poles
No rider, not even reigning AMA Pro SuperBike Champion Josh Herrin, has proven more of thorn-in-the-side of megastar Josh Hayes than Blake Young since the Mississippian's ascension as the premier-class' top talent.
Nearly all of Young's 13-career SuperBike wins have come in dramatic last-lap fashion, and typically with Hayes only inches behind.
Young enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, winning as many races as the rest of the field combined. He actually went into the season finale with a slim points lead but was narrowly beaten by Hayes in the final tally in a championship fight that wasn't decided until the season's final three corners.
Hayes' firmly re-established himself as the series' preeminent force in 2012, but Young still had his moments, including a photo finish win at Daytona and his Road Atlanta miracle, in which he crashed following contact with Hayes and subsequently raced up through the field from last place to win.
While over a hundred points separated two-time AMA Pro SuperBike runner-up Young from third place in '12, he found himself with a full-time ride in 2013. Unfortunately for Young, that first-career title may have been ripe for the taking had he been in a position to seize it.
Honorable Mention: Troy Bayliss & Colin Edwards II
1 pole for Bayliss, 3 wins and 4 poles for Edwards
Troy Bayliss' career as a full-time AMA Pro SuperBike rider lasted all of one-and-a-half race weekends before he got called up to join Ducati's works World Superbike squad. During that brief stint, he challenged for the lead in the DAYTONA 200 and won the pole position for a race that would ultimately never take place in Sonoma, CA.
Of course, things turned out okay for Bayliss post-AMA; the Australian went on to win three Superbike World Championships and a MotoGP race.
Bayliss' primary WSBK rival, Colin Edwards, had a longer and more accomplished run in AMA Pro SuperBike but it was still far too brief to truly reflect his immense potential.
The Texan hit the national scene as a racing prodigy. After claiming an AMA 250cc title in 1992, he was called up to SuperBike duty with the Vance & Hines Yamaha effort. Following a relatively quiet rookie campaign, Edwards went on a tear late in his sophomore season, ripping off three consecutive SuperBike race wins. That was all the convincing Yamaha Japan needed, and promptly called on Edwards to spearhead its all-new full works World Superbike program the following year.
Edwards fulfilled his Superbike destiny at the world-level (albeit with Honda, not Yamaha), claiming a pair of world titles before settling into a long career in MotoGP that continues to this day.
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