Ranking The Top Ten SuperBike Champions
NEWS January 14, 2014
Photo by Brian J Nelson
Written by Chris Martin:
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (January 14, 2013) - Even with the 2014 AMA Pro SuperBike Championship opener fast approaching, two months can seem like an awfully long time for those awaiting the annual 200mph assault on the high banks of Daytona that traditionally represents the start of a new season.
As a way to help pass that time, I've voluntarily tackled the impossible task of ranking the series' ten greatest champions. (Did I mention impossible?)
As the world's original Superbike championship -- one with nearly four decades of history in its corner -- AMA Pro SuperBike racing has established an incredible pantheon of heroes. In fact, that legacy is so decorated, we're going to kick this series off with a quick look at some of the superstars who didn't even make the cut.
But first, I'd like to provide a bit of insight as to my very unscientific criteria and methodology. What's it take to make the list?
A rider's overall excellence and statistical greatness is of paramount importance -- although even a rider with a magnificent career in Grand Prix or World Superbike is no lock (as we soon shall see…). It's also worth noting that rider statistics have been skewed by the number of races per season over the years -- in the days before the doubleheaders, seasons often featured half as many Superbike races (or less) compared with more recent history, so it's not a black-and-white issue when looking at numbers such as respective career wins.
Each rider's longevity as an AMA Pro Superbike contender comes into play as well. That said, longevity is something of a double-edged sword. A won-and-done rookie title season, while extremely impressive, is unlikely to be enough to leave the sort of impression required to rank among series' all-time top ten -- at least not in my book (and this is 'my book' we're talking about…). That said, it's a lot easier to rack up big career stats for a racer who stuck around forever, so, for example, 15 wins earned over 9 seasons may not be considered the equal of 13 over four.
Another key factor is the level of competition each rider faced. Due to a combination of fate and circumstance, some seasons have boasted deeper and/or more talented fields than others, and champions are typically best defined by their rivals. Associated with that is the understanding that SuperBike wasn't even the premier category in its earliest days.
Then again, its earliest days were its earliest days. So while the late-'70s may take a hit due to the series' undercard status, it's counterbalanced in part by its historical significance.
And finally, you have the x-factors. For example, some riders were not merely great AMA Pro Superbike racers -- they also dominated in several other AMA categories. While the rider's Superbike career is the primary decider for this particular list, that sort of accomplishment works in their favor in the form of a glorified tie-breaker. Similarly, a standout career at the world level naturally elevates a rider's status. However, the greatness of some was so obviously apparent -- and their graduation up through the ranks so swift -- it actually hurts them in any discussion focused purely on their AMA Superbike exploits, even while boosting them up the mythical 'Greatest Motorcycle Racer of All-Time' list. But again, this is not that list.
Among the greats you will not find in the top ten (in alphabetical order -- because ranking the top ten was difficult enough…):
Two-time AMA Pro SuperBike Champion (1979-1980), eight SuperBike victories, seven pole positions
Before there was a Ben Spies, Mat Mladin, or Jamie James, Yoshimura and Suzuki earned their first Superbike titles together in 1979 and 1980 with a tire-burning charger by the name of Wes Cooley at the helm. One of the series' first breakout stars, Cooley's thrilling style was a sign of what was come. An interesting side note -- Cooley earned Yoshimura's first-ever Superbike victory in '77 -- on a Kawasaki.
1994 AMA Pro SuperBike Champion, three SuperBike victories, four pole positions
That 'won-and-done' comment above… yeah, that was in reference to Troy Corser. The young Aussie was destined for greatness and as a result, AMA SuperBike fans only got to witness a single season of his meteoric rise. Corser went straight from Australian Superbike champ ('93) to AMA champ ('94) to World Superbike rookie race winner and title runner-up ('95) to World Superbike champ ('96). Nearly a decade later, Corser added another world championship to his resume by taking Suzuki to its first, and, to date, only Superbike World Championship. Corser's two WSBK titles, 33 wins, and 43 poles make him a sure-fire entry on anyone's list of top ten World Superbike champs, but his time in the States was too brief to merit inclusion.
Two-time AMA Pro SuperBike Champion (1981-1982), 14 SuperBike victories, eight pole positions
How does steady Eddie Lawson not make this list? I… well, I am not completely sure to be honest. It seems difficult to justify, but there are only ten spots available and the way my list took shape, it was either rank Lawson in the top five or leave him off altogether. And here we are.
Lawson was a brilliant racer -- calculating and precise -- and could pilot just about anything better than just about anyone. Lawson racked up back-to-back titles on his muscular KZ Kawasaki in the early '80s (including a win in 1982 at Elkhart Lake -- the first Superbike race I ever witnessed) before going on to claim four GP500 titles despite facing the likes of Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, and Mick Doohan during his reign. He ultimately earned 31 victories in the premier GP category, scooping up victories on Yamaha, Honda, and Cagiva equipment. Oh yeah, he also made a legendary return to AMA Superbike racing by winning the Daytona 200 in 1986 -- the same year he won his second GP500 title -- and then came out of retirement in 1993 to do it again. The following year he further demonstrated his adaptability by winning an Indy Lights race.
Eddie Lawson is undoubtedly one of motorsports' all-time icons, and it just goes to show you the type of spectacular racers the American series has produced when he gets left off a listing of its top ten champs.
1993 AMA Pro SuperBike Champ, 13 wins, 18 pole positions
Doug Polen is yet another multi-AMA, multi-world championship-winning racer. Polen went from Suzuki Cup club race legend to legitimate AMA SuperBike contender practically overnight, fighting up front in 1987 despite contesting a private Kosar Suzuki GSX-R versus a stacked field that featured Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, and Bubba Shobert. Schwantz's graduation to GP500 in '88 opened up a spot for Polen at Yoshimura, where he equaled eventual champ Shobert in terms of race wins. From there Polen scored a pair of Japanese national crowns for Yoshimura before transitioning to FBF Ducatis. He and Eraldo Ferracci proved to be a global powerhouse, taking the World Superbike series by storm with a pair of truly dominant world titles in '91 and '92. He then returned to the States full-time to finally earn his first AMA SuperBike crown, all while making it look too easy. In addition to his AMA SuperBike, World Superbike, and All-Japan national titles, Polen also picked up championship victories in FIM World Endurance and on the AMA undercard (600 Supersport (twice) and 750 Supersport).
Next time, we'll kick it off with #10…
Chris Martin has covered motorcycle sport as a reporter, columnist, and editor for a variety of magazines and websites for the better part of two decades with a particular emphasis on AMA Pro Road Racing. Additionally, he covers national security issues and is currently working on his first foray into science fiction. You can follow him on twitter. (https://twitter.com/ChrisMartinSBK.)
blog comments powered by Disqus