The Roberts family is to motorcycle racing what the Andrettis and Unsers are to automobile racing. Kenny Roberts Sr. won the AMA Grand National Championship at 21 years old, making him the youngest rider to have won that title. He took his first of three 500 Grand Prix road racing world championships when he was 26. His son Kenny Jr. won the 2001 500 GP title at the age of 27. Youngest son Kurtis Roberts was racing in Europe at the age of 17. He rode the 250 GP class at 18. He won his first AMA title in the Formula Xtreme class while riding for the Erion team at 20. Last year, at 21, he won the Formula Xtreme title a second consecutive time and also took the 600 SuperSport championship.
You see a pattern here? One could argue that genetics makes the Roberts clan superior road racers, but that shortchanges them. Junior and Kurtis grew up on their father's ranch in Hickman, California, sliding around on Honda XRٱ00s with road-racing legends such as Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, John Kocinski and Bubba Shobert, and have worked as hard as any of them for their success. The thing is, Kurtis started road racing in GPs earlier than his father or older brother and already has more titles than either of them at the same age. There are those who say the youngest Roberts could very well be the best.
The year after Kurtis Roberts came home from Europe, he joined the Erion team and has been with them ever since. He's progressed steadily and with remarkable speed, going from second in points in the AMA's 250 GP class to his Formula Xtreme title in 1999 to his double titles in 2000. Obviously there's good chemistry between him and the team.
"There are a lot of advantages to being on the Erion team," he says. "Honda is committed to building the best bikes, and the Erion team is really a unique group of people. They work together as a team. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. And that's very important."
For 2001, Roberts will defend his 600 title aboard Honda's new CBR600F4i, and will step up to ride the premier road-race class in the United States, AMA Superbike, on Honda's RC51 V-twin weapon.
Now, some riders might be more circumspect about their freshman year in the Superbike class, but not Roberts. He wants to win the title. And he's got some advantages that might help him do it. First off, he knows how to ride mega-horsepower motorcycles, having mastered the Erion team's snorting, tire-smoking Formula Xtreme weapons. Second, Roberts has been consistently quick when he's ridden the RC51. On several occasions last year he posted quicker times than anyone in the field.
"The first time I ever sat on the RC51 I was on pole on the thing the first day," Roberts says. "So I know I'm fast on the bike."
"I was always better on bigger bikes. Big bikes suit my style. I can slide them and do whatever I want with them better than I can on a 600." And we all know just how well he rides a 600.
"I want to win two more championships," he says. "I want to win the 600 race at Daytona again, and continue on from there like I did last year. And, you know, I'd love to win Superbike races and that championship, all of which I think are attainable."
Such goals certainly seem within his reachespecially when he talks about what he learned last season with a degree of maturity that should worry his competitors.
"I need to stop trying to lead every lap," he says. "And I don't need to win every race. Trying to win them all last year really blew out three or four 600 races which we probably could have won.
"I've just got to let things come to me rather than make them happen all the time. Like Road Atlanta, for instance. I tried to make too much happen too early and ran off the track, when we could have won. And I had three or four laps at that point faster than anyone else that weekend. So I've got to learn to let things come to me a little slower."
Combine the speed he's already shown, and the clarity of purpose in targeting championship wins rather than individual race victories, and you've got to wonder: Could Kurtis Roberts be the best Roberts we've seen yet?