Joe Roberts is MotoAmerica's first-ever champion. His 18th birthday was last month.
This kid — I mean guy — is something special.
In 2013, he made his AMA Racing debut at Barber Motorsports Park, where he won both AMA Pro SuperSport Races. In his freshman year, he went on to win the five races he contested, claiming two poles. Why'd he wait until the Barber round in mid-season to race? He had to wait until he was 16 and could get his pro license, which he did four days prior to the race. He also participated in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup, in which he broke the lap record at the Brno Circuit.
Last year, Roberts rode for Team Hammer for the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike season. Between injuries and riding a bike Roberts deemed uncompetitive, the season ranged from uneventful to downright frustrating. This year, Roberts joined the MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha team to contest the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 class. Two weeks ago, at the combined World Superbike and MotoAmerica round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Roberts scored his sixth consecutive win to lock up the championship with one round remaining.
SM: What's it like racing the MotoAmerica series when the rounds are combined with WSBK? Does that add any pressure?
JR: Not really. I mean, it's fun to be here around the bigger teams and for the races to feel like a bigger deal, but at the end of the day I'm here for one reason and that's to win this race. Part of me realizes there are more people, or maybe different kinds of people paying attention, but so much of racing is learning to handle the pressure. You just sort of get used to it and lump it all in together with the things you need to not focus on. The coolest part about this race was that it's close to L.A., where I live, and my whole family is here.
Being here with WSBK, I like to think these teams are paying attention and looking for the next up and coming rider. It's fun to think about. But it's also easy to put too much pressure on yourself and I ride the best when things are just fun. So I try and keep it that way.
SM: What are your racing goals?
JR: All of the racing I've gotten to do is great, and I think this MotoAmerica season has been awesome, but I would love to be the World MotoGP Champion. The guys I'm racing against now are great and so fast, but I hope I can continue to grow in my abilities and do well and not get hurt and ride at that level.
SM: Have you talked to any teams about possibly moving on to one of the other racing series?
JR: Ha ha. Well, I bet that's something you would love to know. Let's say that it's definitely a goal of ours and we may have a nibble or two for somewhere down the line. All you need to know is that I will be racing a motorcycle next year and, when I announce what it is, it will be pretty exciting.
SM: What do you ride at home?
JR: Oh, I love to ride everything. I have a 450 I converted into a flat tracker and a 250 I ride motocross with. It's important to train in every aspect, plus I just love different kinds of riding. I wish I could ride street bikes, but it just doesn't feel worth it with everything I want to achieve.
SM: A few weeks ago, Chaz Davies came out and kicked my ass around the Supermoto track. Any interest in riding some sumo or flat track with me soon?
JR: Oh, absolutely.
Earlier, I made the mistake of calling Roberts a kid. Despite being 14 years my junior, talking to him was like talking to the more established pros at Laguna Seca, such as World Superbike champ Tom Sykes.
The thing about Roberts is that he's confident. He knows he's good and his sights are set high, just as they should be. While some may take this as arrogant, Roberts is never rude or demeaning of his current racing efforts when talking about wanting to win a MotoGP Championship. He just has goals. I appreciate that he didn't give me some line about only having his sights set on MotoAmerica or being content because, quite frankly, no one special ever is.
The big thing lingering in my head after our talk was his comment about the bike he'd be riding next year being an exciting one. My imagination had jumped down some crazy rabbit holes by the time we finished our chat.
Keep an eye on Roberts over the coming years. If he's able to keep his head on straight and continues to attack his goals as he has this far, I think he could be something special. And yes, I'll post pictures when he destroys my self worth on the supermoto track.