Imagine this: The field lines up for the 2016 Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, but even here in patriotic Texas, the stars and stripes make only a token appearance. Nobody has a copy of the U.S. national anthem ready to play during the podium ceremony. This is a "home race" for none of the riders on the grid, because there are no American riders at the top level of motorcycle roadracing. Zero.
Much of the talk about MotoGP this season has focused on Marc Márquez's record-setting performances and the big changes coming in 2016, with new rules and a new tire supplier. But it will also not be surprising if 2016 is the first time in decades the United States has a MotoGP race but no MotoGP racers.
In 1978, Kenny Roberts became the first rookie to win the top-level world championship (Márquez matched that feat last year). In 1983, Freddie Spencer became the youngest (Márquez broke that record). In the 16-year span from Roberts' rookie year to Kevin Schwantz's 1993 championship, 13 titles went to American racers: the three mentioned before and Eddie Lawson. In the subsequent 21 years, we've seen two U.S. champions: Kenny Roberts Jr. and Nicky Hayden, with one apiece.
U.S. domination turned into a drought that now looks like it will only get worse.
Ben Spies, the United States' best hope for a future world champion, was knocked out by an incredible string of bad luck and career-ending shoulder injuries. Colin Edwards, the oldest current rider in MotoGP, has already announced his retirement at the end of this season. Hayden's two-year contract with the Aspar team concludes at the end of the 2015 season, at which point he'll be 34 years old and probably very tired of riding his butt off trying to finish ninth on an uncompetitive Honda customer bike.
Worse, Hayden has physical issues of his own. He recently tweeted this photo of his wrist, which has undergone more than one surgery.
No testing today my wrist got inflamed over the wke so think I suffered enough yesterday & will rest it 4 France pic.twitter.com/sbspjNLHcy— Nicky Hayden (@NickyHayden) May 5, 2014
A healthy right wrist is rather crucial to a motorcycle racer. If age and frustration don't push Hayden to retire, physical impairments could force him to hang up the leathers. Armchair racers who say guys like Spies and Hayden should tough it out just don't understand the nature of injuries to joints like shoulders (the most complicated joint in the body) and wrists. It's not like healing a broken bone. If you don't have the strength and control needed to ride at a world championship level, no amount of will power can compensate. You might as well tell a blind man he could race motorcycles professionally if only he wanted it badly enough.
MotoGP team owners aren't exactly jostling for position to hire the next generation of U.S. racers, either. 2013 AMA Superbike champ Josh Herrin is struggling in Moto2. Geoff May is having a nightmare debut year on the Buell in World Superbike. Cameron Beaubier is the most obvious choice for the next great talent emerging from the AMA ranks, but given the currently weak reputation of the U.S. series and Herrin's slow debut, will he even get a shot at the world stage?
If you're hoping to hear the Star Spangled Banner played after a MotoGP race, I suggest you cue up your own copy at home. The forecast calls for this drought to get worse before it gets better.