Ducati MotoGP rider Ben Spies is retiring from professional motorcycle racing, effective immediately. In a press release issued Saturday, Ducati said Spies’ “physical ability to ride next year remains in question.” As a result, both parties have agreed to “resolve” Spies’ factory contract, which originally included both the current and 2014 seasons, leading to the American’s decision to retire.
The three-time AMA Superbike Champion, 2009 World Superbike Champion and MotoGP race-winner has spent the past 12 months recovering from shoulder injuries. Last October, the 29-year-old Texan had surgery to repair damage to his right shoulder suffered in a fall at the Malaysian Grand Prix. During the off-season, he underwent a strenuous rehabilitation program.
Although not fully recovered, Spies raced the MotoGP season-opener in Qatar and inaugural Grand Prix of The Americas at the Circuit of The Americas near Austin, Texas. He finished 10th and 13th, respectively, in his debut on the Ignite Pramac Ducati GP13. At CoTA, compensating for the shoulder injury, Spies strained a muscle in his chest.
An attempted return at Mugello weeks later went poorly, prompting Spies to further delay his comeback until August, after MotoGP’s summer break. While practicing for the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Spies fell heavily on his left shoulder, resulting in a Grade 5 separation and leading to another surgery. Spies had a second procedure on his right shoulder to remove scar tissue. He’s been sidelined since.
I spoke with Spies about his injuries and decision to retire. While the left shoulder already has nearly 100 percent range of motion and is on track for a complete recovery, his right shoulder continues to give him trouble. “The Indy crash was bad,” he said, “but that injury was nowhere near what the right one was last October. I’ve had nine months of steady rehab, but my shoulder has never been the same. I’ve never went a day without pain or restrictions.”
Spies admits that stepping away from the sport in which he has competed for 21 years is difficult. “Now, I understand that when a pro athlete comes to this day, they know it’s the right thing,” he said. “It’s a hard one, but it’s the right decision. That’s where I’m at now.
“Personally, it’s more difficult for my fans and the people who have helped me throughout my career. I had wanted to ride for Ducati for a long time. Filippo Preziosi, when he was still at Ducati, pulled really hard for me. Also, Claudio Domenicali and Alessandro Cicognani thought a lot of me. That makes it harder because you feel like you’re letting people down. But at the end of the day, you have to do the right thing.”
Rumors circulating about Spies possibly returning to World Superbike were true. “I had been in contact with [Ducati SBK project manager] Ernesto Marinelli,” he said. “Ducati made me a really good offer. I have a lot of respect for Ducati. They did everything they could, and I was looking forward to going back to World Superbike. It’s hard to not be able to do it.”
Spies effectively ruled out a comeback. “If I attempted to come back and race, it would be for the wrong reasons,” he said. “I know I can’t be at the same level I once was, and I always said I wasn’t going to be that rider who was just out there circulating. That’s not me.”
As for his immediate future, Spies intends to get healthy and spend more time with friends and family. He will also focus more attention on his cycling team, Elbowz Racing. “The team has been doing great—better every year,” he said. “Now, I’m going to have a lot more free time to connect with the riders and sponsors. I still want to be involved with motorcycle racing, too. I won’t be at every race, but I want to contribute where I can.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Spies reflected on his career. “I started racing when I was eight, and by the time I was 12 or 13, I was traveling a lot. It was like a full-time job. My goal was just to get paid to race motorcycles. Everything else was a bonus.
“I was able to race for a factory team. We won AMA titles and World Superbike. I never won a MotoGP title, but I won a race at Assen, what I would say is the most historic track we go to. Top five in the championship, top American for a couple of years. We did a lot of things that were really special. Tom Houseworth and I worked together for more than 10 years. We have a really close relationship.
“Winning three AMA Superbike titles really sticks out for me. As much as Mat Mladin and I didn’t get along, I have a lot of respect for him as a rider. Those were probably three of the hardest, most fun years of my life. I pushed him, and he pushed me.
“I don’t know how people will rate me with other racers, but I feel like I was able to contribute to motorcycle racing. It gave me a lot. I was never the most talented racer on the track. I was close enough, but I had to work my ass off to figure out how to win. I gave everything I had.”