Profile: MotoAmerica Supersport Racer Joe Roberts

One of America's top young racers is cocky, but it's hard not to like him

joe roberts, motoamerica racer
MotoAmerica Supersport racer Joe RobertsBrian J. Nelson and Gold & Goose

Few people can pull off cocky and still be liked, but Joe Roberts is one of them. Considered by many to be the fresh new face of American roadracing, Roberts has an uncanny knack for being able to look you in the eye, tell you how good he is, and have you believe him.

Not entirely dissimilar from another Roberts, Kenny Roberts. But to set the record straight, there's no relation between Joe and the famous American Roberts racing clan.

“It’s funny—I’ve been asked that maybe like 30 times,” the young Roberts said. “So it’s not enough to piss me off, but I’ve been asked it enough. No, I’m not related to Kenny. It’s just a coincidence that we have the same last name.”

The 18-year-old wasn’t interested in latching on to those coattails either.

“I kind of like to be considered my own Roberts,” he said. “Not tied in with his fame.”

joe roberts, motoamerica racer, motogp rookies cup
It’s usually a family affair for Roberts at the races, with his father (far left, holding umbrella) and his mother (hugging Roberts) making sure that everything is okay with their son.Brian J. Nelson and Gold & Goose

Roberts has spent some time with the King though. “I’ve gone up to his [Kenny Roberts] ranch a couple times,” he said. “He hasn’t brought up the fact that we have the same last name. I don’t think he cares either. He’s a nice guy. He’s definitely helped me out with the dirt track a little bit on the minibikes and stuff at his ranch. That was fun going and doing that.”

The young Roberts went on to offer his impressions of the famous three-time World Champion: “He’s an interesting guy, very upfront I would say, and lets you know what he’s thinking. That’s all I’ll say.”

Probably not much more to say—if you’ve ever met Kenny Roberts and don’t want to go into detail of what Kenny had to say, especially while training. But what about this new Roberts?

Like most racers, he started riding young at age three and began racing little 50cc bikes at the local motocross tracks two years later.

I always tell them, ‘Don’t worry. When I make it to MotoGP I’m buying Dad and Mom a beach house.’

“When I was younger I always had a real passion for wheels and things and rolling around, so I just like picked up on it. It’s funny—every time I would race when I was younger even if I didn’t finish first, I’d always come in with a big smile on my face.”

Also, like most racers, it was a family thing. His dad did some club racing back in England, and after moving here and starting a family, it became a family affair—riding in the desert or Hollywood Hills in southern California.

“I have three other brothers, so we all rode at the beginning,” he said. “I’m the only one who’s kind of stuck with it. They kind of still ride a little bit, but I was the one who was the best at getting over losing. Some of my other brothers if they lost, they’d just freaking get so mad. If I lost, it was kind of like, yeah, okay, whatever.”

superstock 600, motorcycle racing, joe roberts
Roberts returned to winning in a big way in 2015 after a lackluster 2014 season, rejoining the Superstock 600 class and winning nine out of 11 races.Brian J. Nelson and Gold & Goose

Make no mistake though: The kid may not lose his cool over losing, but he’s very competitive.

He went from motocross on little bikes to dirt track on little bikes.

Then from there he got the taste of asphalt with Supermoto. It was then he abandoned dirt for the pavement, racing minibikes. After doing some time on 125cc in WERA, he spent some of his formative years in Europe with the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup (2011–2013).

“When I went over there it was kind of a bit of a shock at first,” he said. “I’m a pretty confident person, so I went over there like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do good.’ I didn’t do bad, but the competition is most definitely quite high over there.”

Roberts scored a win and a podium during his three-year tenure overseas, both at Brno. Not a bad effort in a competitive field but still a little frustrating for the young American. “There’s a lot of really fast guys,” he explained about the level of competition. “There are 24 fast guys. Compared to the WERA racing that I was used to. I had maybe three guys [in WERA] where I was like, ‘These guys are good riders and I can race against them,’ and it was competitive. Getting thrown into the Rookies Cup there’s about 11 guys going into one corner and you’re fighting. It’s a lot to get used to.”

motoamerica superstock 600 championship winner, joe roberts, superbike weekend
Roberts clinched the 2015 MotoAmerica Superstock 600 championship a round early at Laguna Seca during the World Superbike weekend.Brian J. Nelson and Gold & Goose

In addition to the tough competition, Roberts had to get used to shared resources.

“You have to share suspension guys and mechanics,” he said. “That side I found a little hard to deal with because I like to sit down and talk to the suspension guy and really go in depth of what I want. It’s a little harder to do that when the suspension guys have 24 kids they’re working with; there’s only two of them.”

Although it was hard, he learned from it and has zero regrets for spending time with the Red Bull Rookies.

Motoamerica, motoamerica superstock 600, joe roberts, champion motorcycle racer
When the AMA Supersport class (equivalent to MotoAmerica’s Superstock 600 class) ran in 2013, Roberts quickly showed his talent by winning all five consecutive races he entered.Gold & Goose

“So that side of things, it’s a little hard,” he said. “But on the other hand it’s kind of good as well because it teaches you just to kind of ride around problems.”

All of that Rookies Cup education was certainly put to good use when he visited the US in 2013 and raced five AMA Supersport races (equivalent to Superstock 600). He won all five, in a row.

Expectations were high for the 16-year-old’s full-season debut in the AMA in 2014, but unfortunately he fell short. It was a tough year for the series and a tough year for Roberts moving up to the premier 600 class, then known as Daytona Sportbike, on the Honda.

joe roberts, motoamerica racer, motogp rookies cup
A fresh-faced Roberts hoists his first-place trophy on the podium for winning Race One of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup at Brno in the Czech Republic back in 2011.Gold & Goose

“Two thousand fourteen was kind of a weird year because 2013 went so well,” Roberts said. “Winning five races on a bike that was considered not competitive, and I showed that it was. It kind of made me feel like maybe I can jump on this bike and show everybody that it can be competitive and I can beat everybody.”

Looking back on it, Roberts realized that he overshot the mark a bit. “Me, I was just being a bit cocky just thinking I could go out there and beat all these guys,” he acknowledged. “I think I underestimated it a little bit, the bike. It’s just kind of hard with the rules package to make a Honda competitive. So it was very much a hard year for me because I had more crashes than I normally have. I broke my hand and I screwed up my shoulder in a crash and stuff. It just wasn’t a good year.”

motogp rookies cup winner, joe roberts, motorcycle racer
Even though the three seasons he spent in Europe competing in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup were tough, Roberts has absolutely no regrets about the time he spent there.Gold & Goose

The humbling experience was perhaps equally as educating, if not more, as the Rookies Cup.

“It’s hard when something like that happens because at the end of the year you really start doubting yourself as a rider. You’re like, ‘Maybe it was just a flash, having all this success.’ When you consistently go home and you work up the courage to get on the plane and go to the next race thinking that everything’s going to be better and then you get out on the track and it’s the same s—t you’ve been doing the whole season. That’s no fun to deal with. But I got through the season. It’s over. I’m glad of that. I learned a lot about definitely picking a bike to ride.”

Thankfully for Roberts, 2015 was polar opposite. The kid got back to winning…in a big way.

joe roberts, motoamerica supersport 2016
His return to form in 2015 has Roberts pegged by many as a definite title contender for the MotoAmerica Supersport class in 2016.Brian J. Nelson and Gold & Goose

He made the switch to the Wheels In Motion/MotoSport.com/Meen Yamaha team and moved back to Superstock 600, something he was not thrilled with right away, even after such a discouraging year.

"I think that's probably one of the best decisions I've made, going to that class and winning races," Roberts said. "At the end of the day winning is winning. Winning gets you attention, and I definitely got a lot of attention for what I did." What he did was dominate the Superstock 600 class. He scored nine wins out of 11 races, clinching the Superstock 600 title at Laguna Seca a race weekend early and in front of the World Superbike paddock. He also went on to put on an impressive Supersport performance in Indianapolis at the following round in fourth and an even more impressive Supersport performance at the final round at New Jersey Motorsports Park, winning the first race in the rain by more than six seconds.

In the end, Roberts learned the valuable lesson of what a difference a year makes and the importance of tuning out the background noise.

motogp rookies cup, motoamerica superstock 600, joe roberts winner
Roberts’ skill in the wet is very evident by his charge from last to first in the 2011 Brno Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup race, as well as his race win at the final round of the MotoAmerica Superstock 600 series where he won by more than six seconds.Gold & Goose

“So now I think I’m considered a title contender next year, which is cool,” he said. “Looking back at 2014 where you get wrote off as just another rider and now you’re considered somebody again. It’s funny. It just shows that you’ve got to always believe in yourself and not listen to anybody else. I was definitely starting to listen to other people at the end of 2014. Now I know that I have a talent and I can consistently do it.”

Roberts also recognizes the full commitment it has taken from his family—his dad’s efforts, wear and tear on his poor mother’s nerves, and the sacrifices made by his parents and brothers.

“My dad has been by my side my whole career,” he said. “He’s my manager right now. I think he puts more time into my racing than he does his business. My brothers and everything, they’re all super supportive. And my mom, she’s not so scared of it that she won’t let me go out and do it. There’s a little bit of that thing though with growing up with three brothers. At first they’re like, ‘Dad just puts all the time into you. I want some of this. He’s put all of his money into your racing.’ So there’s a little bit of that at first. Now that they’re older they don’t get like that. They understand. I always tell them, ‘Don’t worry. When I make it to MotoGP I’m buying Dad and Mom a beach house.’ Just something to make it seem a little more fair. The way I see it is I’m following my dream. We’re not putting money into something that’s a hobby. It’s my career.”

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