It's been years since American race fans have had a home-country hero to root for on the World Superbike stage. This is what makes Ben Spies' both-barrels-blazing entry into the 2009 championship so exceptional. As of this writing, only seven rounds into his rookie season, Spies had already broken Doug Polen's 18-year-old record of six consecutive poles and won seven of 14 races, putting him just 53 points behind Noriyuki Haga in the championship chase. To accomplish so much so soon, working with an unfamiliar team on an unproven bike, is remarkable. To dominate on racetracks he had literally never seen before-even challenging circuits like Phillip Island and Monza-is almost unfathomable. In a world where American hegemony is fading, Spies reminds us that we're still capable of greatness.
Spies hails from Texas, like Polen and another former World Superbike Champion, Colin Edwards, and he embodies the same Wild West virtues of strength, purpose and unyielding confidence. These are essential traits for taming a 200-plus-horsepower motorcycle while fighting off 20 of the best riders in the world, all gunning for a podium spot. Spies isn't a trash talker-he's not much of a talker at all, in fact-and you'll never hear him make excuses or cast blame. Even when bad luck strikes-such as when he was punted off-track twice in his first SBK race at Phillip Island; when he crashed while challenging for the win at Valencia and Assen; when he ran out of gas in the final turn at Monza; and when his shift linkage broke at Kyalami-he remains unfazed. He just brushes off his shoulders, puts any upset behind him and, more often than not, exacts revenge by dominating the next race. It's becoming his signature.
Always collected, always classy, gracious off the bike and fiercely competitive anytime the visor is down, Ben Spies, World Superbike racer-and, we hope, 2009 World Superbike Champion-is the best thing to happen to American roadracing in years, which is why he's our Motorcyclist of the Year. Thank you, Ben. In a year full of bad news, you've given us something to cheer about.