Anyone thinking that American racing legend Kenny Roberts has been homogenized now that he is no longer a representative of Yamaha but solely a representative of his new company can rest assured that isn't the case. Roberts remains a consummate scoundrel.
Roberts has long been a fiery, outspoken and candid man dating back to his days as a Grand National dirt tracker where he lambasted his rival Gary Scott, the buffoons at the AMA, and the factory Harleys. On to Grand Prix where in his first seasons as a rider Roberts, frustrated at the meager purse offered at some long forgotten venue, he handed the trophy back to the promoter on the podium "since they needed the money so badly." In the early 1980s when the tape recorders were shut off, Roberts would refer to Freddie Spencer as "that choir boy". In later years after Rainey had been injured and Roberts Marlboro Yamaha rider Luca Cadalora lost enthusiasm, Roberts, according to sources very close to the King, amidst one of Cadalora's post race tales of woe, attacked Cadalora. Pushing him against the wall Roberts screaming "you f***ing pussy!"
The mood in the Kenny Roberts raceshop in Banbury England is relaxed. The event is the unofficial unveiling of the Roberts V3 Triple for Phillip Morris execs and to shoot video and photo stills of the bike, team owner and riders. The mood is comfortable, people milling around talking in quiet relaxed tones simply because Roberts is nowhere to be seen. The second he appears the air is charged with electricity.
The man enters the shop area talking to a unnamed executive as they walk. The subject is Lear Jets. "What you want is the plane that I have on order, not one of those," Roberts says. The executive mumbles something about the price being hard to swallow and the plane didn't have the options he wanted. Roberts turns to him, "What you want is next year's plane at last year's price. If you can find one of those, let me know."
Marlboro Roberts rider Jean-Michele Bayle is in attendance for his still photos with the bike which will be transmitted to the world electronically the next day. When Roberts is absent from the set Bayle stands behind the bike with the hot strobe lights pouring light down on him as the photographer shoots roll after roll of film. Behind the camera Team Marlboro Roberts Team Manager Chuck Aksland offers suggestions. "Jean-Michele, stand up straight. Fix your tie. Tuck your pockets into the jacket of your suit." Bayle is not amused, each time Aksland says something Bayle responds with an exasperated "Yes, Chuck, I know."
Then Roberts appears. He takes over the shoot. In thirty seconds time he has the bike moved back and over so the cowl is more visible, has Bayle standing at the back of the machine whereas before he stood dead center. It works, the shot is much more balanced. Satisfied that the photos will look like he wants, the King stands behind the photographer and barks out orders to Bayle: "Take your hand off the bike! Stand up straight! Move over two inches to your left! No, YOUR left!" Each time Roberts roared Bayle jumped slightly, like someone had unexpectedly zapped him with a low-volt cattle prod. He did not sigh or roll his eyes, he did as he was told.
Kenny Junior was next in front of the camera, Roberts barked to him in just a slightly less acidic tone. Junior looked into the camera and smiled the smile of a boy who'd never had anything bad happen to him, although last year's shattered leg in the pre-season proves otherwise.
When Junior's shots were completed, Roberts Senior stood behind the machine for his turn in front of the camera. He instantly became pornographic. While he smiled at the photographer he spoke through his teeth, "You want to take a picture of something really big? I'll unzip my pants. Ah hell, looks like you don't have a wide enough lens anyway." The room broke up in laughter.
Then there's a problem, Roberts doesn't like the way the machine is being propped up with two equipment boxes under the back footpeg. "Get me some aluminum about six inches long to prop this thing up," he orders to the room.
One of the young men who was seen sweeping the parking lot (in full Marlboro Roberts red coveralls no less) earlier in the day instantly sprints to the nether regions of the workshop and can be heard clamoring through the bins in search of aluminum stock. He sprints back, cradled in his hands a selection of steel tubing, from about six to eight inches long. Just as he steps onto the area he is stopped as someone says, "Hey! Hey, he said he wanted aluminum, not steel." The go-fer looks down and realizes his error, the King wanted aluminum (or al-you-minimum as the British pronounce it) and handing him steel tubing might be a CLM: career limiting move. He sprints back and dumps the aluminum and searches successfully for steel.
Then Bayle joins Roberts behind the bike for even more stills shots. In near silence they stare at the camera with slight smiles. Bayle towers over the five foot five Roberts, Kenny's head barley level with Bayle's shoulder blades. When the photographer rewinds a roll of film and reloads Roberts looks over and says to Bayle, "We've got you scheduled to see that Doctor tomorrow at two o'clock."
Bayle turns his head, understanding and at the same time misunderstanding the King. "What? What Doctor is that?" he asks.
Knowing he's got him hook, line and sinker, Roberts replies, "The one to take six inches out of your legs, you're too damn tall."
The room breaks up in laughter, Bayle's face turns red in embarrassment.