Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Rest: Ben Spies

In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies' season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here's a review of his year.

Ben Spies Ignite Pramac Ducati
Championship position 21st
Score Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10

Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies' career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square. He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn't seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.

After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac. After surgery to fix the damaged tendons in his shoulder, Spies turned up at Sepang in February 2013 only to find the going tougher than expected. He skipped one day of testing, then tried to make a return three weeks later, but found himself struggling once again.

It was a sign that all was not well. Spies struggled at Qatar, and knew he was in trouble for his home race in Austin, Texas. He gritted his teeth and suffered the consequences, sustaining a severe pectoral muscle injury trying to compensate for the weakness in his shoulder. He was forced to skip Jerez and Le Mans, and tried to race at Mugello when the muscle tear had healed. But in Italy, Spies discovered his shoulder was still too weak to control the bike properly. He took the brave and sensible decision to pull out, afraid of endangering the other riders if he found himself unable to control the bike.

It was the first of a series of brave decisions, the next one being to give his shoulder the rest it needed to recover, a decision he should have taken in the first place. He skipped Barcelona, Assen, the Sachsenring, and even his beloved Laguna Seca. He returned at last at Indianapolis, now fully fit and fully recovered. Finally, he could get his 2013 season underway.

But Ben Spies' well of ill fortune had still not run dry. On Saturday morning, Spies left the pits during free practice, and found himself highsided onto his left shoulder, separating it in the process. He had yet to shift into second gear, so he was riding without traction control, and was thrown from the bike as a result. It was his own fault, Spies admitted, he should have remembered that the traction control was only engaged once the bike was out of first gear.

More surgery ensued, to fix his left shoulder, and to clean up his previously injured right shoulder, but there was little news from Spies' camp after surgery. Then, two months later, Spies announced he was retiring from motorcycle racing completely. The medical prognosis on his shoulder was that though it would recover enough for him to function perfectly well in normal life, it would probably never be strong enough to cope with the forces involved in motorcycle racing. Ben Spies was now an ex-racer.

There were many moments of bravery through the 2013 MotoGP season, but this was perhaps both the bravest and the toughest. Spies had to admit both to himself and to the outside world that he would never be able to race again at the highest level. As a true racer, he understood that he would never be able to accept competing at anything less than the highest level, and he decided to bow out, rather than fool himself into believing it would get better in time. Spies faced up to cold, harsh reality, and handled it with aplomb.

Ben Spies faced a lot of criticism over the past couple of seasons, some deserved, most not. He faced even more criticism of his decision to retire, but that criticism stemmed from a fundamental misunderstanding of injury. There were fans comparing Valentino Rossi's leg injury and Jorge Lorenzo's collarbone injury to Spies' shoulder, apparently unaware of the anatomy of the shoulder. The shoulder is the most complex joint in the human body, capable of a huge range of motion. But that mobility also makes it vulnerable, especially when exposed to the forces involved in motorcycle racing. With so much connective tissue involved, and so little blood flow to repair it, even seemingly minor damage and mean it is useless for racing. Spies recognized that, and accepted it.

Spies' decision also flies in the face of accepted motorcycle racing wisdom. You race unless you are injured, which seems like a reasonable point to make. However, when people talk of injury, they demand visible proof - a plaster cast, bones protruding through flesh, something they can see. They are not prepared to accept invisible problems, internal injuries, shoulder problems, or as Casey Stoner found out, debilitating conditions such as lactose intolerance. For the sake of the health of future racers, we can only hope his case will stand as a lesson to others, and they will learn to distinguish between injuries they can recover from, and those that they cannot.

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In all honesty, I admire Ben Spies' decision to retire over a screwed up shoulder more than I admire Jorge Lorenzo's decision to race with a broken collarbone.

Don't forget when Lorenzo raced when he was getting around on crutches after damaging his ankles in that Le Mans crash, or Stoner racing after that horrific dislocation, tear, crack of his ankle. I reckon stuffed ankles would be horrible to try and race with, as a racer really has to support their whole body weight through their ankles exiting corners and changing direction. Collarbones are nasty but as we've seen once they are plated they're strong enough so it's more about managing the pain. Shoulder injuries would be a nightmare as I remember Spies saying even healed he just didn't have the strength to throw a GP bike around at competitive pace but depends on the severity of the injury because Marquez was very fast even after dislocating his shoulder in practice last year. Spies had incredibly bad luck to damage one side so badly and ten the other straight away when he came back.

Honestly Spies did become a bit of a crasher at the end, and when you crash you roll the injury dice. Spies seemed to roll a one every time, where so far Marquez has rolled nothing but sixes. Lady Luck is a fickle bitch.

Ben Spies has always showed the world more than what was expected of him, a Champion from the AMA series! Going from Suzuki to Yamaha and still dominating whichever series he was in... truly magical to witness. Then in MotoGP, Spies was on an upswing to be in the front group until he hit the cruel wall of bad luck and injuries. I wish Ben all the best in the future. But there are questions left unanswered: what went wrong with Yamaha for him to leave the way he did? If Ben was on anything other than a Ducati, would he have gave it another go to race???

i admire jorge's decision to race with with a broken collarbone, triple broken collarbone, triple broken collarbone with bended plate, again another operation way more. riding half season with that injury and only came 4 point short to the title. so yes in all honestly i admire jorge's ability and mentality to race more. my collarbone once came out got back and i broke it, i coudn't even carry a baby.
So, to ride so hard, win most races riding through the pain..... massive respect.! and massive balls to riding to S#!t out of that M1, he could think what if i fall again... he didn't care and got highside again. he could have think what if i fall on my shoulder again, he didn't care and rode even harder pushing beond the limit of the M1. who else did so? only jorge!

Not taking anything from ben dough, sure he had enough pain too.

Enjoyed reading this a great deal David, nice summary and insight. Minor note, "...even seemingly minor damage and mean it is useless for racing." should read "...damage can mean..." I think? Couldn't help pointing it out, sorry!

I think Spies' rehab failed him. It's probably reasonable to assume the surgery was correct. But, it shouldn't have taken that long to rebuild strength info a high level athlete.

It takes guts to retire from the sport you love and the only career you've known while still in what should be your prime. I think there's more to the story, however. I've always wondered why one half of the garage has a magical season while Ben was plagued by mechanical issues all season. Then there was the announcement of his leaving the best seat in Motogp(Yamaha) via Twitter, his mother's reportedly less than professional behavior towards a mechanic(via Ellen Briggs) and culminating in him making a joke on Twitter about Carlo Pernat being a coke head. Racing depends in large part on luck, but I firmly believe top riders make their own luck. It leaves me wondering hat was really going on behind the scenes. In the end, Ben is certainly an incredible motorcycle racer and you can't take that away. I hope he can heal up.....and who knows....given sometime to heal and some time away to regroup....we might not have seen the last of Spies.

Let me start by saying that originally I never followed Spies pre-MotoGP career(AMA and SBK) which is quite a shame on my part, however what impressed me about him was the way he really handled the Tech 3 M1 at the Valencia test even to the point of declaring him a future MotoGP champion.

Anyhow like Nakano its quite a shame that his racing career was ended by injury, but overall he was a rider worth watching.

"He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac." Although you are of course correct here David, as you know the story was a bit more involved, and he didn't (as implied) jump ship from Yamaha to ride the Duc.
For some time it looked like he might have been going back to WSBK. However he *eventually* signed with Pramac because he had "unfinished business in MotoGP" and of course a lot of us wondered if he'd been lured by a last hurrah big paycheck, given the known problems with the Ducati.
I can't help but wonder if he'd decided to go back to WSBK instead of riding the notoriously hard-to-stay-on-board Ducati that he'd maybe still be racing? A second year of brutal crashes (Qatar) and finally Indy must have been horrendously demoralizing, not to mention the physical reality of it as explained so well by you. It's a shame it worked out that way; nice guy and great rider. Hindsight is 20/20.

Spies body has other people's body parts inside him to fix his god give parts that where damaged beyond repair. The fact that it may not have come together well is believable.

That said, I think the totality over everything was enough to wisely call it a day. I have a limp and will for the rest of my life. Not a huge deal to me. Minor, to what Ben has gone through. But, it does give one pause to think.

His AMA titles came in an era of strong factory involvement. What can you say against his WSB title or his rookie MGP season?

Ben's WSBK season was amazing to behold and was as impressive and inspiring as any I have seen in any series. Alien material.
Contrasting his Tech 3 time with his Factory Yamaha time is puzzling. His Factory Yamaha experience with Lorenzo's also odd. Is there anything else that compares to his last season on the Yamaha? What the heck went on there? Nutty at best. In addition to luck or competence in his garage, could there be a significance of the development trajectory of the M1 over the time Ben was there fitting him poorly? Unique dissonance within his garage team members? An issue with a particular person? Any insights??

2013 saw racing while injured go over the top. In some kind of macho fog top riders such as Lorenzo made superbad judgement calls about riding with injuries. Spies should be more than a cautionary tale for professional racers. Now is the time for the sanctioning bodies to establish specific rules about what injuries a rider can and can not race with and more importantly isolate the medical decision-makers from the pressures of nationalistic and commercial interests in upholding and enforcing compliance with these regulations.
It doesn't make sense for the sport to lose riders or marshals or spectators to ill advised judgements that can put all these groups in harms way.

but I believe something went wrong when Ben was riding for the Yamaha factory team. Especially in 2012, he was making a lot uncharacteristic mistakes & seemed to have lost a lot of passion to ride. Weird.

To me Ben has always been a "if you ain't first, you're last" kind of guy. I remember him saying at Jerez in his rookie year that "there's no point in finishing if we're not finishing in the top 10."


Maybe once a factory rider, he realized he would never really have a chance to beat the Aliens for a championship & since he couldn't reach his main goal, Ben slowly lost interest with riding at the highest level ?

That damn shoulder injury being the (painful) straw that broke his back...

Ben can leave with his head held high though, it was a tremendous career. I wish him an happy retirement.

Echoing what Motoshrink wrote, I would really like to hear from Ben, now that he is retired, what the heck was going on within the factory Yamaha team in 2012???

I must say Ben's season in WSBK really afforded me much pleasure and excitement. But in MotoGP one couldn't help but notice a reluctance to push in tricky conditions. When the track was less than perfect he preferred to play it safe when the top three were setting the fast times. This was not the formula for success and in the end Yamaha management read him the riot act. Rather than redoubling his efforts he tweeted his resignation. He just lacked the drive and determination to be a champion at the top level. Unfortunately there is not the interest in the US for world class moto competition and there are no prospects in the US that can afford the sacrifice that Stoner made I remember him when he moved up to the 250 class prematurely, riding hell for leather in first only to bust it big time. That kind of fierce determination is rare indeed. But I wish someone would bankroll Cameron Beaubier before it's too late

Now go back and check out the reports on Valencia 2011: in very tricky conditions Spies easily passed and outpaced Pedrosa and Dovi on the Factory Honda's, then destroyed Stoner's huge lead and passed him to lead the race. It was only Honda horsepower and a perfect drive out of the last corner that got Stoner the win by 0.015sec.

EDIT: Spies win at Assen in 2011 was in the rain! So I'm afraid you are just plain wrong.

Lacking drive and determination? More rubbish. I don't give a rats if Mladin never took it back to GP's or WSB he was one of the toughest and fastest SOB's to ever circulate a race track anywhere in the world, and to beat him on equal machinery proves Spies mental resolve. The R1 Spies won his WSB title on had no right winning the title, with everyone else riding the thing giving a more accurate representation of the bikes abilities (Sykes finished the year in 9th on the same bike). Spies efforts that year were amazing not just for the sheer outright pace but his mental strength after being proverbially kicked in the guts by running out of gas while leading at Monza, taken out by Fabrizio at Brno, and broken gearshift at Kyalami. Yet still he clawed his way back from a big defict to grab a well deserved title. Weak willed? What a ridiculous thing to say.

It's obviously hard for some of you to believe but modern medicine can not fix everything that breaks in the human body and the shoulder is one of those things. Take it from me, it's a soul destroying injury that just refuses to heal. It's nothing like a break where where things knit stronger than ever in a relatively sort time. It's the soft tissue, the ligaments and cartilage that is often irreparably damaged. Unless you've been there you have no idea how frustrating it is to have the best orthopedic specialists and sports physio's looking at MRI's and ultra-sounds, giving super-accurate diagnosis and the best rehab plans known to mankind, religiously follow the plan for months on end.....only to go month after month with painfully slow or virtually no improvement, not to mention a good night sleep is a thing of the past as your shoulder renders every position uncomfortable. Don't ask me how I know this.....

Good interview with Neil Hodgson on shoulder injury's at Superbikeplanet:

Winning one race and several podiums in 3 years on a MotoGP bike is not the record of the racer you imagine Ben to be. And if Ben was such a hot prospect why did Yamaha tell him not to show up at Laguna if he wasn't going to give 100%. And why didn't he fight for his ride rather than twitter his resignation as if Yamaha had hurt his feelings. And here is an real expert's opinion.
"I think he's realized that the motivation is not there any more".
That's what Kevin Schwantz said after Ben's retirement. Check it out here if you hadn't seen it before:
I would have added Mat Maldin's comment but it was too harsh.

to Ben Spies. I don't think we'll ever know what truly happened in his factory Yamaha seasons. Probably a combination of a bit of this and a bit of that, and all very strange, sadly ending the career of a promising young MotoGP racer.

I agree with Seven4nineR, and thought Spies would take to the new Yamaha 1000 like a duck to water, but we all know how that ended up...

As far as Kevin Schwantz' and Mat Mladin's comments, they're entitled to their opinions. Mladin and Spies were teammates and extremely bitter rivals in the AMA Superbike Championship, back when that series meant something. Mladin did pick Spies to win the WSBK championship first time out, which I thought was kinda cool, but I'm pretty sure they don't have each other on Speed Dial.

I'm not sure what mr OdB's problem is with Spies.

Ignoring that crazy 2012 year his numbers stack up pretty well considering in 2011 in his first Factory year (2nd in MotogP) he was competing against a Stoner, Pedro and Dovi 3 man Repsol squad, yet he still scored a win, 4 podiums and a heap of top 5's. He comfortably outscored the late Marco Simoncelli on a Factory Honda (missed one race through his tragic death) by nearly 40pts despite pulling out of 2 races with injury.

I'm not saying he was another alien but he was step up from Crutchlow, Bautista, Bradl, Edwards and co...even Hayden....and could actually compete with the best of them.

So to be treated like crap from "a senior member of the Yamaha squad", after Yamaha themselves had put in a shocking performance (broken subframe at Qatar, engine failure at Indy etc etc) I don't blame him one bit for taking matters into his own hands and effectively firing Yamaha. The ultimate revenge on crap service in all walks of life is to "speak with your feet" and the decision was made all the more correct by the suspension failure later in the week. Shame on you Yamaha, well done Ben.

Hell, I'm not even American, I just hate:
1. seeing good people treated unfairly.
2. seeing talent/potential wasted.

Note: if Honda were fined 25 points for the exposed traction control cable on Pedro's bike, what would Yamaha be fined for the suspension breakage on Spies bike if it had occured in 2013? Imagine the consequences if the bike had collapsed loaded up in Turn 1 (front "straight") at 270kph...........

My problem with Spies is a lack of commitment He had a golden opportunity handed to him and he failed to capitalize on it. From what I have read Yamaha started talking to Rossi at the start of the 2012 season so they had already decided Ben was not going to produce. No surprise he was getting second rate equipment throughout the season. If I am perceived as being too down on Ben is that as an American and even as a Texan I really was excited with the prospect of a front running fellow countryman. I subscribed to Dorna's feed and was a faithful viewer. I could have accepted that he was trying as hard as he could but I just could not see that occurring and he was not willing to risk his skin when Stoner and the other top riders were giving it every thing they had. In Stoner's last season at Ducati he would go out and he had to know that sucker was going to tuck it's front wheel but he flogged it anyway. That's commitment! Unfortunately at this point no one wants to write a critical review. I no longer watch the series on the Dorna feed but on Fox's crap network whic is watching mostly commercials. Edwards and Hayden have had their day and I would really love to see tha younger American's get a shot.

2012 was a strange year for me it was all to wierd.

-The 5kg wieght increase that affected Honda more than Yamaha
-The introduction of a new front tire that suited the Yamaha and not the Honda and suited Jorges riding style
-Carmelo Ezpaleta stating that Rossi will be on a competitive bike early in the season
-Casey Stoner announcing his retirement
-The whole saga that was Ben Spies bad luck
-Bens ability to make blistering starts when not injured
-His rear tire disintegrating at Assen
-The incompetence of his crew to provide a bike safe for him to ride in a race

To many wierd things that were just not necessary or properly explained occurred last season. It's known that Dorna provides incentives to teams to take one rider over a rider over another it wouldn't be so far fetched for them to persuade Bridgestone to make a tire that suits one manufacturers bike more than another especially since one rider romped to the championship the previous season and was winning races at tracks he hadn't won at in previous season.

To much wierdness occurred in 2012 and I feel may have been a victim to some of this to an extent and never recovered fully.

- overheating brakes
- broken suspension
- and that blown engine

2012 promised to give the two hottest prospects what they needed to bring it. Unfortunately both we're not to be, one tragically was absent, but at least Ben still has his life ahead of him.

To say that Lorenzo and others made 'bad judgement calls' about riding with injury, is to utterly misunderstand the mind, and will, of an elite racer.

"Elite" riders always did & always will try to ride even when they should not.That's why there's a medical test to pass before getting cleared. It's certainly not up to the riders to have the last word about it.

I wonder if David could comment, but I read in a Spanish moto magazine (my spanish is only ok) last year that there were huge differences in Lorenzo's style of riding vs Spies. Lorenzo was smooth, as in smooth in application of the brakes, smooth rolling onto the throttle and rolling off, turning they bike gently. Basically butter smooth just like JLO talks about. But Spies was rough. He cracked the throttle and jammed the brakes, his turn in was abrupt. After a race, his bike was far more used up than JLO's. I wonder if this was actually true but it would explain some things as to his accidents and mechanical issues.

I hope that Ben will write a book - sooner rather than later. Would be nice to hear his story. No one has yet mentioned his involvement with cycle racing, his racing seemed to go on a downward trajectory about the time he sponsored his own cycling team. It was about that time he admitted that he had not been on any motorcycle for the entire off season, in fact the first practice of the new season was the first time he had a leg over a motorcycle since the last GP race of the previous season. I was astounded to read that and it does seem that the cycling may have been a big distraction for him. Just wondering.
I remember his epic races with Matt Mladin which if you have never seen them - well, you have missed some of the best and hardest racing that you could ever wish to see.
I wish Ben all the best for the future.

Re 2012 and Spies. Lorenzo's M1 not Spies'. Re 2013 and Rossi. Lorenzo's M1 not Rossi's. Spies did have an excessive amount of weird mechanical issues in 2012 though. Good luck to him. I fear the USA may not have another top rider in MOTOGP for a long long time.

I was in Ben's box at Assen as a FIM official when he took his first and sadly only win in MotoGP . Nobody can take that from me. I will miss you Ben Spies :-(

I can recall the moment, the exact spot, when and where I watched him take that win. And his comments afterwards about savoring it because you never know if youll get another, at the time seemed ridiculous, but were prophetic.

2012 was ridiculous. Suspension failure? Cracked frame? When does that happen ?... Kuddos to Ben for keeping his spirits up and moving on. Wish him lots of success !