Three success stories from MotoAmerica riders who almost gave up… but didn’t

Mathew Scholtz and Chuck Giacchetto

Mathew Scholtz gets a boost from Yamalube/Westby Racing Team Manager Chuck Giacchetto after winning the MotoAmerica Bazzazz Superstock 1000 championship. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Professional motorcycle racing is an extremely precarious career choice, and not just for the reason most people think about first (crashing).

Even after you apply the extremely rigorous filters that screen out the people who don’t have the physical skills, mental toughness and extreme competitiveness that are needed to succeed at the top levels, along with all those who just didn’t have the chance to learn those skills as a child, there are still far more talented riders than there are opportunities. The line between being on top of the world (literally, as a world champion) and an unemployed has-been is thin, exceedingly thin. Perseverance guarantees nothing, except the possibility of extending your losses.

Sometimes, though, perseverance pays off. Sometimes, someone who has been to the top and has made that sudden and confidence-shaking fall to the bottom gets another chance to visit the top. Or someone who never tasted success before finally gets a reward for hard work. MotoAmerica gave us a few of those stories last weekend.

Toni Elias

Toni Elias enjoyed his championship, but he also used it to remember four fallen riders: Dani Rivas and Bernat Martínez, Spanish riders who died in a MotoAmerica crash in 2015; world champion Angel Nieto; and his current teammate’s brother, Nicky Hayden. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Toni Elias: World champion to has-been to champion

In 2010, Toni Elias became the first champion of the new Moto2 series. Winning his first world title should have been the doorway to greater things. Instead, he found himself mired in contract disputes and hampered by injury.

“After that, everything started to go in a bad way,” Elias said. Two years ago, Elias considered himself retired, and that could be seen as just a nice way of saying “washed up,” with no prospects. He made a key decision, though, to keep training and stay in shape, just in case. Then he got a phone call, asking if he’d be interested in filling in for injured Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike rider Jake Lewis in MotoAmerica. Elias responded to that phone call with a photo of himself in the gym to show he was ready. Now, Elias is the second MotoAmerica Motul Superbike champion, having made the round trip from hero to zero to hero.

“I was in the bottom and to come back in this way is amazing,” Elias said. “The taste is better. It is different but it is better because it is more than a championship. It is coming [back] from shit. I decided to quit between 500 and 600 days ago. And look at how the situation can change, no? Just a phone call.”

Superbike race

There’s a lot of determination in this photo: Roger Hayden (95) leads Toni Elias (24), Kyle Wyman (33), four-time Superbike champion Josh Hayes (4) and Mathew Scholtz. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Mathew Scholtz: “One more final dig” was the one he needed

Racing motorcycles is a far better way to lose a fortune than to make one. After racing in Europe, Mathew Scholtz has now won two championships in two years: The first was the SuperG National Championship in his home country of South Africa and the second was the MotoAmerica Bazzazz Superstock 1000 title he wrapped up Sunday. But he almost didn’t even try.

“After the 2015 season back home I nearly hung up my boots because it was just costing my family too much money,” Scholtz said, moments after winning the MotoAmerica title. “In 2016, we took one more final dig at it and I won the championship back home. Came over here this year. Fortunately, ended up winning the championship, so I couldn’t be happier. It’s like a dream come true for me.”

Kyle Wyman

Kyle Wyman didn’t win a race or a championship, but he had reason to smile. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Kyle Wyman: Home-built success doesn’t come cheap

Kyle Wyman didn’t win any championships Sunday. He didn’t even win the race. But he was as happy as anyone, and the entire paddock was happy for him, as well, after he finished second in the Motul Superbike race. That’s because Wyman, in addition to being a likable guy, is a true underdog.

Wyman’s second was the first time this season a privateer finished on the podium without any of the four dominant factory team riders crashing. In other words, it was no fluke. He earned it. He shadowed leader Roger Hayden for almost the entire race, and when Hayden and Elias fought for the lead on the first turn of the last lap, Wyman was there to hang on to second place.

“I’m super elated,” Wyman said. “This has been a very long, long road, from racing Harleys and racing 600s and not really having any success on 600s. I found the R1 that I’ve fallen in love with. Today was my day. Now I know I can do it and hopefully I can push forward and try to get up one step further.”

“It’s so easy to sit sixth or seventh on the time sheets and think, Oh, man, my dad and I built this bike in the garage in Tucson over the winter, so maybe seventh is all it’s got, you know. It happens in sports all the time, really. Someone overcomes the odds. The thing is you just have to keep believing in yourself. It sounds so cliché. In the past I’ve always had this wall. This is as good as I’m going to do with what I have. What if I can do it even if I have these so-called disadvantages? You just have to push forward and good things happen.”

Of course there are thousands of racers who pushed forward and gave all they had and still never got the payoff. Their stories rarely get told. But sometimes perseverance does pay rewards, and when it does, those are happy stories that are very fun to tell.