My friend Johnny Grudzien works for Dainese, doing rider support at the AMA races. He connected me with Steve Rapp at Laguna Seca. We talked about his disappointing debut on the Attack Performance CRT bike, the upcoming Indianapolis GP and the rider's life and career.
Photos: Adam Hoff and Johnny Grudzien
AG: We were all rooting for you at Laguna...
SR: It was a big, big hill, to show up at a Grand Prix, with the best riders, with the best bikes and best mechanics, on a bike that's never been ridden, never been tested, I mean I don't really know if anyone's ever done it. At least the bike's been ridden by somebody at some point, not off the drawing board straight to the track. You know, nobody does that.
AG: How do you feel about Indy?
SR: I feel good. We went and tested at Fontana for two days last weekend, so we got a lot of stuff sorted out, I mean a lot of stuff. Now that I know all the stuff we did, I almost can't believe I was able to ride it as well as I did at Laguna, we changed so much stuff. We got the bike working good, and turning, and I felt comfortable. We modified the gas tank which is actually the seat, We had to modify that because the seat was so high up at Laguna — I mean I knew it felt weird but I just didn't know why it felt weird — and then after sitting on some other bikes and then going to Fontana I realized that the seat was so high up in the air that I couldn't get comfortable on the bike, so we re-cut it, re-welded it, re-did it, the whole thing, and got it back the next day. I went out on the bike Sunday morning at Fontana and it was instantly like a night and day difference as far as my comfort on the bike. So we got a lot done basically, and we're going to Indy for a one day test this Saturday.
AG: Was it a letdown for you at Laguna?
SR: I kept my expectations realistic and I knew what I was getting into. I knew it would be probably the hardest thing I've ever done, and it was, and it was frustrating at times, and I learned a lot at the same time. It just added to my collection of things I've learned and what to do in certain situations. And no, I wasn't disappointed at all, I mean, the fact that we were even out there, on a brand new bike...we were supposed to test for four days before the race, so, with four days I was feeling comfortable. And then four days became three days, I was like, three days is okay. And then three days became two days, I was like, umm, okay we can get some stuff done, and then two days became one day and I'm like, only one day is not much time, and then one day became no days and I'm like, wow. And so everyday my expectations fully changed, and so basically it was a test, I mean, I wasn't there racing, I was there testing, and unfortunately it's was in front of everybody and everyone's watching you but at the same time we made a lot of progress. You know, my goal was to go out there, not crash the bike, and to go faster every time I rode it and make the bike better, and so I accomplished that and that was my end goal.
AG: You've been racing a long time, how does this rank in your list of accomplishments?
SR: It's something that I've always wanted to do, it was a situation that presented itself, and I thought, you know what, I've done a lot of things and I'd like to try to do this. And it didn't go how you dreamed it would go, but at the same time you can only do so much. I think the bike was really good, overall, to design a bike that's never been ridden, by a guy that doesn't build bikes per se, you know, I mean, he builds parts for bikes, but he's never built a whole complete bike, down to everything, frame, swingarm, gas tank, the whole thing. And to throw it on a track with the best people in the world, I mean, that's an accomplishment in itself, you know? I'm realistic, I'm a dreamer sometimes, but I'm also very realistic and I thought, all in all, the weekend went pretty good.
AG: We all watched you kick some butt on the Mission Motors e-bike the previous year at Laguna, would you have ridden again if the opportunity had presented itself, what's your take on that whole experience?
SR: Yeah, at the time it seemed cool, but now looking back on it I have really good memories of the whole experience. Working with all those guys from Mission Motors, especially Edward West, he was the key to that whole thing, he was really the motivator, the pusher. There was a lot of guys working on the project, but he was really like the racing guy, you know? He made it happen, and he did it right, he hired the right people as far as crew chief Chuck Warren, me riding, and all these people he surrounded himself with, and we went and tested and we got the bike working, and we did everything you need to do when you build a new bike. This project I’m doing with Richard Stanboli is very similar to that project, where it was a new bike that no one had ever ridden hardly, maybe at all. I took it out on the track for the first time and it wasn't that great, but over the course of a couple months we tested maybe four or five or six times and we got it to the point where you could see how good it was at the end of that, so I feel like I learned a lot, and I can relate that to where Richard's at, we just didn't have the time to get where we needed to get. And yeah, if the Mission guys would have been racing again, and I could've done it, then I would've for sure, yeah.
AG: Do you ride on the street at all?
SR: Yeah, I have a street bike, yeah.
AG: What do you ride?
SR: I have a VFR800.
AG: Oh cool, have you ever done any longer trips or anything like that?
SR: Not really, I never got into that. I'm kind of impatient. That why us racers are racers, I find myself having a hard time sitting like that. I think if I had the right bike and the right group of people it'd be fun but the opportunity has never really come up and so I mostly ride on the street for transportation, you know traffic, and if it's a really nice day I'll go cruise along the beach or something, go get lunch, but yeah, I keep it kind of local.
AG: Johnny told me you were into airplanes, and you might even have plans for when you stop racing to become a commercial pilot, is that right?
SR: Yeah, that's true. I started flying probably six, seven years ago, not as a career option, but because I'm impatient and I was trying to think about a better way to get around LA and everywhere I wanted to go. I was constantly driving, you know driving to Laguna, or Infineon, or Las Vegas, or Arizona...all these places and it started getting on my nerves. I'm always looking for a better way to do something, so a few of my friends who are pilots were like, "why don't you start flying?" and so I did, I got my pilot's license in two months, and then I bought a plane and flew that for a while, and then upgraded to a different plane and got all my ratings as far as multi-engine, instrument, commercial, you know, all the ratings you need, and at some point I realized I could do this for a career once I'm done racing. I never really had a plan as to what I was going to do, I wanted one, I just couldn't think of one (laughing), and when I started flying, it was like a light switch turned on, it was like "Oh my God, this is it!", you know?
AG: I've always felt like there's a parallel between motorcycles and airplanes, something about the banking of planes and the exhilaration of flying that's similar to the sensation of riding a motorcycle.
SR: I agree, 100%.
AG: Did you happen to see Chip Yates world record e-flight recently?
SR: I did! Yeah, it's wild, that guy just goes from one thing to another.
AG: Going back to motorcycles, do you ever ride off-road, do any motocross, or supermoto for training, anything like that?
SR: I used to do all of that stuff, I used to moto, off-road, supermoto, but over the years, every time I got more hurt doing that stuff than I ever did road racing. I'd miss races, and I'd show up hurt, and I'd miss training, and after a while I realized, you know what, all I need to do is show up at the races healthy and in shape cardio-wise, and just be ready to go, so that what I've been doing now because it reduces my risks of getting hurt and I show up at the races 100% healthy. I run, I cycle, I do other things to stay in shape that aren't as dangerous, and I show up at the races ready to go, and motivated, and not hurt, so that's what I've ended up doing.
AG: So, you mentioned cycling, and flying of course, do you have any other hobbies outside of motorcycles that are notable?
SR: Yeah I cycle, and run, I used to sail a little bit but not so much anymore, I mean, I still like it, I just don't have the access to it.
AG: Do you have a favorite track?
SR: Yeah, for the longest time I've always liked Road America, but when Miller came around I really started liking Miller quite a bit, so I think those are my two favorite tracks right now.
AG: The other day I found a picture of you, I can't remember where it was from, you were riding a Ducati and the bike was exploding and you were flying down the track, I'm sure you probably remember where that was from?
SR: Oh yeah, I remember that very well. That was 2000, Vance and Hines Ducati at Road America on the start.
AG: Would you say that was your worst crash?
SR: Not really, everyone thinks that was my worst crash because it was on TV and everyone saw it, but I've had a lot of other crashes that hurt more or that I got injured more than that one. They were in testing or on a dirtbike, places where no one would even see them. So that wasn't my worst crash because I didn't even get hurt in that at all, so it definitely wasn't as far as injury goes, you know? It looked crazy though!
AG: Do you have a favorite motorcycle of all time?
SR: Yeah, for sure, that's easy. I love...I never got to race one, but I always wanted to, was two bikes, either the RC30 or the RC45. I remember when I first came to the AMA races before I raced I'd go and sit in front of those pits and watch those guys, and just the sound of them, and everything about them I liked. So those are the bikes I always remember I wished I would've ended up riding or racing, I just never got to.
AG: Yeah, when I went to Barber a few years ago and went to the museum, we stopped and looked at those bikes for quite a while.
SR: Yeah, they're so sweet. My buddy actually keeps one in my airplane hangar. He bought a zero mile RC30, so I get to look at it every couple days so that's kind of cool.
AG: So is your hangar like your garage space too?
SR: I just keep my airplane there, but my friend kind of got into collecting bikes and he's got the RC30, an OW01, and some old, like perfect GSX-R's, like a 1990 750, and 1100, stuff like that, a FZR1000, like 1990s, those really nice one's from back in the day. So he started collecting those and he didn't have anywhere to put them and I like bikes too, so I was like, "Well, shit, put 'em in my hangar, I got room and I can look at them all day."
Andy Gregory is a teacher, motorcycle enthusiast and man’s man based out of Seattle, Washington. You can read more by him at Man’s Gotta Do.