Tim Tuttle
Tuesday May 26th, 2009

Ben Spies never thought about becoming an international motorcycle road racing star growing up in the east Texas town of Longview, but he's become exactly that in his first season in the Superbike World Championship.

Spies has been sensational in the opening six rounds of the season. He's won five of 12 races (each round is a doubleheader) and six straight poles to tie the series' record set in 1991 by American Doug Polen. The 24-year-old is third in the championship, which reaches its halfway point this weekend in the only round located in the United States -- at Miller Motorsports Park, just west of Salt Lake City.

"Honestly, I didn't think about riding internationally when I first went into riding professionally," Spies said. "I'm definitely glad I took the step and am doing it."

It takes a serious commitment to race internationally, mostly in terms of a profound lifestyle change. Living in Europe is almost mandatory for logistical reasons, and travel is global. Spies has raced in Australia, Qatar and South Africa this season, plus three European rounds.

Spies lives at Lake Como, a fashionable area in northern Italy that is 30 minutes from his team's base in Monza. It's a place where you can find plenty of veal, steak and pasta, but no barbecue ribs and chicken. Spies has taken the adjustment in stride.

What does the 24-year-old bachelor like most about where he's living?

"The food and the women are pretty good," he said. "It's the whole package. It's completely different than what I'm used to and a good place to be. I wouldn't say I made the adjustment easily, but it happened pretty smoothly and that was a big help. [Lake Como is] awesome. You can go cycling, running, it fits me. I do a lot of that."

Spies signed a one-year contract with Yamaha Italia team last fall after a dominant 2008 AMA Superbike season in which he had 10 wins and eight second places. It was Spies' third straight Superbike -- the top class in American road racing -- championship and fifth AMA national title. He also had three trial runs on the international stage last season, and he didn't disappoint. Riding for Rizla Suzuki in MotoGP, Spies finished sixth at Laguna Seca Raceway, eighth at Indianapolis and 14th at Donington Park, England.

The Rizla Suzuki team decided to retain both of its drivers in MotoGP, Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen. Spies had ridden for Suzuki during his entire professional career that began in 2000, but with the door closed at the Rizla team, he decided to open the bidding for his services.

"I was at a point talking to a lot of teams and saw Yamaha Italia's shop, how everything functioned and how it worked. It took off from there," Spies said.

Spies took the pole for the opening round at Phillip Island, Australia, and won the second race. He became the first American to win in World Superbike since Colin Edwards in 2002.

In the second round at Losil, Qatar, Spies triumphed in both races.

"That was a good weekend," Spies said. "It was a weekend where we didn't have any problems and were able to put every lap together, and it showed on Sunday."

Spies also has wins at Aasen, The Netherlands, and Monza. He has been second at Valencia, Spain, and third at Kyalami, South Africa.

"I thought I could run up front, but I didn't think it would happen straight off the bat," Spies said. "I don't think there is much difference in speed [from AMA]. The difference is in the depth of the competition. It's much better, all the way back to 10th. In AMA, there are only a couple of riders with the speed. The actual speed [in World Superbike] is fairly similar."

Of course, not everything has been perfect. He ran out of gas on the final lap while leading the other race at Monza, had his shift lever break while leading at Kyalami, has been run off the track twice and crashed twice.

"We've had lots of ups and downs," Spies said. "We've had some mechanicals [failures]. I don't think we've had that much bad luck. We've had a lot of DNFs this year, but it's been good because we've got the speed to be up front."

With 162 points, Spies trails leader Noriyuki Haga by 88 points. Michel Fabrizo, Haga's Ducati teammate, is second with 165.

"[Haga is] pretty far out there [in terms of points]," Spies said. "If we're perfect and he has some problems, [we can still beat him]."

Spies raced at Miller the past three years in AMA Superbike and won five or six races.

"I'm excited about it," Spies said. "It's a good track for me and I've had good results there. I think the bike will work well there. It would be big to win. We've had a rough time the past couple of weekends and it would be nice to come back and pull a double (win) off. The American crowd can definitely give my adrenalin a boost."

This will be the second year for the Superbike World Championship at Miller. Spain's Carlos Checa won both races in 2007.

Spies has begun negotiating with Yamaha Italia on extending his contract.

"I'm happy with the team," Spies said. "It's a great corporation and hopefully I can hang around for a couple of years. We've just started talking and are kind of working on some things."

Yamaha Italia is undoubtedly listening to what Spies has to say. He has a very bright and lucrative future in international road racing.

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