Kiwi motocross fans love their heroes and, in recent years, they have loved to follow and shout support for Bay of Plenty’s Ben Townley.
BikesportNZ.com has had the privilege to be there first-hand to see Townley race at the ultimate level in New Zealand, Europe and in the United States.
We fondly remember witnessing as he battled with Cody Cooper in the 8-11 year’s 85cc class in the New Zealand Junior Motocross Championships in 1995. We loved seeing the handlebar-to-handlebar action between Townley and Luke Burkhart in the senior 125cc nationals in 2000.
We were there to holler encouragement on his 125cc world championship debut in 2001 and, another four years on, we were there on the side of the track to see him take on Stefan Everts and Josh Coppins at the top of the MX1 world championships in Europe.
But, be it Blenheim, Belgium or Budd’s Creek, we have also learned to share the pain of his disappointment.
Today we bring you the first part of a retrospective look at the ebb and flow of Townley’s career in recent years
Patience is a virtue, or so we are told, and that is a quality that Townley has had to master several times over.
The 26-year-old former New Zealand, American and world champion was sidelined from top-level racing for much of this year, a restriction he imposed upon himself after struggling to compete on the MX1 world championship scene at the start of the 2011 season.
So, with his usual fire little more than burning embers, he received the blessing of his French-based CLS Kawasaki team in June to put his contract on ice and head back to New Zealand to properly rest, recover and reinvigorate himself.
There was something of an element of déjà vu about that development as Townley’s see-sawing career path had taken yet another tragic dip. The question could have been asked: Is Townley one of the unluckiest racers on the planet?
He suffered serious injury in a spectacular crash at the Motocross of Nations in the United States at the end of 2007, at the end of a season that had brought fans to their feet as they saw Townley dish out some hurt to rising American star Ryan Villopoto.
But the MXoN crash in September effectively ruled him out of action for the entire 2008 season that followed, meaning he was unable to deliver on so much promise after a stand-out 2007 season, one in which he won the East Coast Lites Supercross crown and finished an agonisingly close runner-up to Villopoto in the 250cc outdoor nationals as well.
In 2009 he was set to return to action, this time under the wing of the Honda factory.
But his recovery was as slow as it was frustrating and, still sidelined, he felt he was unable to honour his new contract and race with any potency for the Red Bull Honda team.
Townley finally decided his best option was to abandon any thoughts of racing in America in 2009.
So, midway through that year, Townley and his wife Lucy returned home to New Zealand so that he could rest and properly heal his damaged right shoulder, the same injury that had dogged him since September 2007 and right through 2008.
That strategy appeared to pay dividends and, within a few months, Townley was able to report that he was well on the road to being 100% again.
Then racing a privateer Kawasaki, Townley made his comeback to racing at the Whakatane Summercross in December 2009, winning the day and at the same time announcing he was back to his best.
Despite the worldwide economic downturn at the time, Townley managed to score himself a top-shelf ride back in the United States, as a member of the Troy Lee Designs Honda Team for the AMA outdoor nationals.
- The story continues tomorrow …
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com