VIDEO AND PHONE INTERVIEWS: TRAY BATEY TALKS ABOUT "THE CRASH" AND ARAI HELMETS
by Richard Rossi
(Allentown, PA) The AMA Pro Racing round at Road Atlanta (April 17-18) turned into a classic good news-bad news scenario for veteran road racer Tray Batey.
The good news part was the 50-year-old racer’s return to the AMA Pro paddock after a number of years on WERA endurance bikes. (Yes, I said 50-year-old AMA racer.) Long one of the most popular and respected riders, Batey, also a longtime instructor at the Kevin Schwantz School, gridded his Vesrah Team Suzuki GSX-R1000 for Saturday’s first Pro SuperBike final. Vesrah was the team he’s been endurance racing for, and when the team made the move to the AMA this year, Batey came with them.
He got a great start in fifth right behind Larry Pegram’s Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing Ducati. Then it all went terribly wrong. “Once I got into the corner (turn six) and realized I had no brakes my options were very limited and I had about a split second to make a decision. I know Road Atlanta quite well (the Schwantz school was headquartered there). I’ve been out in that turn area off the racetrack on my dirt bike and I’m pretty familiar with what’s out there. There’s just not a lot of room. I thought if I could get the thing down on my knee—there was no way I was going to make the corner—so I just went ahead, leaned it in, got it down on my knee and then kind of gently released the handlebars. And I remember sliding until I hit the gravel. Once I got to the gravel I knew I was going to tumble … I made it across the gravel and bonked my head pretty good on that wall out there, which is hard to do because, if you wreck in the corner, you’re not going to make it to the wall. But I was basically not slowing down. I had pretty much jumped off the bike, so I was out there and I bounced off the wall.”
He went into the unprotected wall head first and had to be airlifted unconscious to the hospital, bringing out the red flag. Thankfully, despite a broken right wrist, some ribs, and a concussion, he returned to the track on Sunday “to spectate and kind of hang out.”
Amazingly, just 24 hours after such a violent crash, Batey was so lucid that he gave an excellent and entertaining video interview to OnTheThrottle.com, who graciously gave us permission to share it with you at http://www.onthethrottle.com/content/view/630/1/.
Arai also caught up with Tray a week later at his Tennessee home to get some brief additional comments about his amazing career that began with racing motocross in the ‘70s, on to the weekend crash, and to his almost 25-year relationship with Arai Helmets. He had some nice things to say.
ARAI: How long have you been wearing Arai helmets and how did you come to start wearing them?
BATEY: I came from a dirt bike background in the ‘70s … In the ‘80s I was still racing motocross. I hadn’t purchased an Arai helmet in that time. I just wasn’t that aware of them … they weren’t that prevalent back then. Then I started riding street bikes a little bit, got my road racing license, and went and bought another (of the helmet brand he’d raced MX in). And it was a good helmet, but it wasn’t meant for road racing … But I think I wore that helmet through my novice year. And about that time the Arai helmets were coming in and they were beautiful, had a good reputation, and so I bought a Kevin Schwantz Replica—and I’ve still got the helmet … I wore that helmet for two or three years and just loved it, and never looked back. I liked the helmet and the comfort, and the money wasn’t an object. I said, If I’m going to do this, I’m going to get the best leathers, the best gloves, the best boots and the best helmet …Then for a few years I was on a team that had a contract to ride with a different helmet brand … I didn’t have anything against [the brand], but going from the Arai to [it] was just awful … Then in ‘93 I got with Valvoline, which is now M4 (Team M4 Monster Energy Suzuki), and [they] had always been using Arai. So when I joined the Valvoline team I was able to get back into the Arai program. And I’ve pretty much used those helmets ever since … When I joined the Schwantz school in ’01, they were affiliated with Arai, so it was just perfect being able to wear the Arai in the Schwantz school, too.
ARAI: [In the Road Atlanta crash] you hit the wall head first. What about the concussion?
BATEY: They never really talked about it at the hospital; they were looking for other problems. The doctor just said the CAT-Scan looked good. So they released me and I went by the track on Sunday. I went by [the Arai tech area] to thank Bruce (Porter) and Jeff (Weil) because, basically, they saved my bacon. I told Jeff I was sorry I ruined that brand new Corsair-V they just gave me (Laughs) … Bruce asked me if I had a concussion and I said I didn’t even know. So he looked in my eyes—he’s got years of experience with that sort of thing—and said, ‘Yup, you’ve got a concussion, dude. My recommendation would be to stay off the bike today.’ I said ‘Yeah, no problem.’ And we both laughed … That helmet took a pretty good smack … I’m so grateful. You know, I’ve had such a wonderful career, and [that crash] could have just been a whole lot worse. I’m alright, just as old and grumpy as ever!
ARAI (laughing): This is one of those times when you can be old and grumpy and everybody says Thank God! … Anything more to add?
BATEY: I never felt as though I was putting myself in harm’s way as far as my head. Every time I put an Arai helmet on my head it’s like, well … it doesn’t get much better than that. I may worry about my gloves, is the stitching still tight and all, that kind of thing. But you pull an Arai helmet on and it’s like, Okay, I’m good to go on the top end.