He clinched a motorcycle world championship last year—at just 21. Then, in 2008, a proud Casey Stoner was named Young Australian of the Year. He also became the youngest recipient of the Australian Sports Award and was short-listed for the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards, which all recognise great sporting achievement.
This gives some insight into this young man’s character but it doesn’t fully explain his dedication and commitment to his chosen career and sport—nor that of his parents.
He was always in a hurry—in a hurry to reach the top and stamp his name on the Grand Prix scene.
“MotoGP has been my dream since I was five years old,” says Stoner, who had his first race at four. If ambition and determination were the only ingredients required to be world champion, Stoner would already have the trophies on his shelf. Motorcycle racing is far more complicated than that.
Stoner grew up on the family farm in Kurri Kurri (NSW) and learned to ride dirt bikes on the Gold Coast before spreading his wings on the international scene, thanks to dedicated parents Colin and Bronwyn.
They invested their life savings— everything they owned—in their son’s future, such was the family’s belief that young Stoner had the necessary talent, desire and dedication to succeed.
Fortunately for Stoner, his parents were very supportive. With Dad’s help and encouragement, by the time he’d turned 14, the young hot-shot had graduated from mini-dirt bikes, amassing a string of 41 dirt-track titles in Australia, while the attraction of competing overseas increased for this highly-competitive youngster.
With the legal age for road racing in Australia being 16, the difficult decision to relocate to England was made, enabling Stoner to compete sooner.
The family made many sacrifices, working together to raise money— even painting houses together—so dreams could become reality.
“My parents always knew I could do it, and I had a lot of self-belief too,” says Stoner. “We had a lot of people saying we wouldn’t make it but we also had lots of people who helped us.”
The road wasn’t easy and Stoner took his fair share of hard knocks, both on and off the circuit. Searching for fame, fortune and faster bikes as a teenager, much of his “normal” social life was sidelined, although he managed to find a supportive and understanding girlfriend, Adriana Tuchyna, who became his wife at the beginning of 2007.
“Being married has helped my racing. She keeps me calm,” admitted Stoner.
The high cost of racing and living in foreign countries took its toll. With the money almost gone, this could have ended Stoner’s career had it not been for his committed and loving family, who worked through problems, together, to secure his future.
Miraculously, young Stoner’s obvious ability and skilful riding began to pay dividends as he attracted the attention of sponsors and supporters.
As a 15-year-old, “the little racer” was riding Aprilia motorcycles in Britain and Spain, and beginning to turn heads on his 125cc machine.
“I’m in MotoGP because of my dad and a Spaniard, Alberto Puig, who helped set me up,” said Stoner.
Puig became friend and mentor to the Aussie family, who lived like gypsies, camped in a motorhome at Puig’s place near Barcelona (Spain). He also introduced the Stoners to another highly-respected team manager, Lucio Cecchinello, who agreed to give the “kid from Australia” a chance.
Cecchinello’s team (LCR) contracted the baby-faced young gun from 2002, with Stoner eventually stepping up to the next category, where wins began to trickle through.
Despite becoming Australia’s youngest Grand Prix winner (at 18) and the first Aussie to win on a 250cc bike for 24 years, there was no fairytale ending— just plenty of hard work, many frightening crashes, bruises and broken bones. He even earned the unkind tag of “Rolling Stoner” but this young man never gave up.
After each major crash, he picked himself up and worked toward his comeback. Family and close friends supported him as he searched for success, determined to reach his goal.
“Being a parent of a motorcycle racer isn’t a great role if you’re a worrier. We learned to accept the associated dangers of the sport. He tries so hard; we feel bad when things don’t go well for him,” explained Colin.
Stoner rode his heart out. The light at the end of the tunnel began to glow, with runner-up in the 250cc world championship his reward after his harsh apprenticeship and some tough times.
Then came the progression to the top category—MotoGP. Those who maintained their faith in his ability to achieve, and who saw his true potential, would eventually reap rewards but Stoner had to earn his rise to stardom and the respect of fellow competitors.
Five-time world 500cc champion Mick Doohan gave his support for this fearless, passionate young competitor.
“He’s destined to succeed. He’s been quick from the moment he got into Grand Prix racing. He has that special quality,” said Doohan.
Cecchinello gave the Aussie battler his golden opportunity on a Honda.
He struggled throughout his first season in the premier class, although there were some obvious touches of style, enabling him to stamp his authority as a potential, serious challenger.
With Cecchinellos’ good wishes, the ambitious Stoner secured a factory ride (every competitor’s dream) with Ducati for 2007.
After all the heartaches and hardships, financial struggles and anguish for Stoner and his caring family, instead of constantly falling off the bike, he was about to “fall on his feet.”
“I have to prove to myself and everyone else that I can race up front in MotoGP,” he declared.
With a good team and a good bike, he rose to the occasion. Here was this bright young star, having reached the top in this elite class, rubbing handlebars with—and beating—legendary Italian ace, multi-champion Valentino Rossi.
Stoner wrapped up his first MotoGP title after seven years of courageous riding, having overcome many hurdles to snatch that elusive dream and emerge as a polished, mature rider.
The 2008 season began well with victory.
Then followed a series of mechanical disasters and mishaps, even the odd fall or two, as he attempted to rectify frustrating problems with the bike, leaving both Ducati and Stoner scratching their collective heads, wondering where it all went wrong! Never one to throw in the towel, no matter how impossible the prospect of defending his title appeared, Stoner drew on all of his inner strength and raw talent to fight back. With his rivals gathering in the points and Stoner dropping to fourth in the championship, things were looking grim.
Tirelessly testing the breaking points of himself and his machine before triumphantly turning the corner, he rebuilt his confidence, and began fighting back—drawing on his famous true- Aussie spirit. This came in the form of five pole positions, several new lap records and three consecutive victories.
During the last race (California) before the summer break, he faltered under pressure, admitting to riding beyond his limit in a desperate bid to pass Rossi, before tumbling from his Ducati. Undeterred, he quickly remounted and continued racing, claiming second. Such is Stoner’s positive level of extreme determination.
Irrespective of his points tally this month, when Stoner competes at his “home track”—Phillip Island in Victoria— he will carry the aspirations of a sporting nation with him as he takes to the grid. This committed racer will endeavour to achieve in front of his loyal friends and fans, repaying some of the faith placed in him.
Perhaps we could take a leaf out of Stoner’s book—no, not to take up motorcycle racing—but to be guided by his good example. Win or lose, Stoner’s philosophy remains “We can take a lot of positives from what we do and from everyone’s hard work.”