Guest Blog: Mat Oxley: Inside the mind of Casey Stoner

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Inside the mind of Casey Stoner

I spent some of the festive break reading Casey Stoner’s autobiography, Pushing the Limits. It’s an enjoyable book and should be required reading for any aspiring kid racer (presuming they’ve been off the bike long enough to learn to read) and for any parents of same.

Stoner’s abilities and his success confirm the verity of the 10,000 hour rule which suggests that’s the minimum amount of time you need to spend doing any pursuit if you want to be world-beating good at it. In other words, there are no short cuts on the way to the top – it’s just work, work and more work.

The young Casey Stoner

As a kid, Stoner did pretty much nothing except ride bikes. And the struggles through which his family went to ensure that he kept climbing the ladder make for uncomfortable reading, especially if you’re a parent. Would you go to the same ends? I’m not sure I would.

As is usual in autobiographies (at least, in my opinion), it’s the childhood years that are the most fascinating. You get to fully understand why Stoner was the way he was when he was racing Grands Prix. After that, there’s plenty of interesting stories you won’t have heard before and he also manages to settle a few scores, because, after all, that’s half the point of writing an autobiography.

Among those who get it in the neck are Michelin, who he says didn’t look after him so well when he graduated to MotoGP in 2006, and Randy Mamola, who was briefly involved in managing his career.

Perhaps the most illuminating part of the book is the tale of his very first race, as a four-year-old, at Hatcher’s dirt track on the Gold Coast. As Stoner lines up at the start aboard his PW50, he starts to cry. There are harsh looks from other parents and race officials, all of them no doubt jumping to the conclusion that Stoner’s mum and dad are the kind of desperate racing parents who force their kids into doing something they really don’t want to do.

In fact Stoner is shedding tears for a different reason – he is upset because people are looking at him. Born and bred in the middle of nowhere, he’s not used to all the attention and he hates it. A few years later he was bullied at school, so his parents took him out and home-schooled him, further divorcing him from the rough and tumble of normal life.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Comments

Great read

I always like learning about my favorite (ex) rider. Casey always seemed like an enigma so when you can learn more about his psyche (I guess) its really interesting. I'll have to pick up his book

Total votes: 31

I knew he hated it

I remember Nick Harris commenting that he seemed almost apologetic for winning. It was easy to see that he didn't like all the PR fuss that comes with it.

Total votes: 19

the difference between us and them...

"A few years later he was bullied at school, so his parents took him out and home-schooled him, further divorcing him from the rough and tumble of normal life."

Total votes: 21

The only difference

is Stoners unbelievably committed parents and Stoners talent. They weren't rich by any means, and to have Casey race in the most competitive series his family had to move to new towns. Stoner was small and shy as a kid as well so he was bullied a lot and had trouble making friends. I have a lot of empathy for him after reading his book.

Total votes: 27

Casey's Book

I read Casey's book. It really offers an honest insight into his thinking, what it was like growing up in the grands prix, and all that jazz. It was a poorly written book, but that's not really the goal of the book. He tells you what you want to know in his voice. His criticisms of things he didn't enjoy in his racing days are consistent and honest; he really doesn't flip-flop on his opinions at all. At the end of the day, the book really convinced me that Casey was truly a guy who just loved riding a motorbike and that was it. He didn't desire anything more than that and was chastised for not enjoying the spotlight, unfortunately.

Total votes: 32

Hindsight is 20/20

Quite simply his career is one that by could only be appreciated fully in hindsight. Like a great artist who must pass on before their work can appreciated.
And that's why people will still be talking CS long after his ability to score points on track have past, as he's just finally starting to score points with the fans at large.

Total votes: 39

Charisma or courage?

The PR skills of most sportsmen aren't worth very much - the post-race interviews with charisma-laden superstars like Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez are hardly riveting entertainment. Stoner's plain spoken style was just as informative - perhaps even more so than the 'personalities'.
It was always a thrill to watch his courage and skill. I particularly admired him when he humbled the two Japanese corporate behemoths with his controlled aggression on that beast of a Ducati - and my admiration survived his move to Honda. These two-wheel artists do their real magic on the machines - the rest is either ego or PR fluff to sell merchandise. I know my preference.
The Donington crowd behaved like ignorant rabble and embarrassed themselves. I hope he'll return - but this article helps me understand why he may not. Bon voyage from a Pom.

Total votes: 39

Good article from Mat

Casey's book is, as you might imagine, not the wordiest of pieces but he gets his opinions across very well and the section on Michelin in 2006 is rather interesting [and maybe worth a check of the results to investigate].

It is fairly telling that he starts talking about racing aged 4 and other than Chaz and Leon Camier never really mentions friends much - he was never in racing to be popular, it was simply his calling and he got what he wanted out of it. The fact that he started disageeing with the politics of the sport aged around NINE says a lot too.

Whatever you think of Casey, part of what has made his era interesting is the differences in personality between the riders, which we should be celebrating.

Total votes: 26

The Michelin stuff

Isn't really in doubt. It was already known that 'factory' Michelin riders got the better tyres - Casey just illuminated more about how the process worked. And I'm not surprised about his anti establishment standpoint given how his junior road race license was rejected without any reason given whatsoever!

Total votes: 20

what i want to see is

when rossi retires yamaha gives stoner a contract. i want to see what stoner is capable of. but that wil never happen

Total votes: 33

You want to see what Stoner

You want to see what Stoner is capable of? Have you been watching him racing with your eyes closed? He made the Ducati look like a fast bike and embarrassed both Honda and Yamaha by beating them with it. Then moved to Honda and won a world championship. Does that not tell you what he is capable of?

Total votes: 50

"Sure, Stoner wasn’t the

"Sure, Stoner wasn’t the ideal ambassador for the sport, but who cares? One of the most important things in life is to know yourself and to be yourself. Do we really want every rider to give himself a PR work-over, learning to always say the right thing and always smile at the camera? I know I don’t. I just want riders to race like their lives depend on it and then to be themselves, for better or for worse."

Perfect. I want racers to amaze me with their skills on the track, not entertain me with their antics off of it.

Total votes: 42

PEKA PEKA

Yes peka. ive seen it all. but you forgot 1 thing.... i was talking about stoner/yamaha/what he's able to. So i didn't mention a word about "what stoner was Capable of".

Total votes: 21

Duplicity?

It is interesting so many are quick to applaud Jeremy Burgess for his honesty and straight talking bur chastise Stoner for essentially doing the same.

(Not a new thought but on worth repeating!)

Total votes: 27

Each to their own.

When you're best at controlling a motorbike, better than just about anyone else, you shouldn't be expected to be brilliant at controlling other things. Least of all the unruly, selfish and self serving media.

Riders are (hopefully) primarily hired as racing talent. If it turns out they're not also capable of dealing with the media, doing public relations for their team and the sport, and acting as walking advertisements for everything under the sun, then that's a problem the brands and the sport need to deal with, not blame the rider for. The riders cannot be expected to be experts in public relations, but the brands can and should be expected to not only know the market and media, but also their riding talent's personality and character. As should Dorna, a promotions and marketing company seemingly constantly involved in the lives of those racing in MotoGP.

Talent should be respected, and revered, as it is. Those seeking to benefit from the entertainment values of motor racing seem to understand this. Those seeking to sell things through the entertainment values of it - not so much.

An inability to control media is a redeeming quality. Especially when due to an honest and forthright approach to the singular talent of riding a bike better than anyone else. It shows a clear concern for more important matters than reciprocating the fawning of a captive media.

Ducati, Dorna and the sponsors must take some credit for messing up Stoner's image and public identity. They are specialists in dealing with their captive media, one would hope, and therefore should make every effort to provide the best outlook upon their main talents, not exhaust and/or expose them through thankless, needless and never ending media obligations.

If a racer is shy, let him be shy. If he's outspoken, an entertainer, or naturally exuberant nobody is going to stop that, so why try to prevent or admonish someone for being shy? It's ridiculous that the media and marketing arms of these brands have put any blame on this young man for his forthright and honest attempts at meeting the ludicrous levels of appearances and media opportunities they're obliged to fulfil.

However it's become fashionable to place not only the exposure and media obligation on athletes, but also their image control and media persona. This is nonsensical because these guys are focused on being the best at what they can control (bikes, in the case of Stoner) and should not be asked to pretend or even attempt to control the media and their image, unless they're also gifted in that area.

Just because we've been witness to someone using entertainment as a tool (Rossi) does not mean we should expect that from all riders. It is more than enough to just be great on a bike.

Over at the source blog on MotorSportsMagazine there's some rather odd crap about his state of mental health in the comments, and I wrote something akin to a defence of the right to be whoever you are, despite media obligations. It's been pulled/deleted, hence this drivel going up here. Sorry, but I strongly feel we should push much of the responsibility for the creation of onerous media obligations back onto the brands trying so hard to both curtail the incomes of these guys at the same time as using them to pimp everything they can.

These are brands absolutely expert in marketing and image. If they hire a great racer and then don't properly shepherd him from media inappropriate to his innate personality then the fault and failings lay with the brand. It's not the rider's responsibility to change his character or otherwise pretend something he's uncomfortable with because he's gotta face others at full throttle on a track. That's more than enough of a test of character.

Total votes: 19

that was a great comment

That was a great comment. I believe Stoner was hung out to dry a bit by the media and i dont think Dorna did much to stop that as it felt like they needed a villain to balance against thier golden goose. Ive heard many other riders say the same things Stoner had said but never get pilloried any where near as much.
Thanks for your opinion.

Total votes: 13

yes and no

I can kinda see both sides of this argument but the overriding factor to me is this: why did any of the media/political/fan based stuff come as a suprise to Stoner and his family? They knew full well what they were heading into, expected to be paid very well for it yet all of a sudden they don't like certain aspects that have been part and parcel of Grand Prix racing for the better part of 50 years?

There is an old philosophy that the development of the world is dependent on unreasonable people: the reasonable person adapts to the world around them whereas the unreasonable person refuses to adapt forcing the world to adapt to them. Stoner, however nice a guy he may be away from the track, is one of those unreasonable people, but unfortunately he found that MotoGP would not adapt hence he had no mental option other than to take his bat and ball and head home.

If Stoner really wanted to simply race and retire to a trackside bubble with no media/sponsor/fan obligations why did he get so upset when he learned that Ducati were courting Lorenzo back in 2009? Seriously, if Lorenzo was willing to embrace those obligations he SHOULD have been paid more.

I feel for Stoner, he's not a wanker, but he very much reminds me of the folks who move into a house next to a race track then complain about the noise: what the hell did you expect?!

Total votes: 22

Knowing what they were getting into

When Stoner and his family were looking at getting into motogp it wasnt based on all the media based bull that goes on these days. Doohan was king and he never changed his personality to suit any media requests. It was only after certain people started using the media to thier advantage to create an image that it somehow became an unwritten requirement for all riders to follow suit. Stoner just wanted to ride and felt fairly enough that it should be about the best rider, not who can blow fake kisses at cameras etc. A lot of people agree with Stoner on this point and a lot dont.

Stoner was upset at Ducati offering Lorenzo money to ride for them because he felt they were disloyal to him after years of him sticking with them despite them telling him they had no money for development, or to pay him extra after winning the world championship for them. I'm sure if your work offered your rival more money than you to do the job you have been doing behind your back you'd feel the same.

Your analogy is incorrect imo. Stoner didnt move in next to a race track and complain about the noise, he moved next to a race track and expected to see racing, but got personality contests instead. ;)

Total votes: 19

You have a short memory

I have a swag of old VCR tapes and one happens to be a certain Freddie Spencer besting Kenny Roberts back in 1983. The racing footage is terrible but there are a heap of interviews including one Barry Sheene who played the media game better than any court jester in the 40 years since.

And you are correct in saying Stoner grew up with Doohan racing....along with Gardner, Beattie, Magee, Corser, Bayliss, McCoy etc many of whom were true superstars Downunder and around the globe. They never blew the camera a single kiss let alone a fake one, and neither do/have 99% of the racers on the grid. He also raced in racing rabid Spain, saw the Rossi/Biaggi soap opera unfold, Rossi/Gibernau mind games etc etc.

So I'm afraid it's rather fantastical to think that Stoner somehow did not know what he was getting into, or that the situation has dramatically changed in recent years, it hasn't. He's also had plenty of straight talking Aussie racing role models who were still great ambassadors for their teams and sponsors.

Stoner and Ducati? Given Stoners history of poor communication I'm not suprised Ducati looked for an alternative if Stoner failed to keep them in the loop and simply assumed they'd understand a situation he himself did not. Unless we know exactly how it unfolded and what was said or not said I'm not prepared to apportion blame, but chances are BOTH parties could have handled it better.

To say "Stoner just wants to ride" is like saying the "Rolling Stones just want to play music", it's just wrong. If that were the case the Stoners would never have left Oz and the Stone's would have never moved on from the basement jam sessions. Both craved a lot more and it's case of that old saying: be careful what you wish for.

As I said, I've nothing against Stoner, he's probably a great kid away from the spotlight, but I am staggered at how unprepared and unsuited he was for the role he chose. But maybe I shouldn't be, it doesn't sound like he had many alternative options........

Total votes: 14

Barry & co

Barry Sheene was just himself, and that was a funny guy. He didnt plan fake celebrations or say one thing and do another.

You have made my point, those racing legends you listed never blew kisses at the camera or made fake smiles, however if you watch the current motogp grid walks, a majority of the grid now make childlike faces and wave at the camera like its the required thing. Its very rare to see someone sitting there just focused on the racetrack anymore. Its funny how there's always one common denominator in the soap operas you describe from previous years. ;)
Media committments may be a part of todays racing but its almost become a bigger focus than what they are there to do, which is race and win. I think that is sad.
Some people like that, but some people dont, and i would much rather see Dorna put a straight talking racer who can wring the neck out of a motorbike and go faster than anyone else on the grid, over a puppet who can ride ok but is great at making faces. Thats just how i feel and there are many others who feel the same way. Imagine how much trouble Kenny Roberts snr would get in todays age of precious personalities...

I'm not sure how you get that Stoner has a poor history of communication. He either gets lambasted for saying too much and called a moaner (by saying what most other riders say but apparently the wrong way) or he doesnt say enough, you cant have it both ways. He said himself at the time they didnt know what the cause of his illness was, hence the time off to fix it and be able to give his maximum for his employer and so as not to be a liability to the other riders on track. He talks about this more in his book (which is what this topic is about), and he explains what they did to try and find the cause of his illness.

I'm in the music industry and have been for over 30 years and there are plenty of musicians who didnt do it for public adoration, just because they loved creating music, so thats another strange analogy. The Stoners left Oz to give Casey a chance of being world champion in Motogp, sure that means people will know who he was but they didnt do it with the goal of him being a media personality, they did it to give him a chance to be the best at what he loved, which was riding bikes.

In the end it shouldnt matter what anyone is like in the spotlight imo, just that they are the best motorbike riders in the world as its the motogp championship, not the personality championship.

Cheers
:)

Total votes: 19

When media claim poor communication, it's a joke, right?

Stoner's mystery illness was a pivotal point in this young man's development and likely creates some interesting dynamics between himself and the twin frameworks of his life of the time - Ducati and Dorna. Both Ducati and Dorna have teams of professional communicators, media handlers, marketing departments, promotors and public relations experts at their disposal yet fail to communicate well with him, or on his behalf, while he's got a mystery illness that inhibits his riding on both their behalves.

And Stoner is the bad communicator?

That's the epitome of throwing stones in a glass house.

Stoner is certainly articulate with a microphone, and insightful, honest and often painfully forthright. All hallmarks of good communication and any contention otherwise reflects on the listener, not the speaker.

Stoner's "poor communication" is not something we can know first hand. It's only referenced in media, by muppets captivated by their access and relationships with the teams and sport. Anecdotal, at best.

Honda has encouraged him to come out and do testing in his years off. For his input, that which he is sought after in terms of communication. Clearly his ability to communicate what really matters (bike-rider relationship) is excellent. So much so that Honda offers him whatever it takes to get him away from fishing and family.

The focus, in the entire issue of Stoner's life with MotoGP, should be more on Ducati, Dorna and their captive media (and its attendant muppets) rather than just one young man who excelled at his job. Stoner played his part of riding a frustrating and limited bike better than others on better bikes at the top of their game. He won.

When a mystery illness strikes a young man and he tries to find the cause of it, and is likely more concerned about it than all of Dorna and Ducati combined because he's the only one personally impacted, the motorcycle media blames Stoner for poor communication.

The guy is struggling to find out what's wrong with himself, and unknowingly poisoning himself with milk based proteins in powdered "health" products. So he's getting "the right" nutrients, but is getting worse, and surely that's only casting more doubt within himself about his body and illness. Ducati has hired an elite rider and yet can't find an elite Doctor to take care of him, and blames the rider? Dorna is responsible for all riders in MotoGP and can't find a way to assist?

In most things the 80/20 rule works. But at the pointy end of any endeavour the 20% becomes the ground of outcome determinants and the 80% initial effort can be assumed. Ducati seem uninterested in the 20% extra required for brilliance. Ducati also didn't appreciate or understand the resolute perseverance of Stoner filling their gap in bike development/commitment with pure talent.

We have personal testimony from both Rossi and Stoner (and subsequently, Hayden) that Ducati wasn't good at listening or understanding the requirements of bettering the bike. We've since found out that this was a real and very fundamental problem within Ducati. So Ducati ignores the two best riders at the top of their game in terms of bike performance and direction. That's not only poor communication (not listening to those you should) but also incredibly stupid, and an enormous waste of talent and resources.

This year Ducati is apparently turning all that around, and upside down, and going to correct all their fundamental errors in bike development, and possibly consider being guinea pigs for the Dorna software.

Just how closely linked are Dorna and Ducati? Anyone even gazed at this question?

Total votes: 14

Communication

Great comment.

Total votes: 9

Stoner's only sin was to have

Stoner's only sin was to have the audacity to beat Valentino Rossi. The media wanted a villain and that's what they made him. The "football" mentality sorted out the rest. I can't recall any other rider getting bashed on a more regular basis than what this kid has. He goes through all this and people wonder why he doesn't like the media and all of the attention? What is even more ironic is that it wasn't until Rossi threw his leg over the Ducati before a majority of the sports writing world realized how talented this kid really was. At that point it was more than likely too little too late.

The media, much like Ducati, blamed him when things went bad and credited the bike when things went good. How would you feel?

Total votes: 26

You have to wonder

that Casey Stoner was incredibly, unbelievably shy as a young lad, but still had the fire burning inside to line up on the grid against other racers. I'm looking forward to reading the book, just having ordered it.

Don't the MotoGP teams send their riders to some sort of "media school" where they are prepped to handle media obligations? I believe the F1 teams do this on a regular basis. Perhaps in F1 it's even an intra-team ongoing thing. Most of the Grand Prix riders are younger than the F1 drivers, which probably makes it even more important.

Also, many, if not most major sponsors require a "return" on their investment, which often includes a rider's time.

Total votes: 13

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