James Rispoli is one of the brightest of current crop of up-and-coming young American road racers. Flat track aficionados have known about Rispoli for years. The 19-year-old New Hampshire native who now calls Attica, New York, home, has been one of the top AMA Grand National Pro Singles riders for the last couple of years. He won one of the Daytona Short Track Pro Singles races in 2009 en route to finishing runner-up in that year’s championship.
Such is Rispoli’s talent on the dirt, he easily could have settled into a career on AMA Grand National Championship racing. “Flat track is in my blood,” Rispoli says. But the young rider nicknamed “The Rocket” has larger horizons in mind. His ambition is to become a World Superbike Champion someday, following he says in the footsteps of a rider he greatly admires, Ben Spies. Rispoli already knows the style of riding he’d like to establish in road racing and his description is priceless.
“I want to have the smooth riding style of Martin Cardenas,” Rispoli explains. “But be able to break out my inner Danny Eslick when I need to.”
Having watched Rispoli race the last two years one gets the distinct feeling he’ll have no problem channeling his inner-Eslick. A perfect example of Rispoli’s total desire to win and paying whatever price to make it happen came at the Springfield Short Track Pro Singles final in September of 2009. Ten points down in the championship, James knew he had to finish in front of rival Brad Baker to have a realistic shot at winning the title in the final round at Pomona the following month. So Rispoli did what he needed to do and tried to make a desperate inside pass on Baker in the final turn on the last lap. The result was a hard contact. Rispoli went over the bars. For James it was the agony of defeat as he crashed giving it everything he could.
“I led 11 out of 12 laps in that race,” Rispoli recalls of that fateful race at Springfield where the championship was on the line. “I qualified first won my heat race, the whole deal. I was really pumped. I led the whole race until on the last lap I slipped up coming out of two and Baker got around the outside. He squared me off going into three and left me no way around on the outside. Coming into four he left just the smallest of gaps on the inside and I hammered it up in there just as he got his bike sideways causing me to ride up his rear tire and that’s how I crashed. On a day like that where everything was on the line I’d rather crash than settle for second.”
Did I tell you? No problem whatsoever calling up the inner-Eslick for “The Rocket”.
To accomplish his goals of making a name in road racing, Rispoli began testing the water – at first competing in WERA club racing events before moving over to race select AMA Pro Road Racing SuperSport races in 2009, where he scored a pair of fourth-place finishes, pretty exceptional for a rider who had so little road racing experience under his belt.
The breakthrough for Rispoli came this past summer when his hard work on learning the pavement paid off with his first pro road racing victory, winning the AMA Pro SuperSport final at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The victory in New Jersey was a come-from-behind epic for Rispoli. Starting eighth, he was fifth on lap one, fourth by lap two, third by lap four and in second by lap five. Amazingly enough, on lap 12, Huntley Nash became the second leader of the race to go down and now James Rispoli was in front. He still had his hands full with Tomas Puerta and the two went back and fourth, Tomas actually led lap 17 of nineteen but it was Rispoli who took his first win. He was excited and emotional at the same time, “This win means so much, I can’t thank everyone enough, my crew, AMA Pro, so many people but I really want to dedicate this win to my Mother who passed away a couple of years ago,” said Rispoli from the podium after winning the race.
Sadly Rispoli lost his mother from complications from surgery on colon cancer in February of 2008. To this day James still has a hard time talking about the loss of his mom. He buckled down after her passing to try to fulfill the dream she allowed him to pursue.
With his New Jersey SuperSport victory Rispoli proved his amazing versatility and ability to quickly adapt to a new form of racing. He’s a throwback to the days of riders like Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts, Steve Wise and Doug Chandler who simply raced motorcycles, it didn’t matter if it was dirt, pavement or otherwise. In addition to his flat track and road racing skills, Rispoli has shown great skill in Supermoto, and he even took on the challenge of chasing Land Speed Records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. You’d be hard pressed to find a more multitalented young talent in American motorcycle racing.
The youngest of three siblings, Rispoli started riding motorcycles when he was six years old. A buddy of his dad’s was into flat track racing and wanted to help little James get a taste of the sport.
“The first race I entered was at Jolly Roger [in East Lempster, N.H.],” Rispoli remembers. “I was terrible, I got last, but it didn’t matter. Racing just clicked with me and I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
From there he rapidly progressed though his youth and amateur racing career. He developed into one of the best cushion Half-Mile amateur riders in the country. His first AMA Grand Championships came at Indianapolis where he won his class on the limestone cushion half-mile.
Chris Carr was always James’ hero growing up. “Chris Carr taught me how to shift a motorcycle the right way at an American Supercamp,” Rispoli says with a smile. “Chris has been a huge idol of mine for years. In road racing Valentino Rossi is a big hero of mine and Ben Spies. I loved the way Spies came up through the ranks and became a success at every level he stepped up to. I look at what he’s done and Ben’s a big inspiration.”
Rispoli also cites former racer and team owner Mark Junge as the guy who taught him how to eat a proper diet. He also said he’s had the chance to learn how to train properly from current American Superbike champ Josh Hayes, so the kid has obviously had some good people in his corner.
Another thing you notice about Rispoli at the races is that while many of the riders around him are serious, walking around with their “race face”, James always seems to be loose, having fun, telling jokes and keeping it light. He agrees with that assessment. “If you aren’t having fun, don’t do it,” he says. “At the same time I realize that when I put that lid on and snap down the visor it’s game on.”
For now Rispoli is in that difficult transition stage. He’s made enough noise in racing that team manager are definitely aware of him, but with today’s restricted racing budgets and cutbacks, a young gun like Rispoli, who had he come along 10 years ago would probably already be a factory development rider, still has to go it on his own. He and his team, which includes his dad Philip, his most ardent supporter, are scrambling to put together a 2011 racing program that will give Rispoli the maximum opportunity for additional exposure and success.
It’s hard not to pull for a racer like Rispoli. He’s the kind of young rider who has the look, the speed, the skill set, and the fan support that should be able to take him far. But racing is a tough game that costs a lot of money and things don’t always go to plan. For Rispoli’s part he says he’s in it for the long haul. “I’m doing everything I can to make it to the next level in the sport,” he says. “And fortunately I’ve got a great group of friends and supporters around me who do whatever they can to help make that happen. Dustin Say, my mechanic, has really been a huge asset for me. My bikes are so well prepared. If we had to sleep in the van he wouldn’t say a word. I couldn’t do it without him.”
Look for Rispoli going full guns at trying to win the 2011 AMA SuperSport East title. He’d also love to fulfill another dream and that would be to actually race against Chris Carr in a Grand National. “I’ve practiced with him before, but hopefully at the Daytona Short Track I can finally be on the track in an actually national with Chris,” Rispoli said. “That would be a real honor. Maybe I’ll stick a wheel in on him or something.”