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Rob Carpenter

Working Through The Changes

Interview by Simon-Pierre Smith

Rob Carpenter is a name that has floated around the upper echelons of Northwest racing for a few years. Fast, and getting faster, he'd bounced around the top 5 position for the season championship, but never held the #1 plate. Then in 2000, with a points lead in Oregon, he suffered a career ending crash that cost him months in the hospital, years of rehabilitation, and his right arm. Today Rob continues to be a part of the Northwest motorcycle culture making it out to many events involving other riders.

Above: Rob getting the hole-shot off the line in Portland.

SPS: Tell me about what started you racing.

RC: I started riding on the street because I could get cheap performance. I used to drive hot rodded cars in Florida and realized I could get better performance from a stock bike. I started on a VT500 and went on to a CBR600F2 and then a 900RR.

After a while, I was going too fast on the street to be safe. A couple of my riding friends were racers, so I decided to try it. In my first novice race, against novices who'd been riding for a season, I took third.

Then my employer moved me up to Rhode Island. I raced in the NE series at Loudon and Bridgehampton, taking second.

My employer moved me again out to Seattle in 1996. In the Northwest I started racing with OMRRA and WMRRA. I was finishing in the top 5 against people like Mike Sullivan, Dave Cook and Gary Ricci, all of which were guys I looked up to and respected (Shawn Roberti and Jimmy Moore had moved on). Soon I was chasing the lead, then occasionally winning. I raced a number of seasons where I finished in the top 5, had a lot of fun, but never a number 1 plate. I was in the points lead on a beautiful sunny NW summer day the day of my crash, August 27, 2000.

SPS: What racing goals would you liked to have completed?

RC: Obviously I wanted that number 1 plate, that and winning is what drove me. I never really saw myself as destined to be a great national rider because of my age. I started racing at 27 (Nicky Hayden will probably be retired by then). I wanted to experience the big name tracks, and I did get to race at Daytona and Laguna Seca. There isn't anything I missed doing really. I just really loved the tight pack battles, going into turn one and fighting for the lead. We'd come back to the pits with tire rubber all over our fairings, smiling and patting each other on the back.

SPS: In your crash, you went down in a pack of riders on Portland's high speed back straight, apparently hitting the wall on the inside of the corner as well. Your injuries left you unconscious for weeks and required the amputation of your right arm. Tell me about your rehabilitation.

RC: I was in very bad shape for a while, on the brink of death, actually it was a miracle I survived. (At this point his wife Kellie shows me a picture of his hospital bed. He looks like a modern car engine, barely visible under the tangle of tubes.)  

Above/Right: The wedding was delayed to allow time for healing, but the centerpiece still kept that roadrace theme.

During the time I was in intensive care, there was a steady stream of well-wishers to visit (mostly racers and friends). My fianc�e Kellie was advised to take pictures in the waiting room so I could see them when I woke up. It was a full 2 months before I left the hospital. I went home to a hospital bed in the living room and a nurse. There was a long series of surgeries, too many to count, and even just recently I had some hardware removed that had broken.

SPS: How did religion factor into your recovery?

RC: I've never been a hugely religious person. I believe in God without a doubt. I believe a lot of people in my hospital room were basically angels, watching over me. My then fianc�' Kellie who literally camped out at the hospital for weeks, is my biggest angel and Godsend. My nurse Robin, she basically kept me alive. She is an ordained minister as well (who trained with mother Theresa), so she's the one who married my wife Kellie and I. She's just an amazing person, as well as all the hospital staff. I think there are a lot of people who are a lot more than they seem. Thank God for the corner workers and everyone at Portland as well. They helped save my life I'm sure. I don't know that I gained much insight from my accident, other than I know God exists and he left me on this earth for a reason. I know he could have taken me very easily.

SPS: I had heard that you'd recently been hospitalized for latent internal injuries from the crash?

RC: Actually, that was unrelated. I was loading a boat to go on a camping trip and I slipped and fell to the right. With no way to catch myself I hit pretty hard. I was O.K., but within a couple of days my stomach hurt bad enough to need a doctor. It seems I had a perforation in my intestine that allowed some gas into the body cavity. They had to operate, but I'm O.K. now. Other than the lack of a way to catch myself (and sensitive internal organs), it was unrelated to the crash.

SPS: Racing takes up a lot of time and concentration. Now that racing has been taken away, what are your plans for the future?

RC: My employer really stood by me, but that can only last so long. I used to sell medical lasers for a national company, now I'm starting to do that again on a freelance basis as an independent rep. It hasn't really taken off yet, but I work on it. For recreation I've been doing a bit of mountain biking and roller-blading at much safer speeds.

SPS: Any family plans?

RC: Of course Kellie and I want to have a family, but that will have to wait until my health and situation improves a bit. I'd like to be working full time first. We just got a puppy. Her name is Roxie, our surrogate child. She's great practice for the real thing.  

Above/Right: Rob and then fianc�e Kellie at the OMRRA awards banquet in 1999.

Kellie and I would like to thank everyone who has helped out, offered support or even just prayed for us. It's meant so much for us to see the support and love.


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