Aaron Yates’ world changed in an instant on the morning of March 28, 2010.
Yates leads fellow BMW rider...
Yates leads fellow BMW rider Larry Pegram early in Saturday’s Superbike race at Homestead. Pegram eventually got by to finish eighth, while Yates ended up 10th.
A day earlier, starting from pole aboard the Jordan Suzuki GSX-R1000, Yates finished a close third in the AMA Superbike race at Auto Club Speedway to Larry Pegram in a four-rider pack that was covered by 0.742 seconds. A day later, he was on an out lap after pitting in morning warm-up when he fell coming out of Turn 10, a fast kink in the back straight. The fall didn’t do any damage, but the rider just behind unavoidably ran over Yates’ legs. He couldn’t have known that it would take him nearly three seasons to get back to the AMA paddock.
The damage was significant. There were two tibial fractures of the right leg, one below the knee and a second above the ankle, and a third break of the lower fibula. Plates and screws from a previous fracture had to be replaced. There was damage to the tibial plateau, within the knee, which was shattered in five pieces. Dr. Thomas Bryan performed six hours of surgery, then said that the procedure had gone well and that the resolute Georgian could be back in action in as little as six weeks.
About four months later, Yates tried riding at Virginia International Raceway, though he knew his leg wasn’t right. He qualified eighth, but chose not to race. That would be his last high-level race for more than two years, until the 2012 Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, where Yates rode the GP Tech Suzuki GSX-R1000-powered CRT machine.
Yates splashes through an...
Yates splashes through an apex at Homestead on Sunday. Heavy thundershowers contributed to a tricky wet/dry surface that Yates concluded, “There was really nothing to gain. I’m not ready to go put it on the line like that and risk throwing the thing down.”
Yates made it back in the AMA paddock on the third weekend in September in the return of AMA Superbike racing to Homestead-Miami Speedway after a 16-year absence. Yates was one of only three riders to take part in the 1996 race, where he won the Superstock final on a Yoshimura Suzuki. Now he was on an Evan Steel Performance BMW S 1000 RR in his first AMA Superbike race since VIR, and looking forward to continuing where he left off, and talking about the long road back.
“Well, I mean, you know, it was really unknown,” Yates said of how long he was told it would take for him to heal up after the original surgery. “They didn’t really say. I guess I kinda treated it like I had a little single break or something.” The complication, he explained, was a section of his right tibia about an inch and a half long that refused to knit. “My ankle joint was fine, but it’s up above there that got crushed. There was a plate there before that got broken and there was 30 screws there and then under my knee the whole knee plateau was broken in about five pieces up there and my fibula was broken in about five or six pieces and it’s still kind of in pieces there.”
The months following surgery were a roller coaster. He’d try to exert pressure on the leg, only to suffer a setback. “I tried to do stuff and then I’d have to wait for four to six weeks again.”
Yates’ real return to professional...
Yates’ real return to professional racing was a wildcard ride at the 2012 Indianapolis Red Bull Grand Prix on the GP Tech CRT machine. Yates finished just out of the points in 16th place, but still said, “It was fun. That’s what the whole idea was. We made it into the show, went out there and rode and it was pretty neat.”
Yates said he went to VIR in 2010 to go see the team and hang out for the fans since it was the closest race. The next race wasn’t for a month, which would give him time to recover.
“So went up there and rode and come back home and was trying to do some training and stuff and had some pretty good pain in my leg,” he recalled. He was walking downhill when he felt something move in his leg. At the time the lower leg was in a brace, which was irritating his Achilles tendon, so he loosened it. “So I walked around for a little while and when I got home and took the brace off, my leg was pretty ugly looking, had a little bend to it. The plate was broken. And that was in September 2010.”
At that point he contacted Dr. Dave Kieffer, the famed bone surgeon and former racer. Kieffer’s partner is a leader in his field in bone grafts. A month later Yates had the bone graft — it was taken from his hip — and “so I went the whole 2011 just kinda taking it easy. And trying not to do too much on the thing and getting it healed up.”
Yates showed up at Daytona in 2012 walking with a cane. Not long after, he ditched the cane and started thinking about racing again. The leg progressed throughout the summer and, coincidentally, Yates got the call from Geoff Maloney of GP Tech.
In his first AMA Superbike...
In his first AMA Superbike race since the March 2010 race at Fontana, Aaron Yates (20) managed to mix it up with competition that had attended a two-day test at Homestead after Daytona, while Yates had all of about 30 laps on Saturday to get his Evan Steel BMW dialed in.
Yates finished just out of the points in 16th, completing his first ever MotoGP race at the age of 38.
“It was fun,” Yates said on the Indy race weekend. “That’s what the whole idea was. We made it into the show, went out there and rode and it was pretty neat. It was fun to be (there). I wish we had something a little better to ride, had a little better showing, but we had what we had. Just tried to make the most of it.” Yates said there was a rear suspension issue that kept him from riding it as he’d have liked, “so I just kinda settled into a comfortable pace and just rode. Just turned the 28 laps and brought it home. And everybody’s happy. That’s what we came to do, and we managed to run us a MotoGP race.
“But I’d really like to do it again with a little better effort or just with maybe even some time to develop the bike that we have to make it better, faster and lighter. The thing is way heavy and underpowered a good bit. There’s a lot of potential, and especially with some tracks that don’t have such slow corners and long straightaways, we could definitely put in a whole lot better showing. I feel good about my riding. I was pushing hard, riding good out there.”