Man I've been out of it. If it's true, in racing you're only as good as your last race, then I completely suck today. Been two years now I've had my head up my ass. Longest time away from racing since I used my spine to soften the blow of our 748 hitting a concrete wall - while going way too fast to ever remember. Coming back from that was a curious experience. Of course the doctors said I'd never race again. Of course my family hated me for trying. Of course I twisted that throttle so f-ing hard I almost snapped the cables. It's how I'm wired. It's how you're wired. You've given a hundred reasons by now why you race. Why you're not making your best friend's wedding. Why you have no money, no house, but still somehow your swingarm's made of magnesium.
I got my first leathers from a shop in Connecticut. I didn't know shit about racing. First track I ever saw was the one I pulled up to with an RZ350 in the back of a Toyota pickup truck I'd intercepted on it's way to the junk yard. I crashed that bike the second day. Rude welcome to racing. Tore my Fieldsheers right in half. With a bloody hip and bodywork glued together, later that Sunday I did finish the race I had set out to three days before. It's better to finish what you start. I told my mom the crash wasn't my fault. She answered, "Well it certainly wasn't mine..."
You know? She had a point now that I think about it...
When I brought those Fieldsheers back to the shop in Connecticut they took one look back at me and said, "Wow. You actually did it." I thought, "WTF is that supposed to mean?" Guy behind the counter added, "Do you have any idea how many guys we get in here saying they're going racing? Happens weekly. Do you have any idea how many actually follow through with it.....? You're the first one this year."
He then went on to quote an old saying I've heard a thousand times since then - "Racers race."
Fast forward a million years and you find me at Trader Joe's this past spring. Guy behind the counter's got a Shoei helmet proudly perched right next to his register. Must have been his R1 chained up next to the door. I've got a jar of peanut butter, some waffles, and the latest issue of "US" magazine (don't ask...). So I say to the guy, "That your bike out there?" No eye contact, he amuses me "Yeah." Price check on the peanut butter - time to kill - so I go deeper. "You ride that thing hard?" Now his chin comes up, he scrunches his mouth to an overly confident upside down smile and nods his cocky head "damn straight." Never even looked back at me, because he's Valle after all.
"Somebody help me" I think as I reach for my $4.75 peanut butter and head for my truck.
So if that's just how it is - "Racers race." If that's just how we're wired. Then what's left when we don't anymore? I mean, what happens if you don't actually die like your family insists you will? If you don't actually maim yourself beyond recognition, so you simply can't anymore? What do we do then? Keep bumping down a class till we're knockin' some 93 year old dentist into the water fountain just outside the Bingo room at Our Lady of Mercy's home for seniors?
I never thought I'd have the balls to race, until I did. I never thought I'd have the skills to win, until I did. And I never thought I'd have the courage to quit racing, until I did. Sure it's sucked hearing bikes rip through the foothills while I'm on my mountainbike. Walking through Ducati Island at MotoGP. Reading emails from people I've never even met, asking "WTF?" Truth is though, for the first times in my life racing just didn't fit. So, we moved on. Found other things..
While everyone else raced motorcycles, I shot pics at the Salinas Air Show
While everyone else carved their way around the curves of Infineon, I carved my way around the curves of Tracy Gulbransen
And yes that's right, I even took photos of bugs. But at least they were cool looking bugs, right?
I've kept busy with work too. Sometimes I haven't even known it was a race weekend, which is HUGE for me. Surprisingly life actually hasn't been like a doctor asking a heroin addict if he has a problem with needles. So there's hope for us... I still struggle as a photographer however, so Joe and Ozzie? Nothing to worry about yet boys.
But then it happened again one day. And it really wasn't my fault this time. Two months ago I got a call from Derek Lafontaine about shooting a last second video for Tri Valley Moto, a brand new BMW/KTM/Triumph dealership in Livermore. Turns out he works there. New dealership, new location, new building. Nice place actually. About the nicest dealership I've been to. I had two days to plan, shoot, edit and deliver their temporary promo video, so it's crappy no doubt. But we got the job done in time and the boys at Tri Valley Moto were very happy.
Before I left the dealership that fateful Saturday, for the first time in a long time something just seemed to fit, so I just had to ask the age old question that racers always seem to ask - didn't I....
Next thing you know we're putting 600 miles on a KTM Superduke "To break it in"
Fast forward two more months and Derek's carrying a set of Superduke wheels to Chris under the Pirelli tent. Chris then mounts a set of barely used Bridgestones that Harley Barnes very generously donated for the cause. Then Vic figures a way to turn a small chunk of cash into an afternoon full of hot laps amid the second half of Today's Zoom Zoom track day at Infineon. Derek slides the wheels onto the Duke we call "Bulldog" just in time for Phil at Aftershocks to finish his intriguingly imaginative Superduke suspension overhaul, while I slide on the overly abused - tired of lookin' at em, red white and blue Vansons from our old Daffy Duck days with Ducati. Just then the last piece of the puzzle shows up - Ian Clements, a photographer I met while shooting birds of all things. Turns out he's even a bigger nut for bikes than me. He rides both KTM and BMW, AND he's already been buying bikes from Tri Valley Moto's brother store, Calmoto in Mountainview, for decades...
3/4 through our first lap of Infineon in over a year and I could feel a rhythm building already. By the end of our first practice I was completely shocked to face Phil and tell him, "Shit Phil. What the hell did you do to this thing? It's actually closer than I ever thought it would be and I'm just remembering which side's the clutch?"
I think you had to be an established KTM dealership in order to get one of the first batch of RC8's sent to the US. Tri Valley Moto is so new to selling KTM that they won't get their first RC8 until March(?).
So what does this mean? This means we'll grip a Superduke's handlebars instead of an RC8's clip-ons at Buttonwillow, we'll sit up where others lean forward, we'll have less hp than my clapped out 96 Gixer did just before I sent it to the crusher, we'll have no fairing to hide behind and we'll be battling hard from dead last to probably, well, second from dead last... But we'll be out there having fun with you guys again, real soon. And that's what matters most.
Like an old sponsor told me once a thousand years ago, "Nothing lasts forever." Our great big Michelin friend Alex Florea just loved breaking my balls about he and Ken Hill frying up the Daffy Duck on our back with their fire breathing RC51. That was great fun, really, staring at ceilings all night long beside myself in panic.. So in the spirit of building on our good racing fun, family, and hopefully many more sleepless nights I say to my beloved Ducati family, this -
Whatever you do?
Don't turn around