Race day. Today I would be seeing something that I have never seen before – a live MotoGP race. Beyond that I was seeing the race at one of the most noted tracks in history – Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I have followed motorcycle racing loosely since I was a teenager, but back then there wasn’t much television coverage. There still isn’t a lot here in the US, but thanks to the beauty of the Internet and video streaming, I have been able to watch every single race since 2006.
I crawled out of bed at 7am because I wanted to visit the Hall of Fame Museum at the track before the races started. I was really immersing myself in the race culture that permeates the air in Indianapolis. I drove over to the track on the back roads I had taken the day before. The weather was perfect and the skies were blue and clear. My VIP parking pass for the Hall of Fame parking lot proved more than it’s worth when I approached the track and saw the snarled traffic. The parking attendant was the same one stationed for the whole weekend and knew my bike and my gear so she waved me through without my hand ever grabbing the clutch let alone the brake. I slipped down the tunnel and parked directly in front of the museum. The masses had not invaded the track yet and the museum was not crowded in the least. I paid my entry fee and walked into the hallowed halls.
The vehicles on display were nothing short of jaw dropping. The curator of the museum could have been H.G. Wells because the cars and bikes appeared to be acquired through the use of a time machine, every single one in a new state of condition. I walked among the cars and pondered the notion of speed. What is the common thread of man that makes him want to go fast? Is the need for this sensation a vestigial artifact left from our evolution of birds and we want to feel the sense of flying? Is it the competitive nature of man to beat his fellow caveman to the kill? Whatever the answer is, these rows of cars prove the need for speed is not a whim. We want to go fast.
Each car had a placard that described its driver, year of manufacture, and achievements. Many of the names were familiar to me because of my father’s love of auto racing. A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, and a long list of other luminaries, all had pictures hanging in the museum. I thought about my relationship with cars. We are all our father’s sons. If your dad is a baker, there is a good chance you will become a baker as well. The language of the family business is in one’s roots no matter how much an offspring tries to deny the fact. My family language is cars. My dad did almost nothing else except jobs related to cars.
In 1977 my father relocated our family to Jacksonville, Florida to open a Meineke Muffler franchise. Our lavish house in New Jersey was sold and replaced by a fixer-upper and the money saved went into opening the new shop. We lived very modestly in order to support this effort. After a lot of hard work and scrimping, my dad opened two more locations for a total of three shops. His plan was to give each one of his three sons a shop. This is the way it worked in the old days. A man built his business and passed it down to his family. As offspring, we are born, raised, and meant to die where our parents did. This was the aging idea of community. The only problem with this faded model was that my brothers and I had other ideas. We are all hyper-creative. My younger brother Tom is a whiz with computers. My older brother John is an expert in electronics and all things mechanical. Back in high school during my father’s ownership of the muffler shops, I wanted to be a rock star. Nothing was ever more clear in my mind from as early as I could remember.
My father never forced us into the work he wanted for us. After 10 years of ownership he got out of the business and over time has sold most of the properties. He has retained and continues to collect rent on single property. My brothers and I all went on to do more or less what we wanted to do. I work for the Music Department at CCNY, and my brothers have jobs in their respected fields. We all turned out ok, but the chain of family business owners was broken with my generation. My younger brother and I moved away, and the sense of family community is now a dusty chapter in an unread book.
I continued through the museum wishing my father were with me. I am sure he could elaborate on the technical achievements and details of mystic cars lined up like sugary dots on paper candy. I smiled remembering all he taught me. The most important being, “never be afraid to take something apart.” I have carried this mantra with me through my life. I am now a tenured Technical Director and a Certified Macintosh Help Desk Technician. I am sure his influence is why I am where I am today. I can figure out almost any problem that crops up in my job with the simple approach of not being afraid. When done carefully and methodically, reassembly is never difficult. Broken things can be fixed.
I ventured out to the track to watch the MotoGP warm up. I got a coffee and an egg sandwich outside the Hall of Fame and sat under an umbrella. I ate with the buzzing sounds of Moto3 free practice as the Muzak to my meal. I was in fanboy heaven. The tension was definitely building at the track and in my stomach. What was I nervous about? I guess it was seeing something for the first time I have dreamed about my whole life. It reminded me of taking the stage for the first time. The air at the track was rife with new smells sounds, and the vibrant energy surrounding the track was addictive. Everybody in attendance was really into racing.
I walked over to Ducati Island, a section Ducati reserves for owners of their brand and never have I experienced seller’s remorse more than this moment. I saw the lines of vintage and new Ducatis and came across a 900ss that was much like the one I had to sell after my sabbatical in 2009. I restored that bike from the ground up and wish I had it on this day. Yes, my BMW is a sturdy road machine that I enjoy. I am not sure my Duc would have made the trip anyway without a few maintenance stops along the route, but none of this eased my pain of parting with the motorcycle that was my dream bike. I am not a materialistic person, but the attitude of Ducati owners is more similar to the sacrifice of an artist. They see the nuance and tango into ownership with a good set of tools and a high-limit credit card knowing exactly what these bikes cost to own.
I turned towards the track. Out there were the gladiators. Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa, Ben Spies, Colin Edwards, and the rest of the cast I followed closely for years. They were whizzing by the Ducati Island at speeds that cannot be faithfully captured by broadcast television. As I stood in awe on the lip of the track, the only word that popped into my mind was “crazy.” Over 200 mph on a motorcycle is crazy enough let alone having a competitor inches from the bike’s back tire.
I ventured to the stands to watch the Moto3 Race. This is a lower class of bikes with smaller engines. I wasn’t too interested because the bikes just aren’t fast enough. I admire the skill of the riders wringing the necks of the puny bikes, but after seeing the MotoGP bikes, the smaller rides didn’t interest me much.
I welcomed the next race, the Moto2 category. These are 600cc bikes with a spec engine, so the racing is always close. I met some of the folks sitting around me. Adam was in attendance with his son Steve. We chatted about bikes and races and the superiority of Marc Marquez. I asked Steve if he had a bike. He told me had a Honda CBR600, but had to sell it because he needed to buy an engagement ring for his fiancé. I wanted to tell him that was a mistake, but I didn’t want to dash the young man’s hopes of a life of eternal happiness. I thought about my recent broken engagement and the ring I bought my ex that I never wanted returned. Damn that could have been half of a replacement Ducati 900ss. Note to self: next time, get the ring back, buy Ducati.
I shook the barbed hooks of the past out of my brain and got back into the racing. I had a great seat, a hat, a tall beer, and a ton of sunscreen. The action was great and the fans were so enthusiastic. Marquez won by a good margin as expected, but there was decent racing further down the pack. Steve was happy. He was a fan and at the very least he could live vicariously through his hero even if his ride was replaced by an overpriced rock that symbolizes a ritual that really has little meaning to the broken hearted like myself.
I exited the stands in search of food. I decided a hamburger was the way to go and purchased one from one of the vendor. There were 2 folding chairs that were not being used next to the stand. I think people may have thought they were for the vendors to sit, but I took a seat like I knew what I was doing and nobody bothered me. The MotoGP race was up next. I was getting nervous. I made my way back to my seat.
Before the race was a crackly recording of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed by a flyover of a pair of A-10 Warthog jets. I never understand what the connection is between machines of war and sporting events. Yes, I know soldiers serve to keep us safe and we need a military. But this is not a military event. If anything, sport was designed to replace war. I often imagine if solving international disputes couldn’t be better handled by having a huge Nerf football game instead of lobbing bombs at each other.
The race was getting underway. Dani Pedrosa was on the pole and made one of his signature rocket starts as soon as the red lights went black. Ben Spies who has been having bad luck all season quickly got right behind the diminutive Spaniard. Shortly after the charge, Ben’s Yamaha blew up in a cloud of smoke. I felt bad for him. He rides so hard and can’t get a break this season. Cal Crutchlow, the scrappy Brit, binned his Yamaha as well after Ben’s misfortune. Attrition was taking her toll. The race pressed on and became processional. This has been a common complaint all season. The bikes spread out and there is very little fairing to fairing action. The new class of CRT bikes isn’t helping matters either. The racing is broken up into two sections, and makes for even less competition being that the bikes are 20 to 30 horsepower down from the prototype top-level machines. At the finish, Pedrosa won, followed by Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso, and the injured Casey Stoner.
I was slightly disappointed that the race wasn’t more exciting, but how could I complain? I’m out here on tour living life to the fullest and can’t imagine having a better time. I’ve done and seen things I have never done or seen before. My mind is further opened and my faith in human interaction has been restored. I did leave the track with a small dose of melancholy. I would not be returning for a while. Maybe never. But I forged great memories here at the track, and the fulfillment of a childhood dream made me happy. I vowed to participate in life. I will not make bucket lists, but I will do the things I want to do in the now. The time to live is today.
I went back to my ramshackle hotel and took a nap. The maid was outside of my door screaming at somebody on her cell phone. I politely asked her to keep the noise down and she obliged. I put some feelers out for food on Facebook and an old musician friend of mine John McNicholas recommended a place called the Broad Ripple Brew Pub. I pulled into the lot and parked next to a gaggle of hyper-speed Suzuki Hayabusas, Kawasaki ZX10s, and Honda CBR1000s. The Brick looked absolutely slow sitting next to these over-liter sized machines. I felt like I messed up their display of power sort of like if I had flown a kite when the A-10s roared through the sky over the track. I laughed and walked into the pub. I ordered the bangers and mash and Lawnmower Pale Ale. The food was delicious as John said it would be. I struck up a conversation with a guy to my right. His name was Mike and when he found out I went to the race the floodgates of conversation were opened up. He is an engineer and we talked about a vast array of topics including carbon fiber, Formula 1 braking, tire technology, swingarm flex, and racers old and new. Everybody I talked to in this town knew the language of cars. The language my family spoke.
I called it a night. I had a long trek in the morning and needed some rest. I rumbled through the darkness on the Brick, the exhaust pops reminding me of the day at the track. I was at peace. I didn’t think about what the future had in store for me. I had today. And what a great day it was. Broken things can be fixed.