MotoGP trip #2, Day 3
Well, ok, it's official. You can hate me. Hate me with a passion. Hate me like Newt hates Bill, like Michael hates Rush, like Jen hates Angelina. This trip, this experience, is like a dream, and it only keeps getting better. I had a message in my voicemail this morning from my friend Dan, who wrenches for Bobby Fong on the Safety First team, which came to Laguna to run the SuperSport race. We had planned on getting together out here, so I assumed he just wanted to know when we'd arrive at the track today. Um, no, what he actually wanted to know was if Hernan and I wanted to be corner workers for the MotoGP practice and race tomorrow. So, of course, even though we have grandstand tickets to watch the race, we will be stationed on a wall at the edge of the mother freaking track. I swear I'm not making this up. Unbelievable. I don't know if I should be elated or terrified. What if someone goes down in my corner? What if I trip and fall on my face when I jump over the wall? What if I pick up a bike and then drop it on the other side? I've been obsessing about it all day, but I guess I'll just have to get on with it and see what happens. Dan said he asked that we be stationed at either Wayne Rainey or the Corkscrew; he also said that they told him there was a pretty good chance of it, especially if he brought them some of those cool Safety First "Police" caps. We stopped on the way back from the track today and bought white pants and shirts; we went to a store called Ross clothing, which is the local equivalent of TJMaxx. I also have to wear my track boots as they're the only closed toe shoes I brought out here. So look for me on TV; I'll be the guy in the ill-fitting clothes, stumbling and sliding around in my boots, most likely with dried vomit stains on my collar. At least we get to keep the orange vests they give us as souvenirs.
Originally, the plan for attending the races was for Hernan's friend Peter and his son to join us at the track Saturday and Sunday as we have 4 sets of tickets. Unfortunately, Peter couldn't make it today, so after much discussion, Sandy and Nan finally agreed to accompany us instead. They weren't totally excited about seeing the races, but I think the possibility of some potentially very interesting people watching finally won them over.
We left around 10 AM. It was another beautiful day here, although it was pretty windy, especially whenever we were up in the hills. Laguna Seca lies at the southern edge of the agricultural/industrial valley I wrote about yesterday. It's only 40 minutes or so away from Hernan and Sandy's house; so our trip was fairly uneventful, although it was pretty exciting as we neared the track and became part of a larger and larger migration of motorcycles. We actually arrived fairly late, yet there were still hundreds of bikes going in. The motorcycle entrance to the track comes in through Fort Ord. To get in, you enter a gate and drive through a bunch of squat, abandoned army barracks made of adobe with red clay tile roofs. The windows are all boarded up, but most of the buildings don't have doors, so you can see all the way through them to the other side. It's easy to imagine WWII servicemen in basic training, back when there was nothing else in the area except for the farms in the valley. Eerie, but very cool. We then drove for 20 minutes or so along a narrow, hilly winding road through scrub desert. On one side, there is a barbed wire fence the entire length of the road. There are also signs every fifty feet or so with little images of hand grenades on them prohibiting trespass due to the presence of explosive materials. So that's something you don't see every day. On the other side, there are public use lands, which I longingly look at every time I go past them. Someday, I just want to go out and live in them for a week, living on tequila and peyote, having vision quests and trying to communicate with the spirit of Jim Morrison. I was definitely born in the wrong place, at the wrong time. It's definitely a terrible idea, though, because I know that as soon as I started tripping, I'd be over on the other side of that road looking for those cool little hand grenades; boys will be, after all, boys.
The road finally rounds a bend and Laguna Seca springs into view, seemingly out of nowhere. One minute, you're nowhere, resisting possession by ancient shamen souls, and the next, you're looking at this amazing racetrack draped across the hills in front of and below you. There are people, bikes, cars, everywhere, and you can see it all because you're looking right down at it. There are helicopters flying around, constantly landing and taking off again, and airplanes circling around at higher altitudes. The sound of motorcycles on the track, whether it's the 600s or the GP bikes, echoes thunderously off the surrounding hills. The energy here is tangible and incredible.
We made our way in, parked the bikes, got out of our gear, and entered the pit area first. The AMA teams are readily accessible, just like at road America. The bikes are right out front, with the teams working on them in the open. The MotoGP area is a different story. The bikes are hidden from view, secreted away from prying eyes in a row of buildings situated between the pit area and the front straight of the race track. Directly across from these buildings are a series of trailers where the riders stay. Periodically, the pit personnel erect a series of gates across the corridors we mere mortals traverse, and one of the GP riders come out to sign autographs. At this point, the fans go nuts, crowding in and clamoring for attention. We didn't stay here long enough to see anyone this year, but last year Hernan had his hat autographed by Sete Gibernau, and we did catch a brief glimpse of Rossi (he's taller than I thought!). Speaking of nutty fans, a guy I know from back home who was out here last year managed to get Rossi to autograph his back, where he already had a tattoo of Rossi's logo. He then proceeded to find a tattoo shop that very night and make the autograph a permanent addition. You can see why we didn't stick around here long this year, especially since our wives were with us, and we had to look out for their safety. The GP circus is a crazy scene, and a lot of the fans seem even wackier than my Rossi-stalking acquaintance.
We made our way over to the Safety First area, where Dan gave us the 5 dollar tour and we filled out our applications for our new careers as corner staff. (Would you believe we're actually going to get paid to work the corners tomorrow? Dan said we'd clear about 75 bucks after they deducted some or other fees. Hell, I'd pay them a hundred. I think I'm going to spend my 75.00 on crack. It can't be more intense than this whole trip.) It's fascinating to hear what the whole pro race scene is like. It's not all glitz and glamour, at least for a second tier team. Dan told me that rooms were so expensive in the area that he and his wife Rachel are sharing a room with 2 other people, one of whom is Bobby, and get this: they make Bobby, their rider, sleep on the floor on an air mattress. As he put it, "Sure, he's in the top 15 in the points race, but he's only 16 years old. He's a kid! He's sure as hell not sleeping in the bed with my wife while I sleep on the floor!" Hillarious. I love Dan. At least he told me that Scotty Ryan gets his own room, because he is, after all, a grownup. But really, is there anyone among us who wouldn't make some huge sacrifices to have racing as our job? I know I would. Sandy and Nan would tell you they already put up with more than enough just from all the track days Hernan and I do. Racing rocks.
We left the pit area to make our way over to the Corkscrew to watch the final MotoGP qualifying session. This is a really popular area as it's probably where the spectators can get closest to the track. It's dumbfounding how fast the riders go through here, and you can't even believe how loud the bikes are. Also, the riders often back way off here, especially earlier in the session, because they don't want to show the other guys their line. I remember seeing Hayden last year, turning around and waving other riders past, and clearly seeing the other riders shake their heads and refusing to do so. How cool is that? Then, when they do crank it up, it's impossible to believe they can go through the way they do. Hernan has actually ridden Laguna before, so he understands even better how challenging the Corkscrew really is. I may find out someday as we were talking about me coming out for one of the schools, but for now, watching these guys will do just fine, thank you. We hung out here for a while and then went up and over the hill; you can watch about half of the track there. We missed Melandri's get-off in 3, but saw the final half hour of qualifying. The riders really wick it up in the final 10 minutes; we could see their positions on the board changing constantly. Here too, the sound of the bikes was deafening, even from turn 2, which was probably at least a half mile away. It was really, really, incredibly awesome.
After qualifying, we made our way to the grandstand for the Supersport race. We sat in turn 4, where you can also see the exit of 3 and the entrance of 5. This is where we sat last year for the GP; I remember watching Casey Stoner crash over in 5. The 600 race today was excellent; there was plenty of action right in front of us, and there's also a jumbotron right across the track, so you can watch the race everywhere else, too. Funny, we were maybe a hundred feet from the track, and the bikes really don't look like they're going all that fast, especially the backmarkers. I've been on racetracks with AMA backmarkers, though, and even those guys make me feel like I'm standing still. Interesting. Everything's relative, and I must look like I'm slower than drying mud from the side of the track, but I'm more than ok with that. It just puts the skills these guys have in a blindingly calrifying light. I mostly paid attention to how Bobby did, as I feel like I'm somewhat vested in him since my buddy wrenches on his bike. He placed 11th, which was his best finish so far this year. I spoke to Dan later, and he said they were celebrating like all get out. Like I said, everything's relative. The crowd went wild when Josh Herrin passed Roger Hayden, and then went wilder still when Hayden passed him back in the final moments to win the race. Roger Lee then proceeded to do a huge burnout right in front of us on his victory lap. Thanks, Dude! Even Nan and Sandy enjoyed the whole thing immensely.
Once the race was over, we stumbled and staggered out to the bikes, saddled up, and made our way home. There were hundreds upon hundreds of bikes leaving the track, which would have been a lot more exciting if we hadn't been so exhausted. As I said earlier, we stopped to buy our clothes for tomorrow, and then took some more back country roads the rest of the way. I don't think I'd ever get tired of the scenery here. It was more of the same stuff we've seen before, but still beautiful. We also went past several fields which were obviously planted with strawberries, as the aroma wafting off of them was positively, mouthwateringly delicious. When does this insanity end? Hopefully never. As for now, I'm done until tomorrow. We have to be at the track at 6 AM in the morning, which means we have to get up at 4:30, and Holy shit! I just looked at the clock and it's 12:30. So, until tomorrow, then, and hate me all you want; I can definitely take it, and I'm starting to think I deserve it, too.
There will always be a better ride out there. It's not the bike that bends, it's the rider. There is no spoon.
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