BREAD AND CIRCUSES – British MotoGP with Tug McClutchin

It was a sombre trip for me. It never had much of a chance though. I hate buses, because they are full of smelly, noisy public-type people. For someone who travels the world and rarely sits astride his own motorcycle nor behind the wheel of his own car, my relationship with public transport is particularly unhealthy. Despite my abhorrence of it, I find myself on it depressingly often.

It’s one of the reasons I self-medicate. Just like I intend to do when I get off this damned bus.

England is a shithole, even in summer.

So this trip from Silverstone to Milton Keynes and the warm, dry comfort of my cosy B&B was always going to be the gift that kept giving. It was full to the brim with drenched, angry, out of pocket, disillusioned MotoGP fans, squished in like a steamy, sweaty, pack of submariners in a group shower. They were as drunk as you would imagine after a day at the track with nothing to do but drink. Expensively bedecked in their chosen manufacturer or rider fan-boy attire, they were well pissed off that they had not seen any racing. I understood their disappointment, although I did not share in it.

Having done my share of club level racing in my younger days, including plenty of it in the rain, I can guarantee them that there are no souls more disappointed at a cancelled race day than the racers themselves. 

Racers are different. They’re not like you. Not even a little.

If you’ve never felt that hot tightness in your chest from the very second you wake up because you instantly realise it’s race day, then you can’t understand. If you’ve never experienced difficulty eating your breakfast because you can’t face food, even though you know your body will need the sustenance later, then you won’t get it. 

See that? That’s terror. And it’s not like any terror you’ve ever felt.

If you’ve never suffered the ice cold of the tense blend of excitement and apprehension that grips you when you drive through the gate of the racetrack, then you will never understand either. And if you’ve never been surprised by the sheer volume of instant relief brought by the sight of the chequered flag at the end of a race in the teeming rain, when you’ve survived crippling blindness, frozen hands, and so many losses of traction at both ends that it would be easier to count the seconds where you actually had grip, then you can’t possibly get it. Ever. 

You will never know how disappointed a racer will be when a meeting gets called off. You have no clue. How could you? All you did was buy a ticket.

You can’t understand, because you haven’t done the work. You haven’t cleaned and packed your gear the night before, before pulling it all out and repacking it because you are sure you’ve left something out. You haven’t checked, double checked, then triple checked every nut and bolt on the bike, before lock wiring them all. You don’t know the pressure of having to remember to pack your lucky undies. It’s life and death. Seriously. You will never know the unending and very real stress of having to remember to put your left boot on first. You think I’m joking? This shit is critical to racers. That’s how their brains work. They don’t function like you. If they did they’d be dead. To endure all that, before sitting around all day and then having the day cancelled, is perhaps the biggest let down a person can feel. Well, if you are a racer it is.

Cal was keeping an eye out for the rain. He’s a local, so he knew it would come.

Now imagine you’ve already spent years of your life preparing, training, crashing, and rehabilitating for this moment. And you’ve already been here for two days doing practice and getting through the chaos of qualifying.

Annoyed you can’t race? You can bet your Mum’s left nut you are.

So spare me the comments from the back of the bus that it’s some kind of travesty that you didn’t get to watch anything but the Safety Car cutting laps. But the trip turned macabre at a point about ten minutes in. Someone suggested the riders were “gutless”. “Cowards” said another. “Overpaid Princesses!” yelled another one, who sounded a bit like he was missing a few chromosomes. It continued along a similar vein, and worsened.

I fumed. But having suffered the ignominy to have picked a fight with an entire busload of angry fuckwits before, and come 43rd in the ensuing 45 man fight, (hey, at least I took a couple out), I held station, and pretended to stare out the window despite it being fogged up from the hot wet bodies it was keeping from falling out of the holes in the side of the bus. The crowd raised it’s tempo and timbre as its anger at those heinous cowards grew, the mob mentality taking hold and spurring them onwards in a spiral of wondrous stupidity. Much like what had also been going on in social media all day.

These dribbling buffoons obviously thought it would be a good idea to send a field of MotoGP riders off the start line and into the first turn in conditions that would have completely blinded them. The standing water on Silverstone’s new surface was ridiculous, and the Michelin wets are capable of pumping out so much water at speed that the rider following the leader would be riding into a typhoon. Then add another 25 plus bikes, and by the time you are down to the middle of the pack, you are flying blind. That’s not a metaphor. You absolutely cannot see a thing, at 250kmh. Then throw in the aquaplaning. Choosing to ride is potential suicide in those conditions, and demanding they ride is Murder.

Yes, Andrea. This track is absolute shit.

I remembered the last time I’d heard this kind of baying from fans demanding action. It was around 45 minutes after the crash involving Marco Simoncelli at Sepang. The crowd in the stand opposite the pits began to boo, demanding the race be re-started for their viewing pleasure. I remember Casey Stoner wandering out onto his pit garage apron and glaring out at them in horror. He shook his head and looked down, and his eyes admitted that at that moment, he despised every one of the thousands of people sat before him. And I didn’t blame him one bit. I despised them too. By then he’d have known that Marco was either already gone, or was likely to be soon. Everyone in the pits knew it. I’ve often wondered if that moment contributed to his declining desire to be part of MotoGP racing. One day I might ask him.

The crowd probably didn’t know the details of Marco’s dire prospects, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that the situation was completely horrendous. But still they demanded that the riders go out and entertain them. 

Those riders were already beginning the process of mourning the loss of one of their comrades, one that was well liked by the vast majority of the paddock, and very much loved and adored by quite a number of them. Marco had touched a lot of people. The shock and sadness in the pits was palpable. Never mind the mental state of Valentino Rossi, who was trying to come to terms with the fact he had just run over his best friend among the riders in that crash. To expect the riders, especially Rossi, to go out and race in such circumstances showed a basic loss of all decency. Some people seem to forget that riders are human, despite being superhuman.

Just a tad damp…

So I sat on the bus, amongst the deeply offended drunken Brits, and thought of Marco. I thought of Luis Salom, who died only last year at Catalunya. I remembered Shoyo Tomizawa, who left us at Misano in 2010. And the wonderfully cheerful and prodigiously talented Daijiro Kato who died at Suzuka in 2003. I thought of Nicky, who we lost last year, although admittedly not in a race crash.

That’s four GP riders lost during racing in 15 years. One less than every 4 years, on average. Not enough for you?

By comparison, the 90’s were pretty good. We lost two. The 80’s saw 14 riders killed. It was the worst of times. But in those days, officials would have done stupid things, like sending them out to race in conditions like we had at Silverstone today. Thankfully, officials now are smart enough to listen to riders when it comes to safety matters, not the people paying for broadcast rights, or the booing fans.

Only a few weeks ago we were still marvelling at the majesty of the race presented at Assen, blissfully ignoring the fact that track has claimed the lives of 7 Grand Prix racers over the years. Perspective? Yes. People die doing this shit. It’s not all about your viewing pleasure.

Then there are riders, some of whom reached the greatest of heights and are considered gods, like Wayne Rainey and Mick Doohan, who will carry the scars and life changing injuries of Grand Prix racing with them forever. Nobody is immune.

How easily we forget what these guys put on the line. Racing is the cruelest of blazing hot mistresses. The highs are eternal. The lows are incendiary. It will take everything you have to give, plus some that you don’t, and on a bad day, come back for your last breath.

“Three beers, thanks.” By the end of P2, Jack knew the pub was going to be the place to be.

Grand prix racing, hell, all motorcycle racing, even down to club level, is full of brave, talented men and women, risking their lives every time they jump on a bike. We marvel at their skill and daring. We admire their bravery, and their ability to think and function rationally in situations that would leave everyone but them pissing their pants in sheer unadulterated terror. And still some of us demand that they perform for us like dancing monkeys at an organ grinder’s footpath stall.

But they don’t do it for us. Despite their pleasantries with their fans, you are not their reason for going racing.

Nor do they do it for the money. Not a single one of them does it for the money. Money couldn’t make you do what they do if you didn’t want to. Not all the money in the world. And most of them would do it for free anyway. Shit, some of the guys down the back are paying their own way most of the time.

They all started riding bikes as kids. After that first ride, they did it again. Because they already loved it. It spoke to them in a language that music, football, and even girls could never be fluent in. It became a part of their very being. They struggle to exist without it.

That is why they do it. Because they simply must. The thrill of riding the greatest motorcycles in the world at terrifying speeds, in close quarters with the only other 25 people in the world who understand, is the greatest drug in the history of man. When you are addicted to that, you simply have to do it. You can’t not. You do it until your body stops you doing it, or until other things in your life become more important.

Jorge looked good again this weekend, but even his buttery goodness is no match for that much rain and the shitty Silverstone track surface.

If it was simply a case of money, Stoner wouldn’t have turned down a massive offer from Honda when he chose to retire. At that stage he was the highest paid rider on the grid by a margin, and Honda increased their offer to get him to stay. Honda was desperate for him to continue to deliver championships and bike sales. But he’d had enough, the love for racing had dwindled, overpowered by the parts of GP racing that he didn’t like, and had been replaced with a young family. Casey knew that nothing good happens on a racetrack once you reach that point where racing is no longer the only thing you are devoted to.

Rossi still does it, not because of the money, but because racing remains the single most important thing in the world to him. When it’s not, he too will stop. Fact is he can earn as much off the bike as on it anyway. The others will all stop too when that moment arrives when racing is no longer their most important thing. The time will come for all of them eventually, just like Dani Pedrosa has decided to retire this year rather than take a ride on a satellite Yamaha. He could have ridden the Yamaha, made good coin, and finished top ten most weeks and made his employers pretty happy. But no, the need is just not there now. And when the need is not there, the money won’t change it.

It’s easy to believe that because you are a paying fan you are owed something. But you would be wrong. These men owe you nothing. What you get for your entry fee, or your online subscription, is privilege. 

You are given the absolute privilege of being able to watch some of the most extraordinary humans on the planet doing the thing that is more important to them than life itself.

It’s not about you, numb-nuts. It’s about them. So shut your stupid pie-hole, stop casting aspersions on men with fortitude you will never comprehend, and buy your tickets for Misano, because the circus is on its way to town.

Be forever grateful that you are allowed to watch. I know I am.

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