Feb 8, 2014

Posted by in Bikes

A Kid Watches a Grand Prix (Pt II)

A Kid Watches a Grand Prix (Pt II)

Part One of me crapping on about how I got into motorbike racing is here.  Part two, quite clearly is below.

So we went to the video shop and I went to the sports section and happened upon a VHS documentary called ‘Wayne Gardner: World Champion.’  That seemed like a decent starting place.  We paid the fifty cents or whatever it was for a week hire and I went home and watched it about twenty times that week.  It was brilliant.

He was this guy, from somewhere called Wollongong, who’d hid in the boots of cars to get across Europe with no money because he believed he might be pretty good at getting on a motorbike and making it go pretty quickly.

The documentary, which is now available on YouTube incidentally, was part life story but mostly followed Gardner on the road for the 1987 season, the year he won the title.  It was a good, early insight into all things Grand Prix racing.  The bikes, the technical side of things, the life, the struggles, the riders and a good ‘80s rock Jimmy Barnes soundtrack.

Gardner was the sort of rider that these days we’d call ‘old school’ and that resonated with me straight away, despite knowing nothing of the sports history at this stage.  And he swore in the doco which was funny to a nine year old obviously.  And then there was a marshall who got stroppy with him in Austria and told him he couldn’t go out on track for the final practice session because the pit lane was closed.  So he hit him.  OK, so that’s not the mature way to deal with it, and I sort of look at it a bit differently now, but as a kid, I could relate to that attitude and I whole heartily approved.

So after about the tenth viewing, my nine year old self had had his suspicions confirmed.  Wayne Gardner was actually some sort of God and it was now it was my job to worship him.  Having ditched Sunday School a couple of years earlier when I worked out the whole thing just didn’t add up, (That teacher never did answer my, if Adam and Eve only had two sons, where did the next kid come from, question.), I had a hole in my life in that area anyway.  So a motorbike rider would do nicely.

The next round of the championship in 1989 was at Laguna Seca, the next weekend.  Perfect.

Untitled-1In that week I watched the doc and also found a magazine called ‘The Wayne Gardner Story’ by Nick Hartgerink at the library that was more a bio than the film.  So I read that and then ordered a copy to buy from the local bookshop, a thing which also used to exist back then.  In 1989 Amazon was but a rainforest.  I’d got that week’s copy of Revs newspaper, which was like the Australian version of MCN as well and read that.  Bizarelly, and this is true, that week at school one of our Art and English assingments was to make a board game so I made a Phillip Island game. It was essentially snakes and ladders with motorbikes, but you know, I was nine.  I don’t know what grade I got but I do remember the pieces you moved around were little washers with cigarette sponsorship stickers on them which didn’t please my teacher all that much.

Which reminds of me of another motorcycle related story that got me in trouble at school actually.  Allow me this one tangent for a second.

A couple of weeks after the Australian Grand Prix, Australian Motorcycle News released a commerative magazine about Gardner’s win.  I’ve still got it in a box in Mum and Dad’s shed back in Australia somewhere.  Anyway, I took this to school to read during reading time after lunch.  A couple of days later the deputy headmaster came into our classroom and asked if he could see me for a minute.  So off I went, assuming I must have been up for an award or something…

We went and sat on the stage in the nearby assembly area and he asked me if I liked to read magazines.  I told him I did.  He asked me what sort.  Looking back now, if I’d had more of my wits about me I probably would’ve been terrified he was about to show me some stuff that would scar me for life.  Thankfully that wasn’t the case.  There was no mention of gladiator movies.

I said I read magazines about music and films and sport.  Like any kid.  I told him I was reading one when he came in to get me actually about the Australian Grand Prix and this guy called Wayne Gardner and he was really good and just a couple of weeks ago –

He asked if he could have a look at the magazine and any others I had in my bag.  So I got my bag, showed him it’s contents.  A motorbike magazine, crumpled homework, a few old basketball cards of someone rubbish like Leonard Copeland and probably some smashed up crisps at the bottom.

He opened up my motorcycle magazine, flicked through it and said something to himself along the lines of, ‘Oh, ok, right,’ and then gave it back to me.  He told me it was great that I enjoyed reading and I could go back to class now.  So I did, wondering what the fuck that was all about.

A few days later, at home, Mum told me she’d had a discussion with the deputy headmaster, and another kid’s Mum, about the whole affair.  Apparently one of the kid’s in class had told his Mum that I was reading Playboy (other porn is avaialble) in class and he was offended or disgusted or something.  Turns out it was a picture in the magazine of a grid girl’s arse that he’d seen.  I can’t remember the exact picture but I’m sure I was actually more interested in the bikes than the birds at nine.  All of this links quite nicely these days really to why I think the brolly dolly is outdated.  Not just from a PC or equality stand point but maybe there’s some other kid who’s just really into Marc Marquez and his mates think they’re a perv.  Maybe there’s a kid who’s a really big Randy De Puniet fan and he just bought those magazines with his wife in for the articles…

Anyway, from then on I had to screen my motorcycle mags for grid girl pics before I took them to school.  Dad seemed very keen to help with this task.  It was all very odd.

Anyway, as Laguna rolled around I felt prepared.  I was now well up to date on the sport, the bikes, the names and the man I would support on his quest to win back the title.  I was one excited kid.  The races were on late at night so I taped it, got up early before school on Thursday, and jumped in front of the TV with my Weetbix.  I wasn’t allowed to watch telly before school but Mum made a special exception.  An exception that was to continue to me being allowed to stay up late and watch the races live when they were on.  So, Monday morning.  My new favourite thing in the VCR.  Let’s go.

Wayne broke his leg at Laguna and would miss most of the 1989 season.

So that’s when I learnt the final lesson about this sport I would grow to love.  People get hurt.  And worse.

It was also the race we nearly lost Bubba Shobert who collected Magee on the slow down lap after he’d run out of fuel.  Laguna already had a bit of a reputation after just two years.

So there it was.  One race into my new ‘thing’ and my new hero was lying in a fence with his leg in bits.  That doesn’t happen in many sports.  But I still enjoyed the race.  Rainey, a name I was now familar with, took a good win.  I watched the tape again with my grandfather who took a liking to Eddie Lawson as he seemed like a nice chap.  He was also on a Rothman’s Honda for 1989 so I thought I’d support him until Wayne recovered.

Eddie Lawson Donington Park British GP 1989Lawson won the next race in Spain and I was now firmly entrenched in this 500cc malarky.  Then came Misano.  The race that was boycotted by all the top riders for saefty reasons.  Bike racing wasn’t making it easy for me.

Luckily the rest of the season was a belter and Gardner came back from injry and secured a podium in Sweden to reward my faith.  Bike racing was now easily my favourite thing.  In between races I saved up pocket money to buy season reviews of past years through the still wonderful Duke.  I watched whatever I could.  From the current Gardner and Lawson era to Spencer and Mamola, Sheene and Roberts and whatever there was I could find in those pre internet days of Ago and Hailwood.  I drank it all up.

At the end of 1989 the Whitbred Round The World Yacht Race had a port call in our home town of Fremantle.  One of the big name entrants in the race was the UK entry by Rothmans.  Obviously it was a big hullabulla when it came to each port and there was to big events put on by Rothmans for the sailors for publicity and what not.  Dad was going to said event one night and then there was to be another thing on a Saturday morning down with the boats.  Dad asked if I wanted to go, I said I had little to no interest in yachting.  Then he told me that as part of the event Rothmans’ big names of Australian sport would be there to welcome them.

I didn’t take me too long to put two and two together and a few restless nights later I was standing on a shoreline in Fremantle, in my best WG shirt walking up to Mr Gardner, extending my hand and saying, very confidently, and I remember this exactly, “Hello Wayne.  I’m Trent.”  “Hi Trent,” he said, shook my hand and then looked around trying to work out where this kid had come from.  The problem I had was I hadn’t worked out a follow up line and Mum and Dad were a good way behind me.

In the end Dad caught up and claimed me and explained the situation having met Wayne at the corporate do the night before.  We all chatted for a while or at least as much as a nine year old and a 500cc world champion can.  I asked him how his leg was and asked him when testing for the new season was going to start.  He answered, to me, like I was a real person and everything as opposed to a odd kid dressed head to do in pictures of him.  Which, let’s be honest, I was.  I got a photo with him and was dizzy with glee.  Not many nine year olds get to met, let alone spend a quality fifteen minutes with, their heroes.  This picture will not be posted.

Then we met Michael Doohan and he said, and again I remember this so vividly, after Dad had asked him if he was gonna win a race next year, “We’re trying.  It’d be nice to win a couple over the next few years.”  And then he sort of skulked off.  He was Mick even back then.  And, from memory, he did go on and win a couple of races over the next few years.  Fifty four you say?

So in less than a year I’d gone from someone who barely new Grand Prix motorcycle racing to a mini anorak who’d just met Wayne Gardner.

gardner-6From then on the bike racing addiction ramped up.  We went to the 1990 Australian Grand Prix, my first ever GP live.  Not only was the main event, to my mind, one of the top three races of all time, but I got to see some of the great moments in the sport first hand.  Another Gardner win.  Capirossi’s debut championsip in the 125s at just sixteen.  John Kocinski wrapping up the 250 title.  And Christian Sarron’s farewell ride.  It was some day.

Over the year’s, through Dad’s work and other things my family and Wayne’s actually became friends.  Both our mothers still regularly converse about ‘the kids and the weather’ to this day.  I got a race worn helmet from the Gardner’s for my 21st and as a gangly, pimly teenager who had his entire growth spurt in a weekend, got to sit on and rev a championship winning NSR in a shed somewhere in New South Wales.

So from 1989 until the present day, I’ve watched every single MotoGP race.  Most twice.  Some many more.  I’ve seen at least 80% of the lower classes in that period as well.  In the early days they weren’t telecast and a lot aren’t available on any sort of video.  Pre 1989 I’d say I’ve seen every race in it’s entirity back to Sheene’s first title in 1976 and highlights of what’s available before that.

Factor in World Superbikes, Australian Superbikes, BSB, AMA, the TT and whatever else was on and I dare not try and calculate how many months of my finite existence have been spent watching motorcycles chase each other around airfields, Tuscan valleys and mountains.

So as someone who’s studied comedy film making, evolutionary biology and loved motorcycle racing, in my mid thirties, I’ve somehow got a job that uses all three of those, what I’ll loosely call skills.  If I believed in fate, I’d be pretty happy with that.  As it stands I’m pretty happy with it all the same, I just put it down to chance and hard work instead of divine intervention.  Because I’m not nuts.

The point is whilst I may not have been ‘on the scene’ as it were as long as some of the great writers about this great sport, like a Matt Oxley or a Julian Ryder or a David Emmett, but I think I’ve seen enough to give my ranting, raving and opinions about bikes seem to be somewhat educated and informed rather than just someone shouting about how Rossi is the GOAT on a forum at you-know-which-one site.

And I think my views on the sport come from somewhere different.  From someone who was, at first, a pure fan.  Who doesn’t work day in day out within the circus.  I merely flit in and out of the paddock. Yes, when I attend GPs I go with a press pass, but I also sometimes just go out and sit in the stands with the punters.  If my MotoGP job ended tomorrow, I’d still be a writer and I’d still watch bike racing.  I’d still love it and still feel desperately uncomfortable with much of the circus as well.

I’m entrenched and involved, but not co-dependant.  I work outside as well as in.

I love the sport.  I love the science, the technology, the thrill, the bravery, the skill.  I love the characters.  But I often wonder if it’s a bit stuck.  That it needs to change more quickly.  It doesn’t need to be a natural evolution.  It is not a living thing.  We can pick and choose the best bits to make the sport better, more accessible, more profitable, more engaging and more inclusive.  I’ll write about that at some point.  But at the core it’s about incredibly skilled athletes on beautiful pinnacles of engineering going very, very fast.  That bit stays the same.  The love for that stays strong.  That bit is ‘it’.

I’ve wondered if Mick Doohan could ever be stopped.  I’ve risen from my seat to the styles of the likes of Gary McCoy to Ben Spies.  I’ve lamented the loss of the 500s but welcomed the safety improvements. I’ve smiled at the antics of Guy Martin.  I’ve hated and loved electronics in equal measures.  I’ve shed a tear for Kato, Simoncelli, Tomizawa and more. I’ve been mesmerised by the maturing of Jorge Lorenzo and baffled by the bad luck of Dani Pedrosa.  I’ve felt the roar of Gardner at Phillip Island, Scott Redding at Silverstone and seen the unwavering worship of Valentino Rossi at Mugello.  I’ve been flat out dumbstruck by the raw talent of Casey Stoner. And I’ve wondered if Marc Marquez has a ceiling.  And I’ll be doing all of that, amongst all the other stuff in the other sections, here from now on.  So deal with it…

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