Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gentlemen...Start Your Engines!

There’s the kind of dream vacation you think about for years, cutting out pictures of pink beaches and pinning them on your bulletin board, sighing, One of these days…

And then there’s the other kind of dream vacation. As in, Never in a million years would I have dreamed anyone could talk me into this.

Well, gentlemen (and ladies): Start your engines. This last weekend my sweetie and I flew more than halfway across the country to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place I’ve never in my life thought about for more than four consecutive seconds. Why?


MotoGP is motorcycle racing. The GP stands for Grand Prix. The riders compete against each other at races all over the world for the annual MotoGP championship. (Three days at Indianapolis, and those are pretty much all the hard facts I know.)

My sweetie was concerned that before the weekend was half over, I’d liquefy into a festering puddle of boredom. (Like the two women we saw sleeping in chairs underneath the stands, behind the Indy Dog vendor.) But this is the thing about that other kind of dream vacation: discovering stuff you never knew existed. The T-shirts alone are another whole subculture. Lots of black, lots of old English font, lots and lots of skulls. The T-shirts supplied information…

Hell yes it’s fast


Those who dance are considered insane
by those who cannot hear the music


Ride it like you stole it

…and often, a powerful simplicity:

Your bike sucks

And then there are the brolly girls. Brolly girls hold umbrellas over the riders so that they don’t get hot/rained on/otherwise inconvenienced. Here’s a brolly girl practicing:

If you’re imagining four men to every woman at MotoGP (including the brolly girls), you’re about spot-on.

But if you’re also picturing bad mullets, chrome studs, and leather fringe, a la a Harley Davidson rally...nope. If Harley Davidson is the pit bull, MotoGP is the greyhound. Sleek. Stripped down. MotoGP isn’t about chrome. It’s about speed, baby.

Sunday—Race Day—dawns. After nodding off during the qualifying runs and practice laps the day before, I’m taking no chances. My satchel is crammed with a netbook computer, two novels, a magazine, and a newspaper crossword.

The thing is, I’ve never understood motor races. Horse races, yes. Horse racing is spirit and muscle and power and skill and immeasurable, limitless heart. In comparison, motor races always seemed so…well, mechanical. And loud. And endlessly repetitive, with all that going around and around and around. Yawn.

But it turns out that a motorcycle flashing past at nearly two hundred mph is…well, it’s like this:

Wow. Okay.

I got the crossword partly done. And then I couldn't help it. The motorcycles hooked me in.

Three laps into the race. The cyclist in the lead, a Spaniard named Dani Pedrosa, crashes his bike. Long skid over the grass, but he gets up. Whew. Then he gets back on the bike and rejoins the race. From the lead he's now dead last, by an enormous margin.

A few laps later, the next guy in the lead, Valentino Rossi, also crashes. Also rejoins the race, but his bike is too damaged, and he drops out for good.

That leaves one rider, Jorge Lorenzo, waaaay in front. Unless he crashes, too, it’s now a race for second place.

Bikes flash past. Zoom. Zoom. Last of all, Dani Pedrosa on his orange Honda Repsol. He’s by himself on the track, the rest of the field literally a mile ahead, but he’s flying. He has no hope of finishing anything but last, he’s already crashed once, and yet he’s not letting up one iota. Even a rank amateur like me can tell.

The field comes around again. A mile back, Dani Pedrosa. I squint. Look at the field. Then back at Dani. “You know," I say, "I think Pedrosa is catching up.”

“No way,” says my sweetheart. Another lap. “Damn, you’re right," he says. "He is catching up.”

Now we’re not watching the battle for second. Everyone's watching the battle for last. Every time Pedrosa flies past—gaining, always gaining—the crowd cheers. When he catches the rider in front of him and passes, the stands erupt in roars. I’m whooping right along with them.

Twenty-eight laps. The checkered flag comes down. Jorge Lorenzo wins. Good on ya, Jorge.

And Dani Pedrosa? Tenth, in a field of fifteen. Crashed his bike, ended up more than a mile back from the field, and still passed five other riders.

Yeah. That’s heart. From this out-of-left-field vacation, I found a new hero. And something to remember the next time things get tough.

No matter what, keep on flying.

I ought to put that on a T-shirt.

For some of the action, click here...I tried to embed it, but MotoGP won't let me. But it's a great video. And if you're dying to find out about engines and highsides and lowsides and what all the flags mean...then this is for you.

Many, many thanks to my brother, who invited us out for the MotoGP, and to all their family for putting us up... especially my nephew Michael, who bunked with his brother Ryan so we could have his room. You guys are the best!

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Anonymous Lisa Nowak said...

What Dani Pedrosa did--that's what it's all about. Well, that and the way it feels to scream through a corner with your tires at the limit of adhesion, feathering the throttle to stay right at the edge of a spin-out without going beyond.

Sometimes people like Dani get lucky. There's a caution and the field bunches up, giving them a shot at making it to the front again. Sometimes they still finish dead last. But the thing about racing is, you've gotta try, because you never know what's going to happen between now and the time that checkered flag flies. As long as there's a chance you've gotta take it.

My car had a motto on the back, inspired by a Cory Hart song: Never Surrender. There's something about not giving up, not even being able to conceive of the possibility, that makes you feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Walter Rowntree said...

. I know that kind of vacation! I am so happy for you that you got to discover that.
Years ago someone convinced Laura and I to go see a demolition derby at the county fair. Not our cup of tea. Or so we thought. Now we go every year. We scream and cheer.
. People are funny. We wouldn't do stuff if there wasn't something to it. Not that I'm suggesting you can't become too much of an 'experience oriented' person. I had a college chum who decided to try heroin 'just once'. Well, that worked out OK and he was no fool so he never did it again, but he also decided to try LSD 'just once'. (He also ate an entire (what he thought was a) peyote cactus from the university arboretum (and wasn't) and ended up puking his guts out in our dorm room for 6 hours). He took 15 hits of LSD (Dope. You take 1/2 a hit your first time!) and ended up born again. Became heavily involved in a group called, I think, Punk Rockers for Jesus or something like that. Anyway, he turned into a generally mixed-metaphor kind of guy.
. So moto GP OK. But we should all use some degree of common sense when using others' obsessions to guide our search for new experiences.
Chris, unless you are commenting on other peoples' blogs on this site, you are likely missing out on some of the (often interesting) words used to verify that we Lisa, Melissa, and I are real human beans and not 'bots. Today's word verification is THROCTU, an acid whose derivatives are used in (at least one) dandruff control products. Also translated from the Latin as English 'per'.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Lisa--yeah, now I get it, at least a little bit...and thanks for explaining why it makes sense to get back on the bike when you've just crashed out at some ungodly mph. There's a lot there that pertains to writing, too, especially not giving up in the face of apparent defeat. (Love the Cory Hart quote.) Except that writing doesn't involve speed, and the speed is flat-out awesome. Yowza!

Walter, I knew to give this a chance after I reluctantly went along to a Harley-Davidson show years ago...and found that whole subculture on glorious display. (That scene became the backdrop for the Tallulah-meets-Maeve chapter in Tallulah Falls.)

LSD bringing on a born-again that's a story someone oughta write.

I think there's some synchronicity paradigm for the word verifications. They can get kinda prescient, actually. Spooky.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Sally Nemeth said...

I'm ALL for new experiences, and totally into the "ride it like you stole it" t-shirt. Hope you got that one for a little Xmas stocking stuffer.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Melissa Marsh said...

I loved this! It was like I was right there with you, watching. I don't know if I'd like watching this stuff, but I'm always willing to give it a gander. I went to the horse races for the first time this year and LOVED it.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Sally--Yeah, "Ride it like you stole it" is pretty good. I actually didn't see my fave motorcycle T-shirt at's a response to the old, "If you can read this, the b**ch fell off." My fave is, "If you can read this, the b**ch just passed you." Ha! If I rode, I'd own that one in five different colors.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, horse racing is definitely still my fave. There's something about the partnership between the rider and horse that tugs at me, which I just don't feel from a machine.

Still, though, MotoGP was way exciting to watch...I was pleasantly surprised and I'd go again, for sure!

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Walter Rowntree said...

Indian Relay Racing. That's the bomb. If you aren't familiar with it, say so and I'll summarize.
What actually happened with the guy who LSD'd and found Jesus was this: he got picked up off the streets of San Francisco (naked) by the police, taken to a hospital where he was tied to a bed for 10 hours. First the devil came and visited him, then Jesus came and drove the devil off and that's what did it.

4:08 PM  

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