I’m currently sitting at the Indigo Hotel bar drinking beer,watching Texas Flood. Hurrican Ike is battering the Gulf coast,and its long reach up into the midwest is drowning the first MotoGP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in rain. This hasn’t stopped the riders from going flat-out and attempting to lean hard into the shores of each turn and pushing through the gears down the straightaway. For some reason, this particular sport seems to pay little attention to bad weather, other than to strap on some tires that actually have tread and tune the bike for a higher moisture content air mixture.
The other hotel patrons have turned the channel,searching for something less depressing and dull,and have settled on shack attacks after a brief stint on ESPN. The bartender has that smoker’s voice. She talks about how her dead husband quit smoking,quit drinking… but it was all a little too late. "Some sort of goddamn party about the race… some crap downtown… I dunno."
I’ve signed up for three days of this historic MotoGP event. As a casual observer to the sport,this is really throwing oneself into the mercy of fanatics and dedicated fans who get excited over things like the first and second 800cc MotoGP practice laps,the 125cc and 250cc qualifying laps,all the while soaked by non-stop rain. Luckily,I own a fast Ducati,and can blend in with these high-speed fans. Just keep it in first gear,let the motor work hard up to 8k RPMs and drown out the fact you’re soaked to the bone. At those revolutions,the engine provides more than enough heat to keep you warm.
I bought a Fosters for myself and a hard lemonade for my expert. The bill came to $11: "Huh… cheaper than Miller Park though." The older vendor said "Hah! That’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve heard that today!" Subsequently,the two brats,hot dog,and burger came to $13. Quality not withstanding,I was beside myself.
There’s some genuine love of speed down in my heart somewhere,kept warm and alive by my childhood nostalgia of watching the Indy 500 with my father every year,tracing out the cars in the newspapers and magazines,dreaming of the sound of a 1984 Ferrari GTO rumbling at my fingertips. Even attending one of the runnings of the Indy,my dad offering me some of my uncle’s wickedly potent home brew the night before; looking across the sea of fans in the parking lot holding signs commanding "Show Us Your Tits." The actual speed of those cars took a back seat to the memory of the _sound_ they made as they forced their way through the friction and grip of the air that lay between them and the first turn. There was always some mystic connection to getting up at 5am with him and watching the Space Shuttle rocket off to do whatever Science was to be done.
I have to do that yet,some day.
But these MotoGP riders,they have a different tact now. They ride in rain,with slogans like "The harder it rains,the faster I go." And they pay for it,too. There are careful numbers assigned to things like the blacktop surface,lean angle and speed,and tire composition and tempurature… They define a _line_,and they _know_ how to read that line,study it,poke and play with that critical limit. But the rain brings its own science. Makes that line go fuzzy,blurry through the droplets collecting on the visor. Suddenly that exact mix of temperature and pressure is filled with some guesswork and faith. That the lean angle through the lake that’s formed at the front of turn one won’t slip and send the rider on a low-side ride into the grass… or a slip of the brakes on the front end out of turn 6 throws them off the high-side face-first into the pavement,with the million dollar two-wheel fast-moving bike that now looks more like an anvil closing in on them. Now they have a race among equals,messy and miserable as it is,and they all feel they’ve got a chance to make that historic #1 spot at this first MotoGP at the Speedway,for good or ill. Fear and Danger be damned.
No,they say the rain is the great equalizer,and that long hand of Hurricane Ike has brought plenty of it for these fans. The expectation for death and destruction is great and palpable. It sells more beer,keeps these sick folk ready for it. The divers are in the shark tank now,feeding unidentifiable handfuls of bloody flesh to the wild rows of teeth. The bartender is back serving drinks,talking about rabid dogs for pets.
As an innocent bystander,I have my procedures for enduring the vague purpose of this fanatical insanity. The first and only real rule is to learn about the sport – the strategy,the nuance,and get inside its head. No sport is so meaningless and devoid such that there’s no fear,ecstasy,and strength associated to its athletes. Finding it can be tricky and complex. Boxing has its pure adrenal brutality,baseball its tradition, scheming and numbers… This one,like most racing,has its machines. Engineered to precision and running on high octane with singular purpose.
I love the deafing roar of Casey Stoner’s Ducati desmo revving loud down the pits,its dry clutch plates rattling audibly. The unique high-pitched screech of Anthony West’s Kawasaki drowns out conversation as it enters turn 1. The quick popping and backfire of the downshift through the turn keeps us fixated to the track below. There’s more than a few people with earplugs in,and top dollar is paid to get a seat in the paddock-level rooms above pit row with audio and video piped in from cameras around the track: but not I. I like the tangible and painful connection to this sport. The misery of the rain,the rancor of the valves screaming high RPMs hammering straight into my eardrums, wincing and unable to communicate. When I we came here last to watch the Indy 500,I remember distinctly the sound of the cars as they pierced the wind – something you’d never get from the mirror image of the race piped in through filters and dithered encoded audio streams. To be here is to be _in_ the race,to connect with it on a base level,to share something with the mad men riding hard and their faith in their infernal death machines.
The television has been neglected: the Discovery channel is describing in detail the inner workings of a Guass cannon.