Wednesday, May 03, 2006
You don't know who Nicky Hayden is, do you? You probably don't realize that women swoon over him in Europe. But then what should I expect. Kevin Schwantz could walk down 6th Street in Austin on a Saturday night completely anonymously. No one would know that they had just brushed past God. The depth of cultural ignorance in the USA is shown starkly by the fact that people flock to super speedways and call the processional, organized smashup derby a race. These are the same people who have never seen a motorcycle race much less a Supercross or a motorcycle grand prix. They have no idea that a proper race track has left turns AND right turns. And they have no idea that they are missing the emergence of a new golden age of motorcycle racing.
Last Sunday, through the miracle of streaming internet video I watched young gods in the making as they battled on the tortured pavement of Turkey's motorcle GP. I watched THE god, Valentino Rossi, run off the track and still almost make it onto the podium. I watched Suzuki, for the first time in years, battle for the lead on bikes that looked to be as fast as the almighty Hondas. I watched young Casey Stoner, in only his third motogp, lead the race with only three corners left only to be passed on the brakes by Marco Melandri thus denying him the opportunity to become the youngest motogp winner in history at only 20 years old. Dani Pedrosa came back from a disastrous qualifying session that had him starting in 16th place. He led near the end only to crash on the first corner of the last lap while trying to stick with Casey and Marco. And then there was Nicky. He qualified in 2nd place. He stuck with the leaders early on and then caught them and then passed them. In the past, he has had the bad habit of being passed and then staying passed. No more. A tiger has been unleashed and anyone daring to pass him found himself immediately confronted at the next corner by a Nicky that is hungry to be a world champion. He led the race at times and was in a tight pack of four Hondas that were passing each other at nearly every corner. He burned up his rear tire in the process and fell back from the leaders in the closing three laps of the race, but he finished on the podium for the eighth consecutive race and with those consistent finishes finds himself leading the world championship.
I know you don't care. But that saddens me because you have no idea what you are missing. Last Sunday's race was a classic that has to be seen to be believed. But the season is young and there is time to be converted. I officially invite you to the chapel of speed on the Speed Channel to partake of the sacrament of MotoGP. Trust me. You'll find grace and be converted.
On a personal note. When I started racing in 1996 I shared the track with a 14 year old Nicky Hayden who was already dominating every race he entered. I stood at the fence of the schoolhouse turn at Oak Hill Raceway next to a young Ben Spies and watched Nicky do amazing things. Ben, by the way, won both AMA Superbike races this weekend just like he did the previous week. He soundly beat 6-time AMA champion Matt Mladin in a straight up battle of equally matched Suzukis. My personal brushes with greatness.