July, 2007

July 31, 2007

A fairly great week, with real ups and downs.

Catch me if you can . . . .

Well, I've been caught. Just touching base with everyone about my tentative plans for the next few days, which sound fun, although not completely drama free, haha. It's looking like I'll hit the travelling SF meet on Wednesday evening, maybe not right at six but closer to 8. Details about where can be found HERE --> SF meet, Wednesday.

As for today, I had originally planned to get some errands run, check in with my buddy Brad (for a chai latte - my first ever, and it was good!), and then see what was up for this evening. Looks like I'll be buttoning this bike back together instead. The beautiful, gorgeous, Sport Classic 1000 S that I was using, courtesy of Ducati North America, was taken down by a wayward Toyota this afternoon, breaking off the right footpeg and scratching up the bodywork on the left side. Nothing too serious, but Mutha#&*@^%(@*#$& I was bent, particularly because it seemed like the guy was about to drive off without stopping. When confronted, he finally gave me his information after I snapped a photo of his license plate. Anyway, this is now a matter for insurance to handle, but I have to admit, I crawled around on the street checking out the damage to the bike just like I would have to one of my racebikes. I had lots of room to crawl, because the guy drove off and left the bike laying on it's side after I got the insurance/driver's license info. Bah.

Later in the week I was expecting to do a cool photoshoot with the bike, all part of an article I'm writing about some of the differences between the road-going and racing Ducati's. Not sure if I'll end up taking shots of this one - and maybe they'll only be from the right side, hahaha, but we'll figure it out. One thing is for sure - no stress on this break, I have enough of that from work!

I've now finished switching the rt. passenger peg to take the place of the rider peg, which was snapped off when the truck bumper smacked it, and at least the girl is rideable again.

All in all, it's been great this past week. Memories that will stick are riding over the Bay Bridge with the cityscape shining back at me through the morning fog, bombing down 280 on my way to Alice's for some apple pie ala mode and rootbeer, meeting Tygaboy (Chris Baker) in Petaluma for some carbon fiber instruction, knocking back some brews with the guys at Zeit while eating a burger, and all in all, just revelling in the USA-ness of SF. I haven't had to use my giant headphones at all, which is something I do to keep the usual outside noise from bothering me too much.

Some negative things that bugged me about this trip? I lost a bag full of stickers and my digital camera at the race, not sure if it was lifted (likely) or I somehow misplaced it (possible, but unlikely). To make matters worse, later in the week I took off my jacket and threw it in with a couple others on a sofa at the Levende Lounge on Mission/Duboce and when I got it back later in the night, my iPod shuffle was gone. Hmmm, seems like there are definitely a lot more sticky fingers than I remember, haha, and I'm not even in Europe!

About the race fuel at the track? Yes, we get that delivered at each race, and we're not allowed to transport it ourselves because it's a hazardous material. We'll often give it to whoever is around if we have any left after an event, and if you were watching Marlboro Ducati on Sunday afternoon, you would have seen them siphoning the fuel out of the barrels and into their rentacars, haha. Can you imagine the mileage an H2 would get with full on race gas? I think we gave about seven drums to Celtic racing, and I hope they put it to good use.

Still upset about the bike, but hey, it's SF, and this kind of stuff is rampant. Memorable quotes from the incident include, "How the F*&^ do you not see a bright red motorcycle parked 5 feet behind you when you walked up from that side of the F(*&%# truck?", and "Oh, now that I've got photos of your license plate and the bike, now you want to give me your insurance information?", and "Are you drunk?!?".

Sigh, can't win them all, hahaha.

July 24, 2007

Back in the USA - staying for a week!

Woo-hoo! The Red Bull USGP has come and gone, but I've stayed in San Francisco to reconnect and recharge my batteries after the last two months of racing. I'm catching up on emails, working, and sending out all the MotoLiam USGP07 Limited shirts, so it's a fun week. I'm off in a minute to meet up with Garry McCoy for lunch, at my old Harley shop in Redwood City!

July 18, 2007

OK, We're here!

We've made it to California, touching down early Monday afternoon. I had spent the entire flight from Europe trying to sleep, and more importantly, trying to fight off a heavy cold that I felt was coming on. No matter how I bundled up, I couldn't shake the chills I was having on the flight, and it was only going to get worse. Monday afternoon we took our fuel tank to start the repair process, and by the evening, I was passed out in the motel in Monterey. I spent almost all of Tuesday sleeping. Wednesday, the Team got a slugglish start and we arrived to the circuit just after 10AM. This is quite unusual, but there seemed to be some confusion as to whether or not our flight boxes had arrived on time or were due to arrive in the afternoon. Either way, our coordinator wasn't sure so we went in at 10 and were surprised because we were the last ones there. No matter, we would be the last ones to leave that day, hahaha. Now that the garage is set up, the bikes are being readied for Friday's action packed practices. Barros' crashed machine from the Sachsenring race is almost ready to rock and roll again (and will be within a few hours), and I feel my own strength returning as the bikes near completion.

Friday Night I expect to make it out to Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream Parlor on Drake and Lighthouse in Monterey around 9 PM . . . . so if you'd like to pick up a special shirt you pre-ordered, that'd be a nice time to meet. Gotta go, time to get to work. Yeah!

July 15, 2007

Germany? I Need a Fabricator in NorCal!

Hey everyone, don't know if you saw the race, but over the weekend we damaged a few bits and pieces here and there, and I'm looking for a Aluminum Fabricator in the Bay Area/South Bay/all the way down to Monterey California. I am looking for someone who's skilled in aluminum fuel tank repair, and then I'd need to shoot it white. The damage isn't major, something along the lines of an SV tank that tipped over on both sides, meaning that I'd like to cut about 10" x 6" of material off/out and replace it with something a little better looking.

Ways to contact me are through email:


Or via phone:

+34 659 169 214.

So, if anyone knows someone who can kick out a job like this in a couple days, please let me know ASAP.

July 10, 2007

Getting Geared Up for the Road

It's been simply wild. After Assen, I spent nearly a week in Barcelona, recovering and preparing for the final double header of the first half of the season. Yes, technically we are now past the halfway point, as the upcoming Sachsenring will be our tenth race of eighteen, but the entire paddock won't feel like it's halfway over until we have our traditional summer break in the month of August. I can't wait. I'm looking forward to spending time with my loved ones in San Francisco after the Laguna Seca race, riding through the mountains and along the coast (on something cool!), and as always, eating tasty treats wherever I go! I still have more photos and stories from Assen to relate, but those will have to wait until I have some more free time. I miscalculated somewhat, because before I knew it, I needed to pack my things and get ready to be out of Barcelona for approximately one month. I leave tomorrow morning. Whoa! That means this summer I will have been in my home in BCN for two weeks out of ten. I do wish I had more time to spend in Barcelona during the summer, as it is radically different in looks and feel in the warmer months as opposed to winter time, but time is what it's all about, and I need to spend it with my people in California. Definitely crunch time.

We've got a fantastic race in Germany to look forward to, and immediately afterwards, the BIG ONE of the year for me - Laguna Seca! I'm planning to meet with everyone on Friday evening near Cannery Row in Monterey at a pizza parlor called Gianni's (ok, maybe it's Giovanni's - I'll check and confirm on the website), and on Saturday evening I plan to walk through the camping areas to meet with more people. I'm sure a likely gathering point will turn up, most likely Hawaiian themed, haha.

We'll kick off the pre-Sachsenring vibe with a cool tune, and then some Youtube links of the video I was involved in at Mugello.

GP07 Sachsenring song!

Moto Part 1, in Barcelona

Moto Part 2, at the Track!

Moto Part 3, How it all went down!

July 07, 2007

GP07 Assen TT, Race 9 "Man, I love this place!" Part 2

Every racetrack is different. They have different personalities and varying facilities. We work around all the unique "challenges" they invariably throw at us, for instance we'll bring different electrical adaptors to circuits around the world (or just build them onsite), air and water hose connectors, and when you're dealing with full length semi-trucks, you learn to cut it close so that everything ends up perfectly in its place. There are so many big trucks in MotoGP, everyone has to enter and exit through the same gates and it gets a bit tricky maneuvering the beasts around. I've seen them come within inches of one another when passing through the paddock, but the drivers are professionals and accidents rarely happen. Now that I think about it, Corny from Kawasaki is running around with only nine toes because of an accident, but other than that, I don't know of any other serious mishaps since I've been in the series. That's pretty amazing considering the mileage we cover week in and week out.

Other neat factors that can influence a circuit? The weather and the time of year we go there. Phillip Island in the summer/winter is always a treat (remember, their season is backwards to the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, and their toilets flush reverse, too), and Malaysia and Qatar always seem to be hot, even though we go there as far from summertime as possible. No matter how Dorna/FIM try to arrange the schedule, the weather is usually unpredictable, as we've seen several times this season. Some mornings in Assen were absolutely beautiful.

Other parts of the day, however, were downright miserable. Scampering through the paddock trying to keep your socks dry while you run for lunch is just part of the game, hahaha :) It's funny, but amongst the fraternity of Parts Guys in MotoGP, we tend to wear shorts quite a bit - something about anti-voodoo, or a superstitious way of preventing rain. Obviously, it hasn't been working, so I went back to wearing the long pants for the race.

And speaking about eating at the track, on Tuesday before our hospitality unit was set up, we ate at the paddock restaurant, which was cool! They had old helmets being used as light fixtures, and loads of pictures/posters on the walls, not to mention a gigantic "tanker" keg of beer that looked more like a propane refilling station. I even managed to get some Ben and Jerry's ice cream there, which was a real treat because we never get ice creams at the track.

Another cool building in Groningen, close to a neat lounge called Pande48. Check it out if you're there.

And we caught up with the Aprilia crew of Giorgio Lorenzo one night in a Mexican restaurant . . . with their Ohlins technician drinking a decidedly fruity margarita. This guy is responsible for making the bike go up and down, which is really more complicated, and oddly, more simple, than it seems. See? We look totally normal away from the racetrack, when we're not wearing the uniforms, haha. Look for a special feature/post on Ohlins in a couple weeks when I get everything together. The track technicians are great guys, and have they got some stories to tell. Quick shout out to Thomas, the Ohlins engineer who designed the current shocks being used by a couple Factory Teams. Thanks for joining us at Assen and explaining quite a bit about how things bounce to me. Because most of the other official Teams have a dedicated suspension engineer working closely with the them, Thomas jumped into our garage and was able to listen to the riders and provide excellent feedback and suggestions using - GASP - a computer program.

You would not believe how cool this was, and seeing it in person blew me away. The Ates family from Antwerp rolled to the track bearing a new banner, with all the right stuff! My crew joked that I had stayed up all night painting it the night before, but really, it was Ashley and Bryan, along with their parents, Kathy and Lex, who deserve all the credit. This was really something, and one day I'm going to mount it in my garage/apartment (hint hint, hahaha). The Hoff was riding really well in Assen, no matter what the conditions were. He sat in third and fourth for a long time during Qualifying, and on Sunday's warm-up, he was tearing it up! The bike didn't quite work for him during the race, though, but he brought it home with another solid finish and stayed close to Nicky Hayden in the overall points chase.

We change engines every week, as does every other team, and I might have mentioned that I can almost tell the time of day when I hear certain bikes firing up on Friday or Saturday afternoon. A small crowd gathered around Casey's #27.

But no one came to check out our bike, which was roaring away at the same time. That's fine, because I prefer to be the dark horse that no one is expecting. NEVER let them see you coming.

Incidently, Loris is looking for a Ford GT500, hardtop. He wants to do the Shelby conversion to 725+ Horsepower and have the car sent to his home in Monaco. He says wants it in any color but red - Maybe too many Ferraris in the garage?

I had the extreme pleasure of being able to spend some quality time with the Ates one night, and we had planned to go to a nice restautant in the Drenthe area, about 40 minutes from the circuit. Little known fact about Holland, they have artifacts and large stone structures that date back 5000 years, similar to Stonehenge, but even Dutch people don't really know about them. We were too late at night to check any of them out in person, but hopefully another year rolls around and I'll get the chance then. Our first choice restaurant was also closed early (why am I on such a Spanish schedule for eating?! I'm even meeting people at 9:30 tonight before heading out for pizza!), but Lex remembered a town that he had partied in after an Assen race twenty-sum odd years ago, and we headed off in that direction. We got off the freeways and into suburbia, which revealed many beautiful homes and even more waterways. Seeing the little villages was great, much better than freeway miles and empty fields, and the homes reminded me of cottages. Eventually, we made it to De Lindenhof! We had no idea what to expect, still reaking of the racetrack and wearing t-shirts, but we joked it was going to be a fancy place. WERE WE RIGHT! Just checking out the Land Rovers and Mercedes in the parking lot gave me an idea of what to expect, but the building itself was fantastic. You can't really see it in the photo, but the roof was covered with straw, which is an expensive way to go considering that you must replace it often due to water damage. It was simply beautiful, much like the waitstaff of tall, young blondes, hahaha.

I tried some no-name Brand of beer. It was crisp and refreshing.

But nothing could have prepared me for the delicacies we would be having for dinner that night. The food was amazing, and I chewed slowly to savor every moment. From eel, to escargot, to duck pate, to all manner of unique combinations, the chef really never made a mis-step. I was in heaven, but what really set the dinner off what the company. Because I'm always on the road with the Team, or flying solo in Barcelona, I don't really have a chance to spend time in a family environment, and it's something I really miss. I love the interaction between parents and children, and when you've got a family that loces racing as much as the Ates, it's always fun to listen to them compare riders and bikes. Everyone has a favorite, and the dual heritage of the family, half Dutch and half Italian, means that they can pretty much root for anyone - even John Hopkins! Kathy, the mother, taught me a bit about the Milan/Inter-Milan football rivalry, and everyone had a good chuckle when we tried to explain why we are such sports fanatics. We just are. Now feast your eyes on this beautiful presentation and kick yourselves for not being there!

One word - Perfection.

If there was one strange moment to the dinner, the pre-dessert was it. A lychee sorbet with some special heavy cream . . . . topped by Pop-Rocks? Very interesting, and it worked! Sorry I had to monkey with the colors a little on this shot, it was nearly impossible for me to capture it because of all the "white" in the photo.

Ashley lines it up for the win! How many different treats are in there?!?

Time was against us, because we were having such a good time. Before we knew it, it was close to midnight and we were at least an hour away from the hotel. We piled in the van, and seemingly out of nowhere, the freeway showed up, saving us a lot of time in the process. I guess we could have found a much more direct path to the restaurant, but then we would have missed out on seeing the life in the country, and moreso, we would have lost time talking. I really want to send out a huge thank you to the Ates, because this really made my trip to Assen special. Looking forward to seeing all of you again at a future race - though only the boys are making it to Brno, hahaha. Here we are with the chef of De Lindenhof, Martin Kruithof.

Oh, and meet BeefSteak. This is Gabri, from the Marlboro Team. He's one of Casey's electrical/data technicians, and he's a real asset at the track. He's come over to give us a helping hand now and then, and he mentioned that he never saw himself on the website. Naturally, his nickname comes from his area in Italy, Toscany, which is known for it's beef steaks . . . but I call him Beef Cake, hahaha. Beefy - where's my hat?!?

What's up next? More of Assen! Yee-Haw!!!

July 06, 2007

GP07 Assen TT, Race 9 "Man, I love this place!" Part 1

Hold on to your hats, everybody, because it's time to get into the amazing race that was the A-Style Assen TT, 2007, and also delve a little deeper into what is surely one of my favorite countries on the World Tour. Having just flown in from Birmingham early Monday morning, our first step was to secure the Team rentacars, and then hit the road for the two and a half hour drive to Assen, and our hotel in Groningen (say it like a Klingon from Star Trek, and you've almost got it - KRro-ning-Khen). But before all that, we needed to eat - YES! It's the friends, family, and food, that help make this a very special race for me, and I wasn't disppointed in any way. A huge thank you to everyone who made this race great, especially the Ates family and Dennis, and hey, another set of Top Ten finishes for my boys, Alex Hofmann and Alex Barros! Woot!

Coming in to Schiphol airport, you're immediately struck by how clean and orderly everything is. It's easy to navigate, the people are pleasant, and you never really feel "pressed" like you can be in other places. It is lightyears ahead of Heathrow (no offense, Brits), and I just really like this airport. Now that I've seen a few of them, I have to rank Changi Airport, Singapore, Schiphol, Holland, and KLIA, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as my three of my top five airports in the world. My absolute favorites? Honolulu and San Francisco - Ha! There are weird, lumpy statues in Schiphol, and driving to the circuit, I spied some huge lumpy elephants on the side of the freeway. Don't know much about the artist or the style, except that it's lumpy, and drippy - which is about the opposite of the people here since they're the "Tallest People in the World".

Another great thing about Schiphol is the KLM (the Royal Dutch Airline!) hospitality area, which I managed to slide into. You need to be a gold/platinum member, but somehow I got in and then signed up for a card. Figure at this rate, it will take me a couple years of flights before I qualify for the upgrade card, so I took full advantage of the refreshments while I could. Special shout to Felix, for distracting the girls in front while I maneuvered my way in.

Aha, airport food! Next to the fish-n-chips I had with Paul, this was my best meal in England. Just kidding, haha, but seriously this sandwish rocked. It was almost like it was made with Milton's bread, and had some weird meat-jelly substance which helped moisten everything and keep it yummy. When in England, I always do what I can to pick up some Cadbury's Fruit and Nut chocolate, just like in Germany, I will buy Haribo Gold-Barens!

Unfortunately, time was against us at the airport this time around, so between a choice of Italian food (like normal, haha), I went with something I never do. That's right, baby, I went to Burger King. I just couldn't resist the signage, and it's been a long time since I had a hamburger, so there you go. Comes in Original and MotoLiam versions.

We finally got everything together and loaded up into the vans, and then it was time to hit the road. We made our way through the miles and miles of freeways thanks to something neat called GPS. Unfortunately, we screwed up somewhere because 100Km past where we should have been going, we noticed we were headed into Germany. Doh! That meant a roadside pitstop, and here you can see how well manicured the countryside is. It never seems like there's anything out of place here, very green and well irrigated. You'll see tons of trees lining the roadways and waterways in the country, and they're all the same height, like clones. It's a little strange, actually. Also, the fields are usually full of farm animals, like cows, and sheep! Even managed to see a bunch of Black Sheep, which was cool.

Yup, nothing really happening over this way, either. Everything goes according to plan here, which is something that was mentioned to me by a local. It's almost like Holland is TOO structured. Either way, the topography of the place is fantastic, with all these fields in various shapes and sizes. They definitely have a unique viewpoint towards utilizing available space, and you can learn more about some of their interspacial philosophies by googling around for how their National Football team, the Clockwork Orange, operates on the pitch.

Yeah, Man (Bob Marley Styley)!! We made it. The Mercure hotel was to be our base, alongside the Gresini Honda crew, the Dunlop guys, and a few teams from the smaller categories. It's always nice to see other team people outside of the racetrack, we can say hi and catch up a little without worrying about who's watching, haha. Since we all share the same duties and travel gremlins, we always have some neat stories to share. "Dude, I can't believe that happened! Flat tire outside of Donington and you had to hitch a ride to the airport?!?"

Once our things were planted in the hotel, most of us rested for a little bit, grabbed showers to wash the travel grime off, and then we headed in to the city center to get our Groningen on. It's a beautiful little college town, with gorgeous buildings and waterways with houseboats interspersed through the city. The houseboats are really cool, and I wish I had more time to check them out closer. We were all pretty hungry so we went to, you guessed it, an Italian place! Hahaha, the town center is well laid out, with lots of restaurants and bars within walking distance. I particularly liked the Hoppe Bar, which looked from the outside to be one, long, skinny bar, but was actually a labyrinth of bars connected to one another from the backside. Different music and ambiance in each room, but the people were always mellow. Except upstairs, which is where the under-21ers were at, and they were lively! Incidently, the Hoppe bar is directly in the center of this photo, if you're ever in the area (like you should already be planning to do for next year's race!).

Obligatory Church shot shows that it's still light at 9:45 PM. Was this before dinner, or after?

Great Scott - that's a lot of bikes! Everyone uses bicycles in Holland, and it only contributes to the feeling of healthiness and well-being that I pick up from most people.

You could almost think it's China, except that things are a little cleaner due to the lack of constant construction dust everywhere. Oh, and the bikes are a little bigger, also.

On the subject of larger, check out this One Liter BOTTLE of coke. I didn't know they made glass bottles of coke that big! Sergio is all smiles, in his fancy Ducati shirt, haha.

Did I mention that Heineken is from Holland? I put the national product to the test, and it passed. How appropriate that this shot came out fuzzy, haha.

And for all you people who think eating in restaurants is a permanently damaging thing, I'll let the photos do the talking, haha. Sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's great! A lot of places in rural Europe don't use things like MSG, or tons of salt, and you get what I consider to be fairly healthy food, like this Dy-No-Mite Pizza!

The pizza was fantastic, and was for sure a lot better than these hamburger/freaky-sandwich vending machines I found outside. People actually were eating this stuff after the bars cleared out, and in a depressing twist, they'd simply throw the garbage on the ground after eating. When I questioned some of the locals, they said that they had immigrant workers who came to Holland just to clean up. Not so cool, people, but then the chances of finding good and bad people around the world are pretty even. Maybe even stacked against you a little if you're only looking for good people. I have been very fortunate to meet a lot of great people in my travels, and I'm hoping to keep meeting more of you.

Eventually, everyone migrated to this place, which was down a narrow stairway. Beware, the Blue Angel (Blauwe Engel?) is filled with lots of loud music, ranging from current electronic hits to 50's rock-n-roll! Actually, I should mention that most of Holland's nightlife revolves around music, and the people love to sing and dance. Being a bi-lingual country, everyone is able to sing along in English with the music, and you hear everything from the 50's all the way through today. 80's music is still going strong here, but I was really blown away by how many "classics" I was hearing from the 50's and 60's. Particularly cool was when some Dutch "country" music would come on, and then entire bars would light up with everyone singing along! Hurdy Gurdy herty gerty! Wait, that's Swedish, bwahahaha.

Aretha Franklin, anyone? This girl was just belting it out, and it was amazing. I wish the night could have lasted longer, but I wanted to be fresh for the following day of work and I took off for the hotel pretty early. When I had asked what time the bars/clubs closed, I was told that as long as there were people, the places would stay open, haha. Talk about dangerous! Tuesday meant that we'd begin setting up for the race, which traditionally in Assen is run on Saturday. Don't ask me why, just know that it meant one less day between the back-to-back races, and that meant everyone had to up their game to be ready by Thursday morning's Free Practice. We were going to be ready, I would see to that.

More of Assen to follow!

July 05, 2007

Donington Park GP07, Race 8 "Nottingham by Night" Part 2

Before the work week got into full swing for the Donington GP, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friends, Paul and Neil, and early one evening we headed in from Derby (pronounced DAR-Bee), where the team was staying, to the city of Nottingham. Initial plans were to grab a quick bite to eat, catch up, and explore the city a little, since I really didn't know the place. Fortunately, Paul knew where to go, and after we left the car at his workplace, we headed off by foot to see what there was to see, and hopefully stay out of mischief.

These are mostly photos of our night out, and sorry if you have a slow internet connection, because there's a lot of them!

Traffic was surprisingly mellow, so we made it into the town center pretty quickly, despite a section of freeway that was signed to slow people down to unreasonable speeds. I still find it neat that many European cities are based upon the same buildings and designs for hundreds of years, and unlike Hawaii, or other major cities in the US, there aren't a lot of tall skyscrapers or specific financial/business areas. Many of the places I've been to are situated around a cathedral, or church, showing how strong religion was to the community, and how it provided a foundation or focal point, for people to gather around. In the States, we've only got a few hundred years to work with, haha, and I doubt we'll see many major changes in the cityscapes for the next couple centuries. Who knows? We made our way through the town centre to the restaurant zone, all the while talking about the racing and people watching. It was nice, the weather was cool (but not raining!), and the night was young. What more could you ask for?

There has got to be a St. Mary's in every city in England, haha. Words like quaint and charming come to mind when I think about the typical buildings here, mainly made up of bricks and brownstone.

Now here's something I didn't remember about England - their beer dispensers are different! Back home (well, and everywhere else I've been to), the kegs are in the back, or under the bar, and they're pressurized so that you move a lever, and the beer just pours right out.

Here, they actually pull the entire "Tap" down, and pump the beer into the glass. I don't remember seeing it before, and it was pretty old-school, so I grabbed some photos. Everyone thought I was weird. But seriously, look at how she's pouring the beer!

We had stopped in this little place to get some dinner, but the kitchen turned out to be closed (soooo early compared to Spain, haha) so we had the next best thing. I had one for Father's Day, since I couldn't hang out with my Dad.

We backtracked towards this huge church/place of worship, because there was just something a little bit different about the place. There were lots of young people walking around, celebrating a little, and they were all dressed up. Were they going to a wedding or something?

Yup. Girls hanging around outside meant that we had to investigate further.

Stained glass? Check. Fancy light? Check. Long bar down one side of the place? What the heck?!?

Turns out the entire place had been converted into a giant bar/night club, and all the kids were celebrating because they'd just graduated college. We were decidedly under-dressed, but no matter. They even had a guy belting out songs in the back. One really cool feature of the place (and unfortunately none of the photos turned out) was a huge spiral staircase that went up a couple levels and led to more party space and the bathrooms. We continued on, because the boys wanted to show me the Nottingham Castle.

On the way, you have to say, "Hey, how's it going!", to Robin Hood. Thankfully, no Sherriff of Nottingham was around. Actually, the place was super peaceful and everyone we came across was chill.

We went to the oldest inn in England, which happened to contain the oldest pub in England. It was built into/under the castle, and had been around forever. Just how long? FOREVER.

Bars on the windows? Check. Place seemed alright, so in we went. I could write a whole book about this place, and it was filled with characters to match. There were a bunch of different rooms, with little passageways going up and down, all around, and poking your head into the different chambers was neat. People had been congregating here for long time, and the walls must have heard a lot of stories.

Hmmmm. What have we here?

Chief amongst the characters, was this guy! He was located in the main room, swinging a rope tied to the ceiling which had a ring on one end.

I'd never seen anything like this, and it turned out to be an addictive and highly competitive bar game simply called, The Ring. You stand at different spot in the room, and swing the ring across the room trying to hook it onto a horn mounted to a wall. Every two years the rope is changed, and the game has been played here for a long time. Can't remember this guy's name, but he was just awesome, defeating me time and again. First we played individual swings, seeing how long it would take to actually hook the horn, and then we tried a two player variant which had us swinging in opposite directions. It was fun, simple, and cheap.

The Horn. Eventually, the guy stopped messing around, and starting latching the horn while throwing the ring backwards, not even looking at the target. He had the room wired, marking his tragectories from the marks in the ceiling. Skillful? Yes. But how much practice does it really take to get good at it?

Here's a photo of the English Champion from '54. My opponent was Champ through the 60's. He's been playing this for 50 years, maybe more! He explained that there are only ten rings in England, and he's played them all. He invited me to come back later in the week, when he'd be challenging the guy from '54, but I had to pass because of work. Lots of history here.

Now this is traditional, hahaha.

Creepy, dusty old boat? Check!

The night got really interesting when the barkeep took me downstairs into these little caves dug out under the castle.

He was very specific that he was a CELLARMAN, not a Barman. He explained all about their beers, how they stored them and infused them with carbon dioxide and nitrogen, all kinds of stuff. Oddly enough, he didn't even drink, and he worked in a bar! He was straight out of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

Like that Technotronic song, "Pump Pump, Pump it Up!"

This cave was made in 1070. AD.

After a couple brews, it was time for some good old, honest British food.

Slap down a couple coins, and get ready for some serious eats! I gotta admit, counting money in England is a bit tricky, because there are so may different coins, but it all works out in the end. Money=Food.

FISH AND CHIPS, baby! Woot! This thing was huge, and I couldn't finish it. Not that I didn't try!

The night wound down rather early, because England shuts down it's nightlife around 1AM. That was a good thing, because it was almost time to start getting ready for the GP. One of the coolest parts of the night was pulling over on the way back to Derby, and Paul showed me the Spondon Factory! It's a lot smaller than you'd think, and some of the stories Paul and Neil shared about Bazza Sheene and the Spondon guys were great. Amazing to think about how much SPEED has come out of this place, and I wish my photos had come out better. Had to totally doctor this one to make it visible. Oh well, there's always next year :)

Well, by now we should all know how the race went, so here's some random bikes I saw. Gorgeous VTR SP2 in Rossi colors I spotted as we left the track after the race.

Police bike covered in reflective material.

And then it was time to leave the Sleep Inn and head out to Birmingham early the next morning after the race. Assen coming up next. This was a slightly unusual post for me, normally don't show a lot of what's it like to roll with me through a cool night. It was great hanging out with Paul, and thanks for the Sheene video and Ducati Book. I'm always happy to spend time and talk racing with great people, and thanks to the website, I've met a ton of awesome people. Looking forward to seeing more of you at racetracks around the world!

July 03, 2007

Donington Park GP07, Race 8 "Anticipate/Precipitate" Part 1

Donington Park, a grand circuit with flowing downhill curves, tricky weather conditions, and a track surface that had some asking for more . . . it all added up to a tremendous battle during the race that most people couldn't see.

What is it about Rain Races that make them so nerve-wracking? Is it the intense concentration required to keep a 200+ horsepower missile in line and on track? The balance, the delicate dance of two gummi-soft tires twisting and distorting as the riders run them ragged and push them for all their elasticity and all their amazing stickiness. Crossed up, wheely-ing out of the slower corners, these tires are truly amazing - but it wasn't just the tires that won the day in Donington Park, it was the mental toughness and determination of one Casey Stoner, who brought it home on the bike that wasn't supposed to be suited to this track, wasn't supposed to go well in the rain, and wasn't supposed to win here. More than just a wet race, this was a shifting condition race, and it only added to my feelings of nervousness. I'm not sure why I feel weird about it, my boys came in a strong 7th and 9th, but I still have a deep feeling of uneasiness about the whole race, like it was anticlimatic in some way. I know for sure that I have unfinished business in Donington Park, England. I will be back.

After the highs and lows of the Mugello/Catalunya race weeks, what was to be a peaceful week's break turned into a frantic scramble to assemble my race kit, say goodbye to my room mate (who was leaving for the summer, and she needed the rent money!), and also try and speed up the processes by which parts are ordered and delivered at the racetrack from Ducati Corse. It was a triumphant week for a couple of reasons - I was able to get my work done, eat a bunch of solid food, and also spin some laps of the city on my BMX. More importantly, Ducati and I had an understanding of what we were going to need to keep the ball rolling, and while I was sure we were going to make something happen, I was still a little up in the air about a couple of things. Regardless, I still had some celebrating to do from our Mugello podium, so I went out a once or twice with some friends, and the beers were cold and delicious. I hadn't expected to be nervous before the Donington race, but the night before I was to fly out of Barcelona, I had difficulty sleeping, and I would wake every one or two hours. Perhaps it was because I knew that this was to be the centerpoint of the busiest time in racing, that these six races in eight weeks would come to a head in England, and the real stresses would reveal themselves. It's a focal point for the season, these races. This is where you can gain momentum for the rest of the season, or mentally break down and give up, "because it's just not your year". I was going to do my best to make sure my Team would be strong through these European events, and then even stronger at Laguna Seca.

Marlboro Ducati was also doing their best to make sure their boys were at full strength for the races, and early in the week in Donington I spotted them repairing their pasta maker. Drill some holes, rivet in another handle, and voila, we're really cookin' now!

The weather was probably the biggest factor in the week's preparation and racing, with heavy showers followed by bright sunshine almost every day. It was odd to wake up to thick, overcast conditions, see the clouds break, and then get dumped on just as your spirits were lifting. I often wondered about the affect this must have on the locals, because typically I've found people tend to reflect their environment quite a bit, whether it's rough, mountainous terrain, or flat expanses of nothing but fields. I'm not sure what that says about me, because it seems like I'm always on the move and have to rapidly adapt to whatever country I'm in, hahaha. In any event, I was super stoked to be visited at the racetrack by Paul Meadows, the graphic designer who put together the Evel MotoLiam logo that you see on the corner of all the photos I post. I managed to tour Paul and his brother, Neil, through our garage for a minute and talk about the bikes and the life, and Paul just concentrated on looking good in his cool shirt. Actually, the three of us had a fantastic adventure through Nottingham, but that's a story for another day.

Thanks to the new barcode scanning procedures at the paddock entrances, it's a lot easier to move about and get through the crowds, which weren't really there anyway because of the rain. I distinctly remember trying to clean fairings and wheels last year, and trying not to look like I spoke English, because there were so many racefans about dying to ask questions and pick your brain. This year was decidedly different.

Like I said, the weather would shift quite often, and suddenly, too. On Thursday's Day of Champions, a host of Brits showed up at the track, among them, Sean "The Biggest Kevin Schwantz Fan, Ever" De Fraine. Sean runs the fan forum on the KS website, and is a knowledgeable and fun guy to be around - not to mention he's got great taste in clothes! We chatted about about the birds and the bikes, and then it was back into my truck to keep plugging away at my numbers. It's an interesting perspective to look at, that everything boils down to numbers, because on many levels, it's true. How fast you're going, what your level of potential is, and what you can do, it's all numbers on paper. I always found it odd that Yoda-san from Kawasaki would be so blunt in his assessment of raceday finishes. Statements like "We expect him [Randy] to be 8th" reveal a strong faith in probability, but fortunately the world is full of surprises. It's the reality that almost anything can happen in racing that makes it so beautiful to watch and be a part of.

I guess I wasn't totally correct in saying that there weren't crowds in the paddock, it's just that they were hanging around the Factory Yamaha and Ducati garages, hahaha. I caught up with this pack of Edwards fans waiting for Casey, and they looked like a nice little family. The littlest one was busy climbing all over the wheel carts, the teenage daughter was trying to distance herself from her parents, and it just seemed cool that they were all here enjoying the races together. Truly, this is the racing the will help define and solidify the legends of those who are out there right now. Is this the passing of the Rossi-Era? Is it time for a new force in MotoGP to lift the crown? Only time will tell, and the only constant we've learned since the advent of the four-strokes is that you can never count the Doctor out.

"My Man!" The Hoff's results this year have been fantastic, and as his season continues to improve, he's finding more and more fans. I think it's great, and with his smooth and steady style, he's sure to garner a few more solid finishes when the conditions are right. We're knocking on the door of the Top Ten in the World Championship standings, and a little extra push in the right direction should help things along. Here's looking for more top ten finishes by Alex! Woot!

This was also another race which saw the running of the Red Bull Rookies Cup. American Kris Turner got on the box last time out, and at Donington, we saw both Turner and Cameron Beaubier battling for the lead all the way to the final chicane before the finish. Unfortunately, Turner was docked 5 seconds for crossing the dirt (short-cutting), dropping him to third, and Cameron ended up second. You can read more about it here. Here's shot of the facility they take to all the races, the transporter that carries the bikes and also provides the workspace for all the mechanics who work on the KTM's in the cup races. You gotta admit, that is a real slick way to carry all that gear. Maybe it's just me, but I'm more and more fascinated with how things go together, especially when it involves racing, hahaha. Could it be my childhood obsession with Legos?

Not sure why, but Randy Mamola was having a blast running around with a wig on.

Not to be outdone, we got out a wig of our own! Privateer wig, baby!

What other Chief Mechanic is this cool?

After the mixed conditions on Friday and Saturday, which saw a revitalized Nicky Hayden running strong on a revised chassis and with de-tuned traction control, raceday looked like it was going to be wet. Would the Repsol machine of Nicky run well in the wet? And how about my boys? We hadn't qualified well at all, but generally speaking, Barros tends to move up 4 or 5 places per race if he's not taken out. Sometimes he Really moves up the order, haha. And with the wet conditions, I really had high hopes for the Hoff, because he's just really been doing so well in tricky situations this season. The tires, the bike, the team, it's all there for him. Personally, I'm always a going a little crazy inside when it's rainy, because it's so easy to slide past the limits . . . .

After the warmup, I met with Ross Stonefeld, a journalist from Autosport. While he's more of a car guy, he's gradually coming around.

This race weekend passed in a blur for me, with chance meetings here and there. The rain had all of us tense, and knowing that we had Assen just a few days later meant that we all wanted to get Donington over with because it felt like we'd been racing for months, and we had. It's so easy to forget little things that happen, and while I try to document and remember everything, the truth is that I spend most of my time focusing on work concerns, and then I spend my "outside of work time" thinking about everything else that is not connected to work, haha. I always fail, though, because time away from the track is spent thinking about racing. Minutes before the race, the riders suited up and layered on their plastic rainsuits. Pierro demonstrates his plastic undersuit.

The race was off the hook, with some amazingly close passes being made on the ice like track surface, and the first half of the race was brilliant. Pedrosa, who looked so strong in the wet earlier, defied his naysayers and charged to the lead on the first lap. Colin pushed and pushed, taking it back and holding off Casey for so much of the race. His Yamaha was working well, and he did everything he could. Meanwhile, the Doctor stormed up through the field, diced with new-comer Anthony West (who unfortunately crashed out of fourth), and eventually finished just off the podium. What made this race so fascinating was the changing conditions, which went from a full wet scenario to a completely dry line, wreaking havoc with the super soft rain tires. Not to mention the suspension settings. I should point out that there are those riders out there with such incredible feel that they hardly change a thing except the tires when they go out in the rain, whereas other riders will completely change front and rear suspension settings and springs, maps, chassis geometry, you name it. Overall, in Donington, it was the rider's who were best able to adapt to the changing conditions who came out on top. That level of focus and concentration required to keep everything together. Testing the limits of traction on each lap, pushing ever so gently to gain that extra tenth, never really knowing where the true limit is. Rain riding is an art, and it's really beautiful to watch when a rider is in form. The biggest battles are always internal, in my mind. No one can really know what it's like unless you're right there, and the internal conflict is the one that wounds the deepist, and also provides the greatest reward for those who can overcome it. My own riders suffered somewhat as the dry line formed, as did many of the Michelin riders, and Casey himself showed amazing racecraft by keeping to the wet patches on the straights to try and keep his soft tires cool and lasting longer. Maybe Rossi summed it up best, remarking that this was their potential for the day, and they could do no more. It's not defeatist at all, but more a hard look at the reality of the race. He is never too proud to admit when he's having trouble, or if someone is riding well, and it's this ability to clearly analyze his performance and weaknesses that have helped him so much in the past. Stoner, like always, simply rode around any problems or hang-ups he might have had. Stoner just rode.

Congratulations to Casey Stoner and Ducati Corse, for reaching beyond at a track no one expected them to be a major factor at - and taking home the prize! That's not the only prize they got, though, anyone care to guess where and when this is from?!? Simply beautiful, and it goes to show how deeply the passion runs between all of us. More than any animosity or grudges, we all have a huge respect for the efforts of all the Factories and their teams. Beefcake - you're the man!

I was a little sad about the race, because even though Barros was able to overtake and pass Pedrosa on the final lap of the race, consolidating seventh position, I had hoped the Hoff would make it around as well. The tires were shot, and it was all these guys could do to hold on and keep it going to the checkered flag, and still, they raced. The race had stretched out, leads of seconds becoming tens of seconds, and that's how rain races usually go. The finishes are almost always determined long before the final lap, and it's a stressful waiting game to see who would crack, who would get distracted and maybe fall off, and it's that stress that left me wanting for more from this race. Assen would bring more rain, more of the same stress, and I headed there with mixed feelings once again. On the plus side, as we broke down the garages, we were treated to the glorious sounds of big twins booming around the now dry circuit. There was a KTM SuperDuke competition, and while this photo comes from earlier in the week, it shows just how nice these machines really are. Wouldn't want to collide head on with anything while riding one, but this tank is nothing compared to one I spotted in Holland, haha.

The semi's finally loaded up, our truck drivers took off almost immediately, and the rest of us went back to the hotel for a quiet night, anticipating the next race, and the rain it would bring. Oh! And I met Phil Read! Woot!

Stay tuned for more images from England - the places and faces that surround MotoGP.

July 02, 2007

Just One Week . . . .

Hey Everyone, sorry I haven't been able to post about the Donington MotoGP race, or the Assen TT yet, but it really feels like I've been cramming too many experiences into a few short weeks lately, and I've got one week to verify that the Team will be ready for Sachsenring and the Red Bull USGP. To say that this is the busiest time of the season for me would be an understatement.

I got in to Barcelona yesterday, near lunchtime on Sunday, and within an hour of opening the door to my apartment, I was sound asleep. Woke up in the evening to prepare a simple, instant risotto and some tea, and then it was back to bed for me. It was glorious - a complete recharge of the batteries - and I was up bright and early on Monday. The sun was just beginning to light the city rooftops, and the people weren't quite stirring from their homes yet, so I watched the city wake from my balcony with a cup of coffee, all the while planning my day out. It has been a total rush, these last few weeks, and it's far from over. We clicked through the ninth race of the season, the mid-point of a year that will host 18 rounds of the World Championship, and while that is an achievement of sorts, it really doesn't do anything but signal to me that 2008 is coming - and it's coming fast! I'm worried about the longevity of my bikes, and I'm worried that I'll begin to see different trends as far as part life, because my bikes are half a season old now. I anticipate further changes, further evolution, and more excitement (good and bad), before the season wraps up in Valencia. Tomorrow I expect to have some time to begin writing about my time in England, and before the week's end I should have all the material up from Assen. I want to say thank you to everyone who pre-ordered a shirt from me, as the final order is going in to the printer later today so that they'll be ready for the Red Bull USGP! Tonight? A quiet dinner once again, except this time I'll be editing various photos from my travels and outlining what and how things really happened. See you guys soon!