I think I have mentioned this on a few Soupkasts, and also in a story I did for Robb Report on Rossi in 2005, but don't recall doing so here. I've seen Valentino Rossi, with my own eyes, probably twenty times since I first laid eyes on him on the podium at Jerez in 1996 or 1997. And of those twenty times, in at least twelve of those instances, Rossi was runningWiley Coyote-styleaway from a pack of fans who wanted to maul him like he was the fifth Beatle and it was still 1965.
Welcome to the world of Valentino Rossi, global motorsports celebrity and hero to millions of dedicated fans.
|Rossi smiled and said something like, "Yeah, my life, it's f**king crazy." But he never indicated that his fame was a millstone around his neck.|
Maybe you have to have seen Rossi in public in Europe to truly appreciate what a coup it was for Yamaha US to get him to come to their dealer show, and for him to sign autographs for said dealers. Rossi public appearances, or him merely going out for coffee in Europe, nearly always result in pandemonium. I know. I've seen it.
I was writing some notes in a near-deserted Castrol Honda hospitality unit at Misano in 2000 or 2001 when I turned around to see who was laughing behind me and recognized Rossi and some friends sitting at a table drinking coffee and talking.
The desertion and tranquility lasted about three minutes. Since I sat at the table between Rossi and the barriers, I watched the reaction of people who were for one moment just walking to some place at Misano when the next they recognized Rossi's hair or his face and they turned on a dime and gravitated towards him like the ghoulish fiends from Night of the Living Dead.
Only, instead of brains, they wanted Rossi.
It only took perhaps ten minutes for the mood to go from good funinitially he signed some autographs and shook some handsto downright scary, bedlam. One minute there was no one outside the Castrol Honda hospitality area. Nine minutes later there were hundreds, and they were almost pushing the barriers over to get to Rossi. Women and men cried out, begging him to sign something. He continued to make little runs over to the barrier and he would reach into this gigantic and rapidly-growing monster with 900 outstretched arms and sign things, or have his picture taken. Then, on the last pass a woman tried to either run her hand through his hair or pull out a handful of hair and Rossi recoiled. The mood of the crowd ramped up to pandemonium-level as people realized that Valentino Rossi was right there in front of them and they perhaps were not going to be able to talk to him or touch him or get him to sign something. He and his friends quickly trotted out the back of the Castrol transporter and into a waiting car and were gone.
When it became clear that he was gone, grown men and women sat in front of the hospitality area and cried because they had not been able to touch him or get his autograph.
His celebrity swept over these shores in the coming years and Americans now seem to be Rossi fanatics as well. In 2005, at the USGP, a fan staked out Rossi's motorhome in the paddock and waited for him. As Valentino ran to the motorhome and up its steps, the fan latched onto him and was dragged along for a short distance by Rossi's momentum. The fan became trapped in the closing motorhome doors and called out to Rossi, the Italian's arm still clenched between his hands, "Please, I've waited three years to get this picture."
Rossi seems to roll with all of this insanity with a sense of humor few could muster if they were in his place.
"But, we only come here for two years," he said to the fan before quickly posing with him for a snap.
So it was interesting to see Rossi sitting at an autograph table at the Yamaha convention, signing autographs, smiling for photos. Things remained tranquil. There were several other functions for the dealers to do while the autograph session was held and, early on, there were moments when Rossi had few autograph seekers in front of him. He chatted with the other riders Yamaha had on site, spent a long time talking to injured rider Doug Henry, talked to the media and joked around with Bob Starr from Yamaha.
I asked Rossi later about his life and how he deals with it all. I seriously doubt there is anywhere in Europe where he can walk to get a quick coffee and surf the Internet, or shop for a new shirt or hang out with his friends in a bar at midnight. The monster of outstretched arms follows him everywhere.
Rossi didn't indicate that he found distaste in his life. He has accepted a way of living that would make anyone who values solitude or the ability to while away an afternoon by sipping coffee on the sidewalk and reading a book absolutely mad.
Rossi smiled and said something like, "Yeah, my life, it's f**king crazy." But he never indicated that his fame was a millstone around his neck.
At times the line to get Rossi's autograph ebbed and he was doing nothing, just joking around with Lorenzo, or Colin Edwards II. Knowing my middle son Kipp is a Rossi fan, we asked Rossi to sign a poster for him.
I wasn't crazy about doing it, especially after all that I've seen Rossi endure.
But, hey, how often do you see Valentino Rossi?