We planned our Indy GP trip during Christmas 2012. The race would be half-way through the 2013 season, Marquez would be a rookie, Valentino would be back on a Yamaha and it would be summer. All was right in the motorcycling world, and it felt likely something remarkable would happen. After the holidays we both said our goodbyes, and I left Detroit on a plane.
Both of us, my son David and I had worked to stay connected over the years as I lived and worked abroad, meeting often and always planning the next trip; in this case it was Indy. Recently we had even talked about working together, preferably at a motorcycle company. I could work in design, and his experience as a Harley Davidson mechanic would also be a good fit.
Fast forward to mid-April and after a call from Erik Buell I’m boarding a plane back to the USA a lot sooner than expected. After 15 years abroad I was starting over again in East Troy, as a design engineer for Erik Buell Racing, and the promise from EBR to hire David as a development mechanic sealed the deal. It was the kind of scenario we had dreamed about, suddenly becoming reality.
By the time summer arrived I had seen David countless times, made a gang of EBR friends and we were all going to Indy, bikes in tow. On the way I picked up David and his borrowed Buell XB9, then we stopped for an old friend; the blue H2 750 I’d stored before leaving the USA 15 years earlier, still sitting there in a dusty garage, under an old tarp. It had the usual mods plus drag bars and unsilenced Denco chambers, riding it always felt like a bad idea. Regardless, the bike was family and it was coming along.
Conversation on the road revolved around the weekend ahead and which motorcycle project David was up to. Hours later we’re crossing Indianapolis toward IMS. Arriving there, the size of the place strikes you. From outside, the rear of the old metal grandstand structures are imposing and old, beautifully mechanical, aged and massive. Suddenly your mind hears the sound of one hundred years of race machines. The place has atmosphere. Across the street we pulled in to the campground driveway and in the rear view appeared the truckload of EBR guys arriving from Milwaukee. A coincidence to beat all odds.
EBR was a company full of characters. Most of us at that time were recently hand-picked by Erik and brought to East Troy from all over the USA and in my case Europe, each of us were special in some way. Hopes were high, feelings were positive, most of our lives already revolved around motorcycles and racing. We were hungry to build something meaningful. Working for an icon like Erik, those first months at EBR were special indeed. Being at Indy with them brought it all together.
After setting up camp the whole group decided on a short ride into town. Maybe something was going on. Well! Friday night downtown Indy was mayhem, the main streets mobbed by racing fans and the glorious noise of all sorts of machines. We found the center of town after riding through a warm summer evening, the H2 shocking as ever from the sheer volume of it’s sound. This is a sound from David’s childhood, I thought. He is oddly at peace riding the old machine. It doesn’t frighten him at all, the way it does me. I’d owned it for 17 years, but the bike was more his than mine.
Saturday morning arrived with mild hangovers and breakfast at the Denny’s where Simoncelli liked to eat. We had lost him two years earlier and it was a sort of pilgrimage. Firing up the bikes, we were off. A Buell XB9, an H2, Eddie’s Tremoto three wheeler and an Enduro, our odd bunch looked like a group from The Road Warrrior. Denny’s was two miles away and offered a real who’s-who view of the GP paddock. There were teams, parts of teams, tire guys, suspension guys, riders etc all eating hash browns and scrambled eggs. At Indy, breakfast is the great equalizer.
So began an unforgettable Saturday. We were fortunate to have passes to the paddock, which was buzzing at high tempo with the whole GP circus. At some point you have to stop noticing the famous people and just take it all in. it was at this moment we began bumping in to people from EBR. We suddenly felt connected to this world which previously felt so distant, and it felt so right.
A crashed Pramac Ducati rolled past us on its way back to the garage, the result of Ben Spies’ last big shoulder injury. a sad moment indeed, but I was soon cheered up by another coincidence, my son happened to be friends with one of the RedBull girls. On that day Marquez was on fire and untouchable. Rossi was 9th, struggling with the new qualifying.
After qualifying it was off to the the fairgrounds for the indy mile. Pulling in to the fairgrounds the H2 popped and did it’s best impression of marbles in blender. Fun over. I parked it next to a caravan and promised the guy there in his lawn chair i’d be back in a few hours, he said he’d watch it for me. We didn’t lose time and went straight to the grandstands.
Nothing prepares you for a mile oval flat track race. If you’ve never seen one, don’t worry you’ll look just as silly as we did when the flag drops. First it’s the enormous sound, and acceleration as each bike claws and churns at the dirt, and then they all pour through turn one as you sit bug-eyed watching them round the bend, far away and down the back straight. ‘Are they really going THAT FAST??’, and then sideways into turn 2, faster yet, now finally straightening out the whole pack races past you with frightening speed and sound, and then it’s 120mph into the first turn again. Sideways. ALL of them. wheel to wheel, shoulder to shoulder. One visit and you’ll understand why Rossi and Marquez are huge fans of this sport. Mile flat trackers are racing gods.
There at the Indy mile we noticed one other thing. Down the back straight, when you couldn’t hear the bikes there was no talking in the crowd. The grandstands were FULL, and we sat relatively low down front. As we turned to look back not one face was turned away from the racing. No talking. It was like being in church.
The mile flat track race could be considered the highpoint of our Indy trip. There, away from the pulse of the GP scene you become re-centered with spirit of motorcycle racing. Indy that year was the connecting point of many worlds. The passion for bikes, the work for a good design, the love of family, camaraderie, the adrenaline that comes from being behind the visor.
Sitting in full summer sunshine with David and the EBR gang, the race started almost uneventfully. Marquez eventually disappeared and Rossi made a late charge to 4th. Marquez would go on to win the championship that year, in his rookie season. Remarkable indeed.
The drive back to East Troy was long. For us, Indy was a weekend where random coincidences connected to form a coherent whole. If things were fragmented previously, now it was clear what was ahead. Building motorcycles at EBR. Long needed time with family. New friends, and a deeper connection to the world of motorcycle racing. Oh, and fixing an old two-stroke. Life was good.