(Originally published Thursday, October 27, 2011)
Not long after the USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this past July, Marco Simoncelli and his family spent their summer break in the United States. For anyone who has seen the Italian Riviera, or ridden the Alps outside of Como, or trawled around in a boat in Venice, it just seems odd, or at least ironic, that Italians would make plans to drive endless stretches of two-lane highway or sit on steel chairs made to look like they are built from wood when, everywhere in Italy, real 3,000-year-old history is omnipresent.
In reality, though, the USA is a popular tourist destination for Italians. In 2007, I stood in a very nice villa in Italy, the walls of which were over 500 years old, and listened while an Italian woman told me of her plans to take a month off that summer and drive all of Route 66, to sleep in roadside hotels, and eat at “Kentucky Frying Chicken”.
What attracts many Italians to the USA is something quite intangible. This is the land that brought forth Elvis and rock and roll, where they can leave the cramped environment of Italy behind and live for a time where the sky seems as large as the entire universe.
And, so it was that Sic, along with his girlfriend, Kate, his father and mother Paolo and Rossella, and sister Martina went on a classic American summer vacation by making a Griswald-like epic swing through many of the great national parks in the western U.S.
What Marco and his family didn’t know at the time, nor did anyone else for that matter, was that this would be the last family vacation that Sic would enjoy in his all-too-brief time on this earth. Which makes the photos on this page even more heart-wrenching and poignant.
With Laguna Seca behind him, the family hit Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion Park.
Sic drove a bright-red Jeep for the trip, and enjoyed the expanse and vistas of the United States. Many Grand Prix and World Superbike riders travel the world and never see anything of it other than an airport, a hotel and a racetrack.
Simoncelli, though, wanted to see America. He was actually a big fan of the United States. The crew behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were ecstatic when Simoncelli showed up for the FIM’s official declaration of his 250 world title wearing an Indy 500 T-shirt.
“He reminded me of a rider from 30 years ago,” says long-time Italian journalist Paolo Scalera, a Simoncelli family friend.
“In some ways he was very typical of a young man of today but, in other ways, he was very different. He was interested in the experience, in the journey.”
With his signature big hair and street-baller physique, Simoncelli would stand out anywhere on planet earth, and fans recognized him quite often while on his vacation in the U.S.
Marco Simoncelli was a very fast rider and a charismatic young man, and his affection for the United States was vast. He liked all of it, from the national parks, to the freeways, to the carny-looking waitresses at the dive restaurants he ate in. He didn’t eat at Denny’s every night at each of the Indianapolis GPs, but he ate there a lot. He and his crew—looking very, unique, shall we say—sitting at a big table with their team uniforms on, MotoGP credentials still around their necks, with plates of burgers, eggs, and chicken-fried steaks everywhere, all of them talking a million miles a hour in Italian.
There was nothing “Little Italy” about Simoncelli. And, for Super Sic, there was nothing little about the U.S.
And so, the photos on this page have become postcards from the edge. They’re colorful reminders of just how precious life really is. Knowing what we now know, it’s somewhat comforting to see how happy Marco was when these photos were taken. The young man certainly enjoyed life, and he wasn’t bashful about showing it.
And even as he was reaching global superstardom, Sic maintained such a close relationship with his family, never straying far from his roots even when visiting a promised land an ocean away. That bond will serve the Simoncelli family well in the days ahead as the numbing shock of their loss becomes a painful, lingering reality. The memories will have the difficult job of sustaining the loved ones Super Sic left behind.