Dave Sadowski was an expert on everything.
Or seemed to think he was on all matters inside and outside of racing. He could pull off some amazing feats: he learned passable blues harmonica in one afternoon. He built his own house, out of metal, long before it was a new technology. He did the wiring, the plumbing and the HVAC, all of which he had picked up while he went to mechanic school at AMI. He was always ready to help give advice, solicited or not.
“Do you want to die?”
This was a question posed by Ski to motojournalist Alan Cathcart at Daytona in the mid-1990s. Cathcart raced the Daytona 200 several times on equipment sponsored by Claudio Castiglioni (the Castiglioni brothers owned or controlled Ducati and Cagiva) and showed himself to be basically journeyman-level fast. Alan was there to write a story but the year he raced a Ferracci Ducati, it came very close to being his last ever race.
Cathcart had leased a Ferracci Ducati for Daytona. The bike was a typical Ferracci rent-a-ride bike: very fast; very expensive. Cathcart had raced the 200 previously but the year he raced Eraldo’s bike, Sadowski basically saved his life.
There are many unwritten rules about racing a motorcycle at Daytona. Everybody knows not to lead out of the chicane on the last lap; although this has been disproven a few times. Other Daytona rules are for gearing “half a tooth on a headwind, two for a tailwind” and the not too well known “stay out of the shadow” in the morning.
Shadow in the morning? Sounds like an old Italian superstition but it was once a well-adhered to Daytona rule. In morning practice at Daytona, a rider without confidence should stay out of the shadow of the banking. You’re basically breaking 190 mph on damp, dark, cool pavement and really bad things are known to happen up there. Careers have ended in that shadow.
Cathcart was struggling all week on the Ducati at Daytona. Beyond not lapping very quickly even spectators in the pit lane could watch Cathcart take that bike to the edge of his ability, lap after lap. He’d get it to the top of fourth gear, bang fifth and as the bike accelerated Cathcart could probably see his life pass before him. The Ducati did seriously scary stuff as it fought Alan for every mile an hour. His feet were off the pegs and Alan looked like he was trying to win a po-go contest. Ski somehow stayed behind Alan for a few laps and then found him after practice. He started by asking Cathcart if he was actually trying to die out there. That got Alan’s attention, and he was smart enough to just listen as Ski tried to help him. Ski told Cathcart to close his eyes and talk him through a bad lap. Basically, what Alan described and Ski recognized was a bike that only worked in the pit lane. A big part of the problem was that Alan was grasping the bike like it was a cliff-face, and if he came off it, then it was bye-bye Sir Alan.
So, Ski sat Alan on the bike and convinced him to start by relaxing his entire body. His crew made some quick mods to the footpegs and clip ons, getting Alan to sit on the bike instead of being permanently attached to the chassis. Then, still sitting on the bike, Ski took Alan through every section of Daytona and told him where he should be in terms of body position on the bike.
When it came to the banking Ski basically told him to lighten up his death-grip on the bike and let the bike work. Cathcart is a good student of racing and has plenty of track time at Daytona. With Ski’s help he was able to finish the Daytona 200, and not die.
Alan, who doesn’t agree that he was on the edge of death, did give Ski credit for saving his Daytona 200 when he wrote his story for a global audience.