“You comin’ to that dinner, tonight?” Troy Bayliss asked me after race two.
I could, I said.
Near the end of the 2000 season Ducati held a team dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Magdeburg, Germany. The Oschersleben round of the world championship was that weekend. It had been a tough season–Carl Fogarty had ran into the back of a slower rider at Phillip Island, doing serious damage to his shoulder which kept him off the bike all year long. Bayliss had been drafted in to replace him and done very well–he won races and learned a great deal. Fogarty had not yet made his mind up on the continue to race or retire dilemma, but he came to that round to talk to Ducati about their plans, and also try and find who had stolen his trophy.
Everyone assembled at a long and medieval table outside the restaurant. And by everyone I mean everyone at Ducati, from Bayliss to Fogarty to the CEO Federico Minoli to the entire paddock of WSBK teams supported by Ducati. Gigantic vessels of German beer flowed, served by traditional German servers.
In the mad dash for chairs at the table I grabbed a seat near Troy Bayliss. And when I sat down I realized quickly that I had Ducati CEO Minoli at my left and Carl Fogarty directly across from me on the other side of the table. Bayliss was at his left. Ruben Xaus, Claudio Domenicali, Neil Hodgson, Davide Tardozzi, Michele Morisetti, Paolo Ciabatti, Corrado Cecchinelli and anyone who was anyone at Ducati filtered down the table into the open chairs.
Carl sat in a longback chair which swallowed him whole. I didn’t know him very well, never did, but his body language as we started in on beer and conversation seemed so not Carl. He didn’t say much; Bayliss and I looked at each other across the table and then at Carl but said nothing. I think after about 20 minutes in, Fogarty finally realized he was not going to be able to sit there all night and ignore Troy Bayliss so he finally put his hand in front of Troy and introduced himself. Who can’t like Troy Bayliss? Answer: no one. Still, Fogarty sat there, quietly. Even Minoli tried to engage him–how is your shoulder, champ?–but Carl mostly answered into his shirt or in grunts. Sitting next to Fogarty was his wife, Michaela Fogarty.
Even with Carl being very shy and withdrawn it did not keep the table from numerous stories and conversations. Minoli mentioned to Michaela Fogarty that he was going to be England the next week and was hoping to tour Buckingham Palace while there.
“Are you going to meet the queen?” Michaela Fogarty asked Mr. Minoli. He said, ah, no, he was just going to take his family on the usual pedestrian tour. Oh, well, I’ll call down there and see if you can get in, if you want, she said to him.
Then Carl said something. I think he suggested that his wife was the darling of Buckingham Palace and that she knew all the “fookin royalty”.
After that moment and with that comment, it became clear to me why Carl was being so quiet. Because his wife, Michaela Fogarty, was there.
I’d seen her, but never spoken to her, previously. She was attractive; dressed in a casual yet elegant way. She was generally in good cheer, very funny with a biting wit, but if I had to guess on that night in Germany so long ago she’d had enough of Carl Fogarty’s crap. He’d been home all summer from his injury and had probably been his insufferable self through that period. He’d had to watch races on television that he knew he would have won if he’d been riding. He’d had to go to numerous doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions, all with Michaela along so he could complain and whine all the way home without having to drive. The Brit media were calling the house every day to see if there might be an update on Carl’s retirement decision since they last asked (yesterday). She had to talk to them and repeat again and again that Carl was still thinking things over.
There is freedom in not caring. And that night it was clear that Michaela Fogarty did not care that Carl was at a dinner with all of his bosses and the CEO of Ducati Motor. Not one bit.
Every time he made a crack, she laid into him.
After he pointed out she was friendly with the royal family, Michaela Fogarty said that Carl was a man who was seemingly incapable of buying his own jeans but every time they got an invite from the palace he’d be the first one being fitted for a new tuxedo or suit. In retrospect this was the mildest insult she laid on him that night.
Before the food even came, in one of their give and take exchanges, Carl said something about the size of his wife’s breasts and that surgery existed that could fix his issue with their size. He thought this was pretty funny, but any thinking husband in any era or culture certainly could have predicted what was now coming at him. ‘You dumb son of a bitch’ I thought to myself.
Michaela went for the juggler. In a couple of minutes, she reposed, in hilarious verbiage, that sadly no surgery existed for Carl’s equipment shortcomings. She spoke kind of loud, did I mention that? She then went on to detail that Carl had a very small penis by her reckoning and also she could log his sexual stamina with an egg-timer. “Mr. Two Minutes” she called him. ‘I don’t know what is worse, that I can’t fookin’ feel anything or that it’s over before we start’, she lamented as all men in the listening area thought to themselves “what did she just say??!”.
Silently, uncomfortably, I looked at Bayliss across the table. Our eyes locked. I was alternating biting the inside of my left then right cheek so as to not burst out laughing at Michaela Fogarty’s insults and quips. Bayliss stared back at me with those light blue eyes trying to keep a race face. After she laid into Carl again, this time for being cheap, Bayliss put his hand up to hide the side of his face nearest Carl, slid over in his chair like he was going to maybe cough or barf but then a gigantic, convulsing laugh exploded out of his body. Seeing this I could not contain myself and I burst out laughing too, Minoli–as cool a customer as you will meet–also just roared.
Carl was either accustomed to this or also did not care. He laughed off her insults, inferring that any woman should be ready for the finish after the second thrust. He laughed with the rest of us at her insults but he never really emerged from the depths of that chair. When we sat down I thought that Michaela Fogarty could have been a professional model but after 30 minutes with her that she did not do stand-up comedy, I thought, was a tragedy.
She did not let off. Not once.
When she got up from her chair to use the “loo” she looked at Carl and said if she wasn’t back in 10 minutes it was because she probably found a hunky German waiter and was going to take him in a stall for a good time. Bitter German beer did the human overflow check valve thing and burst in a stream from my nose. Carl told her good luck or something equally lame.
Team manager and ex-rider Davide Tardozzi jumped in Michaela Fogarty’s chair while she was gone. Fogarty then mentioned that he came to the race with an ulterior motive, that someone had stolen his last trophy out of Ducati’s race truck. Tardozzi told him that he had previously told him numerous times that he had possession of the trophy and he’d send it to the house. “I’ll tell to Michaela,” he said wearily.
Michaela returned from the bathroom and barely had regained her seat before her torrent of Carl abuse started again. My sides ached.
At one point I looked down the table at all the Ducati people who were missing Michaela Fogarty giving Carl the business. I didn’t know him then, he was riding for the HM Plant team, but Neil Hodgson caught my eye. He’d been teamed with Carl previously and probably knew what was going down on our end of the table. He gave me the thumbs up and pointed at the Fogartys, as if to say, ‘Glad I’m not you!’.
The German round was a tough outing for Ducati. If memory serves Colin Edwards on the Honda won both races. The race itself … it’s not like Oschersleben was ever going to be described as the German Rivera. The track was located in the middle of the former East Germany and aside from an occasional bar or cafe under a house, on the side of a crude road, there was nothing in the area other than miles and miles of land used agriculture. Local farmers were using equipment that looked like it pre-dated the second week of the Industrial Revolution. I walked out on course to shoot some photos on Saturday. When returning via spectator road I got a weird vibe from the threadbare local spectators gawking at me. I stopped at one point and pulled the 80-200 Nikon lens off my camera in case I needed a weapon. I didn’t, but I wasn’t the only one with that semi-irrational fear. The teams suffered theft losses that weekend but it wasn’t the usual items that are stolen (helmets, gloves, tools) at the track. Locals had stolen extension cords, plastic cups and napkins. It was a different time and place.
Fogarty’s injury had destabilized the championship and Ducati’s plans. Everybody needed a let your hair down evening on CEO Minoli’s AmEx card. Beer flowed.
At around midnight someone suggested that the party needed to end. Nearly everyone began to walk to their cars in the gravel parking lot but at some point a mechanic ran up to Tardozzi and told him that they could not get rider Ruben Xaus to leave and they didn’t want to abandon him. Tardozzi went back for him and I followed.
We found Xaus sitting on a bar stool. In the middle of an outdoor dance-floor. Packed with dancers. He kind of looked like Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker, sitting there, oblivious to the music and the dancers. He was in the midst of an epic crying jag for reasons unknown. Tardozzi–his boss–told him to get in the car, now. Xaus was simultaneously eating some bread, crying and also drinking beer. When Davide told him to get in the car, Xaus gave this long pitiful response with tears, beer and bread in his mouth. I looked at Tardozzi and asked, what language is he speaking? There is no mistaking when Davide Tardozzi is angry and he was near redline in putting up with riders that night. He did not reply. I suggested that we try to pick Xaus up and carry him. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Tardozzi looked at Xaus, there on his bar stool, crying and now eating some kind of large turkey leg. He knew a lost cause when he saw it. “Leave him,” Davide commanded and we walked back to the car. Seeing Tardozzi’s face no one needed to ask where Ruben was. He could walk.