The Big Ouch

(1994) Motorcycles can be dangerous. Most of us know this and have some sort of harrowing anecdotal story illustrating how this lesson was taught to us in a horrible fashion. Here’s mine. It’s a not very well-known phenomenon, but motorcycles can explode at any moment. It’s true. And this is not the age-old cigarette falls in the gas tank incident, causing a petroleum explosion that removes all semblance of facial hair from your mug.

No, this is a normally sedate motorcycle detonating without provocation and hurling really big and heavy components at people. It happens only slightly less frequently than spontaneous combustion in human beings. But it does happen. I am proof of this. I know this because a running motorcycle once exploded and sent a high-dollar Marchensini wheel directly into my groin, at high speed. It was painful to me at the time and it is now painful to write about, but I will do so to help protect the innocent.

First, the scene: I was standing in turn three at Brainerd pretending to be a photographer, talking to my friend Brian Nelson (not to be confused with Brian J. Nelson) as AMA Superbikes practiced in front of us. We chatted it up, as all photographers do, ridiculing the riders as they passed. I swear that photographers and pseudo-photographers like me are the hardest men in racing. Standing for hours in all conditions trying to get the light and racing action to come together for one glorious split second that is hopefully caught on Kodachrome, makes them unmerciful. For fun we’d break into a chorus of the song Rag Doll when a rider would highside in front of us, get thrown through the air like a, well, rag doll.

Later, Brian and I split up. The bikes continued to lap but we were forced to jeer at them alone, as the two of us were 80 feet or so apart. Then, as I stood minding my own business, as usual, Tom “Harwood” Kipp came by, riding the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R750 Superbike. Kipp had just entered the course and he was taking it slow, only entering the corner at about, oh, 80 or so miles per hour.

Then it happened. A perfectly well-running motorcycle exploded.

Okay, it didn’t actually explode, but the front end came apart and the front wheel fell off. Seriously.

Kipp and the bike tumbled to the ground. Sparks flew and really expensive stuff started crumbling off the machine.

For the first few seconds of any crash, witnesses just stand there dumbstruck. At least I do. My stupefaction was cut short by someone, a cornerworker, screaming “Looook Out!”. In a millisecond, I realized that they were indeed screaming at me, and it wasn’t with the usual burning effigies and death threats that I get from some cornerworkers in Minnesota (don’t ask). Standing there in the tall Minnesota grass, I could see what they were warning me about: a white Yoshimura Marchensini wheel had been fired off the bike and was hurtling like a Japanese bullet-train, right at me.

This was not a normal Marchensini wheel, as this one had a mind of its own and a guidance trajectory system on it. I could hear the wheel swooshing through the grass as it hurled towards me at about, oh, 20 miles an hour. Instinctively, I jumped left to avoid the oncoming wheel. But it veered left. I jumped right, and again, it immediately changed course (hence my suspicions of a guidance system). I head-faked left and jumped right, thinking this would allow the wheel to get by me, and of course, at the last possible nano-second, it hit a gopher mound and drilled me.

The portion of the human anatomy that Yosh’s wheel struck is usually well protected by all men, because not protecting that area will inevitably result in your writhing on the ground clutching your groin and vomiting. Invariably, if an errant car backfires on a busy New York street, you’ll see men hastily covering their groins with briefcases, nearby trash can lids, or small children and or puppies. The results of not protecting this delicate area are many and probably beyond the scope of this web site.

Anyway, after I lay on the ground for a short while clutching myself and awaiting a regurgitation session, I realized that this particular injury didn’t hurt nearly as much as the last one I sustained in the same spot, when I ran into a tree while running at night (again, don’t ask).

I realized that this time I was wearing a canvas fanny pack–backwards–and that in it a brick of film, twenty rolls of 35mm film, protected my vital organ(s). All was well. I got up and walked over and talked to Kipp, who was fine, and then went and got the wheel and helped put it back on the bike, kind of. It dawned on me that whoever had put it on had forgotten to bolt it down, so the bike probably hadn’t exploded, at least not that I could prove.

Everybody had seen the wheel strike me in the lowest portion of the male abdomen, and those that didn’t see it were later treated to a thorough, if not exaggerated, recounting of the incident by Kipp and Nelson. A genuine rule in racing, which I think should be taught to everyone entering the paddock, is don’t tell photographers or riders anything that you don’t want broadcasted throughout the entire racetrack like an insidious SOS signal.

It gets worse, at least for me. It was a slow news weekend, and Troy Corser rolling an uninsured rental car in the same area of the track and me getting drilled in the nads by a wheel was deemed news. It was an actual labyrinth of embarrassing incidents for me and Troy. Both items ended up being printed in Cycle News, “America’s Motorcycle Newspaper” in their event news section.

Corser’s story was done up in flowery text which made fun of the situation, and when you’re looking at making payments on a totaled car that is sitting on a flatbed trailer, ready for the crusher, a little humor helps.

My story, of course, was printed like some sort of freak accident, which I guess it really was, that happened to a hopeless dope too stupid to get a real job. It gave a factual account of the wheel coming off the bike and drilling me, but then the bastards at Cycle News flubbed the quote I gave them so that it read as follows: “I had a roll of film in my fanny pack which saved me from being hurt,” or something to that effect.

Key wordage being changed (inadvertently, of course, they would never go out of their way to embarrass a colleague, not CN, no) from a brick, a large square-shaped object of film, protecting my, ah, stuff, to one single roll of film. No doubt those guys at Cycle News yukked it up non-stop when they gave their entire reading public the impression that whatever body parts I had to protect that day, according to their always suspect notes anyway, were completely shielded by a single roll of thirty-five millimeter film.

Think about it.

We get complaints here from time to time from people who point out errors we make in spelling and style. We’d blame it on the team of underlings we have polishing the stories we build, but there are no underlings.

Whenever one of these people, or someone who feels slighted by something I wrote, contacts me and complains, I always look ’em straight in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, well at least Cycle News didn’t print that your entire male assembly is smaller than a roll of thirty-five millimeter film.’

It shuts them up pretty quick.

Be careful out there. And remember, motorcycles can be dangerous.

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