The Rider


At sixty-something years old and very close to thirty years past his last big win The Rider still enjoyed renown with hardcore fans who remembered him for his gritty rides, fearless wins and general chest-out attitude. He was a legend of racing.

However being a legend does not pay very well. The money he earned while racing was long gone. It was actually spent faster than he could earn it when he raced professionally. Thus, at age 60, he needed to source sponsors or PR gigs for income. This wasn’t new territory for him; he’d been a self-employed entity since he was 17. Some years money was no problem. Other years he had to scramble to make it. He sold motorcycle parts, tires and anything else where a buck could be made. The rumor was that when he raced the world championship he discovered that a guy could cram about two pounds of white powder in the hollow frame tubes that made up a motorcycle’s frame. This was quite handy on those trips to South America and back to the USA.

For one income stream he produced and sold his own line of t-shirts. To fight the counterfeiters he had a trick: his well-known logo was a simple design of red, white and blue. And even though the t-shirt printer, several of them in fact, said that putting white ink on a white shirt is verboten in the screen printing world because “The shirt is already white! We don’t need to paint a white shirt white!” The Rider stood his ground, saying, I’m paying and if I want white on a white shirt you’ll do it or I can find someone who will.

The non-sensical design of white ink on white t-shirt was actually an easy identifier of one of his official shirts. He kept a keen eye open at the track for his t-shirts and if he encountered a fan wearing one without the white ink he usually walked up to them, stuck his finger right in their chest and gruffly asked “Where’d you get that shirt? Well, it ain’t one of mine. I don’t care where you got it. You taking money out of my pocket. Everybody thinks I’m rich but I’m not. My stocks are all in the tank … got divorced …”

A lengthy and pained silence followed, and that usually did the trick. The sheepish fan would peel a $20 bill out of his pocket and hand it to the rider, with apologies. Shit, sorry. I didn’t know.

It was gas money. Some years he was scrambling for money every day of every week. Again this was nothing new and even though he’d crashed racing motorcycles all over the world and suffered broken arms, legs, hands, ribs and feet he tried to keep himself in good shape. He went to Mexico once a year to get his teeth fixed and he knew a fan who was a decent orthopedic surgeon and would perform maintenance surgery on him for free. All the old plates holding his forearms together came out and he never saw a bill.

He was trim and moved most of the time like a man 40 years younger than his 60-odd years. The scramble seemed to keep him young. He didn’t dwell on past mistakes too often, other than his fear that he’d die of cancer from all the radiation he’d endured. Radiation in racing? Back in the 1960s when he raced dirt track he was always getting injured feet. Like most racers of that era if they suspected that they’d broken a toe or a bone in their foot, they didn’t head to the emergency room; they instead started looking for a shoe store. As insane as it might sound today, a good shoe store in 1965 usually had a device called shoe-fitting fluoroscope, which was basically a very crude x-ray machine. The Rider would stick his injured foot in the device, push the button and look through the viewfinder to see a live x-ray of his foot, as it gave him a giant dose of radiation. Occasionally he and his racer buddies would all hit the shoe store after the race, drinking beers while they stuck hands or feet in the device to see if any bones were broken. No dosimeters, no lead shielding to protect the jewels. Somehow no one ever came down with radiation burns or poisoning. How many later died from cancer? None. Most were dead from life or misadventure by the time they hit 45.

The manufacturer that he shared most of his success with still held him in high regard and tried to help him out from time to time when they knew he was struggling. They knew this because he called them and told them so. The manufacturer shipped The Rider a streetbike once, so he would have basic transportation. The motorcycle came on a truck to a local dealership near The Rider’s home, but he had some mods for the bike and shipped it right back with a box of aftermarket gear he needed installed by competent mechanics–who probably did so for free.

So it came to be that two factory roadrace mechanics and two factory motocross mechanics who were employed by the manufacturer had The Rider’s motorcycle torn apart in the factory race shop. The front end was pulled off to expose the ignition and the wiring harness was split. They were soldering in a new wiring system when a top manager walked through the race shop and saw four of his best mechanics tearing into a production streetbike that wasn’t even a model that they raced.

Intrigued, he approached and looked it all over. A nifty aluminum dash was mounted beside the speedometer where one might mount a camera. Just as he was walking away to his 2:00 PM meeting he asked, say, mechanics, what are you doing, anyway?

Oh, we’re installing an ignition interlock on this motorcycle so The Rider can use it with his current driving/riding restrictions. The Rider had a history of driving and or riding when he’d had too much to drink and now, in order to operate a motor vehicle, he had to first blow into an interlock device to prove he was sober. If the system gave the all-clear the bike would start and he’d be mobile.

Oh, I see, the manager said.

The manager made it almost all the way to his seat at the center of the conference room for his 2:00 meeting when what he had just witnessed hit him. He spun around, told the seated people inside that he’d be right with them. He walked back to the race shop and clarified what the mechanics for his huge multinational manufacturer were doing: We’re putting an alcohol interlock on this for the The Rider; he asked us to do it.

Sternly, the manager told them to take everything related to that device off the bike, to install a brand new wiring harness to replace the one now modified to run the interlock device. And ship that bike back to The Rider and tell him that a huge multinational manufacturer can’t be installing court-mandated alcohol ignition interlocks on a motorcycle they furnished him with for transportation. Written warnings were threatened to be placed in the four mechanics’ employee files but in the end Human Resources decided the least said/documented about this the better.

This was the power The Rider still enjoyed with some people in the industry. His achievements in racing made the people who cheered for him and witnessed his victories want to help him out if they could.

His charisma made it so that the huge multi-national manufacturer of motorcycles didn’t stay angry with him over the interlock incident very long. In fact, the next summer, they hired him to do PR at events, press intros and the like. The senior Japanese managers remembered his gritty performances and decided that he’d be a great addition to the slate of new sport bikes they were introducing. It came with a contract for an okay salary, and a credit card that he’d never see the bill for.

An interesting aspect of this new side hustle is that PR training wasn’t really part of The Rider’s job when he raced. 30 years ago The Rider’s job was to win races and smile for photos with the winning motorcycle. Back then rider PR duty ended with the podium festivities. This new gig, which entailed a lot of fan interaction on behalf of the manufacturer, anyway, was no problem. He smiled and signed autographs; and since he was being paid he stopped his informal counterfeit t-shirt enforcement.

Press intros though, they could be a problem. His job was to ride around with members of the motorcycle press at racetracks and on the street.

After a few days at the track The Rider classified most of the press he rode with three ways:

“Clueless”
“Hopeless”
“Going to die”

Several publications sent women to the press events. The Rider wasn’t crazy about trying to give any riding tips to male members of the press, because you can’t help the clueless, the hopeless or the going to die. The women testers though, enjoyed a good rapport with the Rider. He’d ride behind them and when he saw them later he’d compliment their riding or offer tips. Most of those women testers were savvy and realized that The Rider, through his coaching, was in reality making an attempt to get in their pants, er, leathers. Old habits die hard for a man who reached maturity in 1969.

Most of the time at press intros he rode around trying to avoid being anywhere where the clueless, the hopeless or the going to die were lapping. He knew where the photographer was stationed, so when they came to that part of the track he slipped inside the press pack and gave them the money shot they wanted. Then he waved off.

Also, most of the media, the way The Rider saw it, were lightweights when it came to partying. They seemingly didn’t understand that it was customary for The Rider to drink to the point of inebriation at the nightly group dinner, so much so The Rider was passed out, face down, in the shuttle van taking them back to the hotel at the end of the night.

When he was already at breakfast as they walked into the dining room the next morning the media seemed surprised to see him clear-eyed and drinking coffee. Headache? Need an aspirin, Mr The Rider? No, The Rider told them, further explaining that he was at least that inebriated the night before every race 30 years ago.

You raced with a hangover? they asked.

No, I won with a hangover, The Rider clarified.

A busy summer of events and press functions followed. The global multinationals were quite pleased with the job he was doing for them. It was an easy tie-in, that The Rider was back on their motorcycles thirty-odd years after his career ended.

Word of this success reached Japan and a new idea came back across the Pacific to the USA: ask The Rider if he’d like to ride our MotoGP bike after the last Grand Prix of the season, at the end of season test/media day in Europe. The manufacturer’s home office in Japan would send a crew of videographers to the test and they’d probably use the footage in Japan or at a company or dealer meeting.

The first obstacle for The Rider was that MotoGP bike riding in Europe wasn’t in the agreement he’d signed earlier with the manufacturer. That contract specified US tracks and US press and production bikes. Plus, he explained, he’d already made plans to take his daughter fishing that weekend. They did it every year; it was an annual trip on that very weekend. The Rider left out the part that he and his daughter were currently not on speaking terms and had been non-communicative for over two years. But, hypothetically, if they had been on speaking terms, it’s conceivable that they might have been fishing.

The huge multinational was quite desirous of him riding their MotoGP bike for internal or external video so with backing from Japan’s home office they decided to compensate him for this new agreement and of course the personal heartbreak of not being able to do the father/daughter fishing trip. Use of the credit card for which he never saw a bill was also approved.

The Rider specified that he was really only required to be at the track on the Monday after the GP. He had old friends in the area and would like to see them, he explained. He’d probably pop in at the race to shake hands and whatnot but he’d only really be at the track for any length of time on Monday. This was approved by the global multinational motorcycle manufacturer.

A day or so after arriving in Europe, representatives of the global multinational motorcycle manufacturer realized that they had not seen The Rider since the rental car desk at the airport on Wednesday. A call to his hotel suggested that the rider had indeed checked in but he left Wednesday, leaving his key at the desk, and had not slept in his hotel bed yet, as per the housekeeper.

His was just a component of the planned press event so no missing persons report was filed and no real search party was formed. The Rider had told them he wanted to visit some friends in the area, remember? Occasionally someone would ask, Hey, anybody seen The Rider around? Typically the answer was: He’s here? No. I have not seen him. But if he does get to the track let me know, I want to meet him.

That was until one of the fellows whose job it was to assemble and tear down Red Bull’s hospitality tent was asked if he’d seen him. He said, why yes, yes I have seen The Rider every night since the Red Bull structure was built on Wednesday.

Oh, is he visiting friends?

The Red Bull construct/deconstruct technician swallowed hard, then quickly said yes, yes he was in fact visiting friends in the area. He could confirm The Rider was with friends. And that if he happened upon The Rider again he’d mention that his minders would appreciate him checking in.

Friday: No Rider.

Saturday: No Rider.

Sunday: No Rider.

Concern about where The Rider might be reached fever pitch late Sunday. Someone realized that The Rider actually hadn’t even tried on his new for this event leathers. His Arai helmets were still in their boxes. The videographers had nothing in the can and exchanged worrisome glances.

At about ten in the morning on Monday The Rider’s car pulled up behind the MotoGP team’s garage. The Rider wasn’t driving, one of his old race friends was, while The Rider was laying prone in the passenger seat. He exited the car looking like a man 20 years older than his 63 years. He was disheveled and moving slowly, stiffly. His team shirt was untucked.

There wasn’t really time to ask The Rider where he’d been for the past four or five days. He needed to get in his leathers and pose for some photographs and sit down with the crew and plan how this was going to work. The videographers knew where the light was going to be in an hour and thus where they were going to have the cameras set up to shoot.

‘No can do’ The Rider explained. He’d slept oddly the night before and his back was completely locked up. “I ain’t 21 anymore,” he said. He needed an hour of rest in the rental car before he could get into leathers.

Well, okay.

One hour passed without improvement and even after several more one-hour postponements The Rider’s back did not improve. He could not bend at the torso. At all.

At around noon a mechanic on the team The Rider was supposed to ride for saw his buddy tearing down the Red Bull hospitality structure. This was the Red Bull guy who had seen The Rider when no one else had.

Hey, he was asked, where’d you see The Rider, anyway?

The Red Bull guy looked around, saw no one else within earshot, but he still edged up to answer so no one else could hear, and said that about twenty kilometers from the track there was a, um, gentlemen’s club, where women offered men “intense friendship” in exchange for money. It had been there for twenty or thirty years and always did good business on the race weekend. He said by his eyes The Rider had been there since Wednesday and in between meals and toasts at the bar The Rider had pretty much enjoyed everything on the menu.

Everything. On. The. Menu.

This piece of juicy information was reported to the team PR manager who informed the PR crew there to shoot The Rider on the MotoGP bike. After a quick meeting someone was told to go get The Rider out of his car and tell him to come to the garage now for a meeting. The Japanese bosses of the MotoGP team were informed and they were waiting when The Rider stepped gingerly in the garage and closed the door behind him.

We know where you have been and want to know now why you can’t ride, they stated.

The Rider came clean. He said he had meant to stay at the house of women who will be extra friendly for money only one night but that the establishment had a supply of Viagra they were only too happy to give to those in need. In between celebrating and what not he’d taken at least three “elevation enhancers” per day and now, well, now he had a big problem. His untucked shirt and body language gave strong hints as to the details of the problem. When one of the Japanese race managers still could not understand why he could not ride, The Rider offered to unzip his pants and show him why he was unable to get in leathers, unable to tuck normally on a cramped MotoGP bike. Oh. Ohhhhh!

Consider all of the calamities that the Clinca Mobile had seen in Grand Prix racing–the shattered bones, the scrapes and the concussions and the all the gory rest of it. They’d seen it all; or so they thought. Someone went down to the Clinica and took one of the doctors aside and said, We have a problem with The Rider.

Oh, he’s here? the Clinica staffer asked. Wow! Can I meet him? I’ve never met The Rider.

Well, yes, yes you can, the team representative explained but first you should know he needs treatment for a condition not really relevant to racing or a racing injury. The team fellow then told the Clinica man everything he knew about the rider’s condition, adding: He needs to be on a bike ASAP.

The Clinica doctors consulted among themselves, most of them keeping a straight face when the details of The Rider’s problem were sussed out. Okay, send him down here. The Rider was ushered into a small doctors’ theater and the curtain pulled around them. Blood was drained from the rider via a very thin, and long needle stuck in the offending appendage. Frustratingly after the first vial of blood was removed the condition returned right away and the medical men had to drain it again.

“That really hurts,” The Rider said mid-blood draw.

Yes, there are about four thousand nerve endings in just that part of the male body the Clinca doctor said. The Rider said later he wanted to reply “No shit?” but didn’t. He gripped the gurney and got through it.

“I’d rather crash at Daytona than do that again,” The Rider said when they finished, pulling the long needle out. The procedure was deemed a success.

Now able to tuck adequately, the rider got in his new leathers and posed for photos in the pit lane. Then they started the MotoGP bike for him and he rode for the rest of the afternoon in his new leathers and signature helmet. He lapped until they had enough video in the can, and then he did one on one interviews in the garage. It was all deemed a success. The edited film was shown at a dealer meeting and no one was the wiser. Wow! The Rider on a MotoGP bike!

A few weeks after The Rider returned home a FedEx envelope arrived. Sent by the global multi-national manufacturer, The Rider opened it hoping it was his check.

It wasn’t. It was a copy of the bill from the rider’s stay at the Palace of Friendly Women in Exchange for Money. He’d put it all on the company credit card that the manufacturer had given him. There was a note from a company accountant plainly stating that these charges were unapproved and therefore were The Rider’s responsibility to pay.

He was already on to his next hustle and took the news in stride.

Back to the scramble.


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