Living and Dying with a Racer

Last winter, I was talking to a buddy of mine, both longing for the warm season and eager to hop once more on our bikes. There was literally no action in the MotoGP pre-season, and the road-racing world was kind of still frozen, at least as far as news was concerned. Deep down, underneath the somewhat superficial media coverage, I knew there were engineers and mechanics trying to fix the problems discovered during the season, figuring out a way to increase performance and provide their riders with better machines and a lot of other people the press kind of ignores, but whose contribution to success is nevertheless immense.
Alongside the guys who mend and maintain the bikes, it’s the riders repairing and training their own bodies, the very thing which interfaces the human brain and the dead machinery. Injuries, surgery, new injuries adding to the recently-“welded” bones, arm pump, cramps, all sorts of pains from older crashes… they all sum up to something, somehow. And as our talk went on and on, this fellow asks me: what do you think is more dangerous, the MotoGP or the Isle of Man?

I took my time before answering him that I did not know, and even worse, I could not tell. Not being a racer myself, it was all down to analyzing whatever aspects I was able to and weigh them down, but a precise answer seemed then – as it does now – impossible.

A MotoGP bike has more speed and frequently goes over 340 km/h, but no premier class rider knows what passing inches from a stone wall feels like at 200+ km/h… repeatedly. Honestly, I do believe there’s no telling. Does Marc Marquez telling Travis Pastrana that his job is more dangerous make sense to you? To me it doesn’t, because every single professional rider out there, stuntmen and all included, are facing danger each time they go to work. It may sound funny to some, but when you’re a pro rider, your riding is called “work,” and has nothing to do with a leisure ride around the town.

Almost half a year later, I remembered this discussion when I had to write a piece on the late Simon Andrews. In case World Endurance Racing is not exactly your biggest passion, you can still get some idea about who he was by watching the TT Legends Documentary we at autoevolution showcased this spring.

Killed in a horrific crash during the North West 200, Simon Andrews joined the ranks of so many other racers who have paid the ultimate price in their quest for more speed and higher glory. I could not help remembering the magic Ayrton Senna, since his death it’s been more than 20 years, Super Sic, Yoshi Matsushita or the most recent rider to lose his life on the Snaefell, Bob Price, killed in the Supersport 1 race three days ago. And even though I know these fellows will be living forever in the hearts and memories of their families, friends and fans, I still ask myself whether it’s really worth dying this way.

Guys who have grown older after living a life in regret for never having had the courage to do what they wanted might even envy the fallen ones for going out in such style and according to their own anticipations.

An old guy once told me it only takes winning a second race. The first victory may be sheer luck, or based on others’ mistakes, but it’s the second one which tells you that you might be one of the big guys, and that second win will have you hooked, ever dreaming of being better, faster, more precise, bolder and more determined.

Indeed, that second victory may be the very moment you become an addict, and it’s not about adrenaline or other things people who know nothing about any sort of competition are often mentioning. It’s the addiction to becoming better and if possible - the best. In motorsport, this usually translates to being the fastest, and unfortunately, with speed comes danger. Are racers speed junkies? I guess this term does not do them justice, as they’re out on the streets or tracks for being the best, not for riding or driving fast.

Can someone blame them? I’d say that they children and wives/ husbands are the only ones who could do so, but I strongly know they don’t. When someone marries a road racer, she or he knows that the darkest day may come. There are so many retired racers with impressive careers out there, so it’s not always the thing which has to put an end to racing, even though the odds of one day drawing the shortest straw are huge.

To me it sounds like a total lack of fair play blaming the fallen. Yes, we all hope THAT day never comes, but with each passing dawn and sundown, we should be able to enjoy having spent yet one more day near the person we love. The day it will be taken from us will be truly a dark one; but even then, there’s still a silver lining in knowing that the departed lived and died as he or she wanted.

Racing was never easy, and living with racers was never easy, as well, but from the moment you decided to support your husband, wife, son, daughter, niece or nephew as a racer, you’re already sharing his or her fears, victory and defeats. They’re not doing this because they are forced to, they’re doing this because they chose to live their lives as they want, accepting the risks which come with this. They need you around just as much as you need them around, but if their number comes out, you should know that there was nothing else you could have done besides supporting them down to the last breath.

This editorial sends out a strong heartening message to all those who have lost a racing parent, child, friend, brother, sister or idol. By honoring the memory of your fallen road heroes, you’re proving true to both yourselves and those you loved so much; with you, there’s a huge crowd of guys who will do the same, generation after generation. You’re not alone in your plight and even more, you should know you’ve made a tough choice which sets you apart from the rest of the world: that of living with a racer.

There’s still massive action in the Senior TT in the Isle of Man these days, and I hope no more sullen, mourning tears will flow; this year’s already had enough of them.
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