This year marked my second consecutive in-person visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy MotoGP after years of following what I consider to be the world’s premier motorcycling championship on the television set.
Last year I experienced some culture shock during my first visit — but it was my kind of culture and so I embraced it! This year’s trip was just as exciting, but I experienced less awe and a whole lot more agenda. It was after all, a working trip, so the first few days were spent setting up the J&P Cycles rig in the interactive vendor display area.
Then it was off to ride “Willies Latin Thing” for the National Motorcycle Museum in the Cycle World Rolling Concourse. This 1966 King of the Highway-edition Shovelhead is a one-of-a-kind bike and it gave me a one-of-a-kind riding experience that I’ll not soon forget. The Rolling Concourse was a 50-mile ride for pre-1986 motorcycles, where bikes are judged on form and function. It was cool to see a variety of stunning motorcycles on display and actually being ridden on the street.
Of course, the MotoGP racing was second to none, with the GP bikes and their riders displaying unbelievable abilities. The buzzword for the week was “slick,” and that’s because the brand new surface at the legendary Brickyard hadn’t had a tire turned on it except for the previous weekend’s testing. That made for a slick surface that eventually turned into a narrow, six-foot groove that added some interesting challenges throughout the weekend.
The usual MotoGP suspects were on hand as the Repsol Hondas continued their blinding-fast ways, led by eventual race winner Casey Stoner. The Ducatis had their problems, with local favorite Nicky Hayden shredding his front tire, and nine-time champ Valentino Rossi battling front-end problems, landing both of them in the back of the pack. Young American Ben Spies was the only real threat to Stoner during qualifications, but his terrible start pushed him from second to ninth. But Spies managed to battle his way back to the front of the pack on his Yamaha motorcycle, winning a spot on the podium with Stoner and Dani Pedrosa.
The million-dollar GP machines weren’t the only ones taking laps around the historic racetrack. The Vance and Hines XR1200 class was on display both Saturday and Sunday, getting the opportunity to bring its bar-to-bar brand of racing to the biggest audience they would see all year. Quite a departure from the one-off super-expensive GP machines, these street-machines-turned-race-bikes drew their fair share of attention with a field of 33 riders on Saturday.
The Indy crowd got its fill of fierce drafting and intense passing that is common to the XR series, with eight riders crashing in the first lap alone, and a crazy pass attempt by Jeremy McWilliams splitting Steve Rapp and series leader Chris Fillmore. This led to Fillmore crashing out of the race, which opened the door for Tyler O’Hara, who took full advantage of the situation and won the first race with Harley motorcycles at Indy in more than a century! Sunday’s race was no different, with series leader Fillmore winning by .169 second over Steve Rapp.
J&P’s own Michael Beck experienced motor problems in qualifying and was forced to start at the back of the pack for both races. Apparently the bad placement didn’t dissuade him from passing up a staggering 44 riders across the two races to finish 8th both Saturday and Sunday!
All fun, all exciting, but I keep having to remind myself that Indy’s much more than just a race. It’s an event. A happening. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’ve done it twice already. Post race, there’s the downtown streets of Indianapolis, just jam-packed with bikes and riders. Squint your eyes and it takes on a Sturgis appearance.
But this is the big city, and you couldn’t help but be electrified by the ICON Limiter shows, the XDL Championships and the general motorcycle mayhem that occurs when you place a few hundred thousand motorcycle riders in the same place at the same time.
If you haven’t been yet, you owe it to yourself to start making plans. Because the contract for MotoGP in Indianapolis was recently extended through 2014 so book those hotel rooms now. You won’t regret it.