WX. Meeting old and New Friends at Laguna Seca

Posted July 21, 2015

I’m not going to say anything here about racing results — no spoilers. I made a statement about Sunday’s race on the “Author Paul Ritter” Facebook page, and you can see it there.

Dee and I flew from Portland to San Jose where we met up with Dee’s son Russ. He had come up earlier from Southern California and picked up a rental wheelchair ramp van. Russ did all the driving over the long weekend and most of the heavy lifting; we could not have made the trip without his help. We stayed in Salinas, about an hour from San Jose airport and 12 miles from the track.

Friday was a slow day — no races, only practices and some qualifying. We spent the day on Ducati Island, where I had an “official” hour for signing books. We actually hung out longer and were available to sign books whenever people dropped by, even outside of the official 2-3 pm time slot. I hadn’t been to Laguna Seca since the MotoGP days, and the Friday crowd was pretty small in comparison. I heard the Friday ticket sales were up 10% over last year, a good sign. It got more crowded over the next two days. Friday night we went to a Ducati sponsored dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Monterey.

Saturday was also spent on Ducati Island, with a better turn out than Friday. Kevin “Goatboy” Burgess, a pal from WetLeather, stopped by to buy a book and get it signed. He is now in the S.F. Bay area but we met in 1997 in Vancouver WA. We had an epic ride together in the spring of 1998 – see the page “ZI. WetLeather pt 4 – Chase the Snake.” It was good to catch up. Goatboy is still Goatboy, easy to laugh and always ready to have fun.

We also met Cody Burton who got a signed book and wanted a photo with us. Cody’s wife Kathy took the pic and also took one for us with Dee’s smart phone. At 3pm we quickly packed up the book signing stuff and dashed over to the Ducati Owners area to watch WSBK Superpole 1 and 2 on the TV feed. I won’t say how it turned out in case someone reading this hasn’t seen the results yet, except that it is worth watching.

Me and Cody BurtonSigning books. The crew with Cody Burton. Sitting are Dee and me, Cody and Russ standing behind. Photo by Kathy Burton.

Later that day we took one of the track’s wheelchair accessible golf carts up to the Corkscrew to watch the KTM RC Cup race. That was fun, 16 – 22 year olds racing the KTM 390cc singles. They put on a good show, but they need bigger numbers. From where we watched I couldn’t make out the bike numbers and every single one of them is exactly the same! I have no idea who won but there was some pretty close racing.

Saturday night we were invited to the Bevelhead group’s dinner. The Bevelheads are an email list of a group of people who are fans of Ducatis with bevel-gear driven overhead cams that were produced from the 1960s up until 1984, when they switched to belt-driven overhead cams. The group has a long tradition of renting a house and having a dinner for all Bevelheads, staying at the house or not. The event didn’t happen last year and it was good to see it restored.

Sunday – Race Day! We had no signing duties that day so were free to go anywhere around the track. The racing started at the ungodly hour of 9:40 AM with the first MotoAmerica Superbike/STK 1000 race. We hustled but didn’t get to the track until a few minutes before the start. We couldn’t see the track from our parking spot so we watched the live on-line feed with Dee’s iPad. Saved from our tardiness by modern technology! It had rained overnight and a few portions of the track were still damp. It was interesting to see how different riders dealt with the slightly iffy track conditions.

After the race we got a lift in one of the golf carts to the paddock. I had formed a friendship of sorts with Josh Hayes, the multi-time AMA Superbike champion, at Sears Point in 2011. As the winner of the first two AMA Superbike race at Sears I was invited to present the trophies to the top three finishers of Saturday’s AMA Superbike race. I ended up showing Josh how to use a waiter’s cork puller to open his sparkling wine after the top of the cork broke off.

I wanted to give Josh a copy of my book so he could read about the origins of Superbike racing. While waiting for him I ran into some notable people. John Ulrich, publisher of Roadracing World magazine and an acquaintance from the 1970s club racing days was first to say hi. He was there working with his son, Chris, who is a Superbike racer. We talked about the modern racing electronics – Chris had switched from a Honda last year to a Suzuki and they were still trying to get the set up correct. He is like me, old school. “The modern stuff is great when it’s set up right but it’s hard to figure out. Just give me a bike with a cable-operated throttle,” he said. I think they’ll get it together eventually.
Me and Mamola

Next by was Randy Mamola. Randy and I also knew each other from the old days. See the page “YU. Young Randy Mamola.” We chatted for a few moments until he had to cut it off so he could catch former World Champion Kenny Roberts Jr., who had been presenting trophies to the MotoAmerica Superbike winners.

Randy Mamola and I talking about our old AFM racing days. Photo by Dee.

An amazing thing happened next. Dee noticed a device that looked like it was designed to hold a wheelchair. She went over to check it out, and then started waving for me to come look at it. Just as I was approaching, Wayne Rainey rolled into, locked down and started to take off. Dee stopped him and introduced me. I had never met Wayne but we had exchanged some emails just before the initial MotoAmerica races at COTA in Texas. He was gracious enough to stop and talk. I gave him one of the two copies of my book I had with me, signed of course. Wayne is a two-time AMA Superbike champ, becoming one of the front runners in the class after Wes Cooley, Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson moved on, battling with riders like Fred Merkel, Kevin Schwantz, and Doug Polen.

Me and Wayne RWayne Rainey and I talked about KRAVE and MotoAmerica’s future. Photo by Dee.

Wayne asked me what I thought KRAVE ought to do to improve things. I told him they were off to a good start, but these things would help: Get more manufacturers involved, get more brands of bikes on the podium (not just Yamaha and Suzuki), and a live TV broadcast was important, or at least same-day coverage, not just on-line live feeds.

Wayne nodded his head in agreement, and told me they were working on all of those things. “Come here next year and let me know how we’ve done.” Then he rolled off in his electric scooter-type thing. I’ve got to get me one of those.

I was still waiting for Josh, but one of the Yamaha guys assured me he would stop by. The number two Yamaha rider, Cameron Beaubier, came over and said hello. We talked about the iffy conditions of the track and how it made him nervous. He said he would do better in the second race if the rain stayed away.

Finally Josh was free. We talked about the first race (no, I’m not telling how he did) and I signed a copy of my book and gave it to him.
Me and Josh Hayes
Josh Hayes gets a copy of my book, “Racing the Gods. Photo by Dee.

By then it was time for the first WSBK race. Russ had scouted out a live feed in a nearby Honda tent and asked if we could watch from there. They said “sure,” so we went in there and watched. There were some comfy couches for Russ and Dee is sit in, friendly folks, and they had a bar in the back of the tent. I got a very tasty, very strong margarita while viewing the race. Hey, it was OK, it was past noon before I got it. The race itself was fun to watch.

After that we grabbed another accessible cart and went to a spot above turn two where we could see quite a bit of the track, and watched the second WSBK race. We watched the Supersport race from there as well.

To end the day we dashed back to Ducati Island to watch the final race, the MotoAmerica Superbike/STK 1000 race 2. Without giving anything away, it was a very different race than the first. We let things thin out a little then picked up all our material and headed back to our hotel. On Monday we drove to the San Jose airport where Dee and I headed north to Portland while Russ took a later flight back to his SoCal home.

On the way out of Portland we were able to do curb-side check-in of our luggage, so that was pretty easy. Coming back was different and a lot more difficult. Because of the paraplegia I need to carry a lot more luggage than normal, and Dee had to fetch everything from the baggage claim while I went to get the van from the parking garage. I carried my computer satchel and she managed to handle everything else. It was a tough job and I want to make sure everyone knows how hard she worked on this trip. Thank you very much, Dee. Next time we will need some help us at the airport to get the luggage from baggage claim into the van.

We finally arrived home about 8:30 pm Monday night, completely exhausted, had a snack, some wine and hit the hay.

Next scheduled book signing? Stay tuned, there’s some stuff in the works.

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