YI. MotoGP at Circuit of the Americas

Octane Press is publishing my book, “Racing the Gods,” my story about motorcycling and paraplegia life (https://www.octanepress.com/book/racing-gods). Octane Press is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and Lee Klancher, the publisher, wanted to debut the book at the MotoGP/MotoAmerica races at the Circuit of the Americas. We agreed, and Dee and I planed a trip to Texas in April. We convinced Dee’s son Russ it would be worth his while to join us. Here’s the highlights of that trip.

A Surprise Encounter at the L.A. Airport

Steve McL at LAXOn Wednesday April 8th my wife Dee and I and Dee’s son Russ left Portland for Austin, Texas, for the MotoGP & MotoAmerica races at the Circuit Of The Americans track. The occasion was the release of my book “Racing the Gods.” We had to change planes at the Los Angeles Airport and we ran into my old pal and racing foe (and AMA Hall of Fame member) Steve McLaughlin. There was time for a drink and some lively conversation. I learned a bit more about the formation of the AMA’s original Superbike Production classes, and I’ll update the “ZJ. Superbikes, a new Racing Class” page eventually.

Russ Granger, Steve McLaughlin, Dee Ritter and me relaxing between flights. It’s the first time I’ve seen Steve face-to-face in about 35 years! Photo by the waitress.


“Deep in the Heart of …” We Arrive in Austin

Thursday, April 9th, was our first full day in Texas and it was indeed a full day. We started with lunch at Ironworks BBQ. There’s lots of kinds of BBQ in the U.S. — some feature the sauce, some places BBQ means pork ribs only. In Texas they do both pork and beef and it’s all about THE MEAT.

The napkins are a roll of paper towels on the table, the food comes in a paper plate on a plastic tray with plastic utensils, beer is served in the bottle — it’s all about the meat, baby. Photo by Dee Ritter

After lunch we went over to the Time Warner studio to do a TV interview about the book and to plug the upcoming races. They edited the conversation but they did a good job and I don’t come out sounding stupid or silly. Dee tried to capture the section I appear in and posted it on Facebook. The segment was broadcast on a local Austin station at 10pm that night. Let’s see if this link works (warning: I say “Colorado Springs” but I mean “Steamboat Springs”). https://www.facebook.com/dee.g.ritter/videos/vb.100000411739133/969978823025833/?type=3&theater.

That evening we made an appearance at a party put on by Ducati Austin, where I did a reading from the book, answered a few questions from the Master of Ceremonies, and signed books folks bought. Toward the end of the evening the two Ducati MotoGP riders, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, made an appearance. They spent about an hour signing posters, caps, t-shirts and what not, then they were brought over to my table where I gave them each autographed copies of my book. That was pretty cool.
The guys standing are a Ducati Corse staff, Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso. Vicki Smith is right between the two Andreas. I’m shaking hands with Dovi. Photo by Dee Ritter

Friday at the Circuit of the Americas

We got to the track on Friday, April 10th, via our rented ramp van and were rather astonished to find that although the COTA site is fully accessible, they do not have accessible transport! Contrast that to Barber Racetrack in Alabama. At Barber they have trains of passenger cars towed completely around the track and each train has at least one section that has a ramp with wheelchair access. COTA has the same little trains but none of the cars accommodate wheelchairs. Thank goodness Dee’s son Russ was with us. He did a lot of leg work over the weekend.

Turn 13 signingA happy customer with his autographed-by-the-author book (right) and the author (left). Photo by Dee Ritter

My task that day was to sign books in the Ducati Austin tent, which was shared with Dainese Leathers, along vendor row at turn 13. We had really good parking place but it was a long roll to the vendor area. Things were pretty quiet compared to the party the night before but I signed a few books and had a couple of old pals drop by for a chat.

After my signing duties were over Dee, Russ, and I went to our turn 15 grandstand seats to watch some MotoAmerica practice just to see how the seats were. They were pretty good — we couldn’t see the start but most of the esses, the back straight and the turn 12-13-14-15 complex were visible.

Friday evening an informal Ducati “meet and greet” was organized at the bar in the Ducati Hotel (J.W. Marriott downtown). We didn’t set up a formal book signing there as it wasn’t the right place for it, but we took a bunch of postcards showing the cover art and how to order the book. We met a nice couple at the bar and recommended a drink Russ turned us onto — vodka and limoncello with muddled mint on ice — and gave them a postcard. We had passed out a half a dozen more when I spotted a small group all wearing Ducati Corse red and white shirts, and gave them postcards. Then things got pretty hectic.

DOC Puebla

They were part of a fairly large group of the Ducati Owner’s Club members from Mexico, and they started asking me to autograph the postcards. They were a really friendly group. During the signing marathon there was also a woman from Naples, Italy, getting in on it. The DOC Puebla group were pretty excited to meet an actual Superbike race winning Ducati racer. You can see me in the middle of this group photo Dee took.

When we ran low on postcards I was asked to sign hats and t-shirts. It was exciting and exhausting at the same time. It was a little taste of what the real MotoGP stars go through all the time.

Liz and Friend
The DOC Puebla members from Mexico were very friendly. The woman of the left, Liz, had me sign her cellphone! Photo by Dee Ritter

Eventually we escaped back to our own hotel in the south of town.

Saturday on the Island

On Saturday, April 11, I had a book signing at Ducati Island from 1:00 to 2:30. The day got off to a rough start as the 44 books that the publisher had shipped were somehow misplaced. They were addressed to “Ducati Island care of COTA” with the COTA address. The books had been received and signed for but could not be found. It was a shame as the Ducati Store could have been selling them all day Friday and Saturday morning.

We scrambled around (by we I mean Dee and Russ) and got all the surplus books from Ducati Austin and the two we had so we were able to have some books to sell at the Ducati Store by the time I was scheduled to be signing them.

Ducati Island SigningAll set up to sign books. The white tent on the right is the Ducati Store tent where the books were being sold.

The couple we met at the bar the night before bought a book and came to have it signed, as did two different members of DOC Puebla, and a few others, but it was pretty slow. At the 2:30 hour we left the shelter and were able to watch the MotoGP Qualifying 2 session from a huge Jumbo-tron set up at the Island. This is the qualifier that sets the grid for the first 4 rows. I’m not going to give any spoilers but it was a pretty amazing session. If you haven’t already watched it, do so.

Later in the day we went to our grandstand seats to watch the MotoAmerica Supersport and Superbike/Superstock races. It had been threatening to rain all day but held off until those two events. Dee took a panorama photo from the seats with shows the track and how wet it was. I’m on the far left with Russ Granger just behind me.

COTA Panorama

Without giving any information about who finished where, I’ll tell you that the Supersport race had lots of crashes, no doubt due to the changing track conditions — it started out damp and got wetter and wetter as the race went on. I think everyone still running at the end earned points. The Superbike/Superstock race was a more controlled affair as the track was pretty wet through the entire race.

Saturday Night

Saturday night Russ and I went to the Handbuilt motorcycle show near downtown Austin. What an eclectic collection of motorcycles! There were old-school Harley choppers, perfectly restored classics, customized new motorcycles (a turbocharged Motus V-4 for example), and more. It’s an amazing show and well worth the time to view it, but if you don’t like crowds you should visit during the day. It was noisy, busy, and not well lit enough to get really good photos. Here’s one example:

handbuiltA Honda CB350 parallel twin motor in a custom built monocoque chassis, circa 1975. A machine very similar to this was being tested by my pal Tommy at Sears Point back in 1974 or 75. It spit him off and broke his ankle.




Sunday, a Day of Races

I didn’t have any signing duties on Sunday, which was great for me as the schedule had races all day starting with Moto3 at 11:00 am, followed by Moto2, MotoGP and finishing with the second MotoAmerica Superbike/Superstock race. Contrary to predictions it was dry the entire day, yay! We watched different races from different areas of the track. No spoilers in what follows.

We viewed Moto3 from the grassy bank near Ducati Island with a good view of the final two turns, and an excellent view of a jumbo-tron screen and audio to follow the rest of the action. It was an atypical Moto3 race, a bit different from all the Moto3 from last year and the initial Qatar race this year.

We went to our grandstand seats, described above, to watch the Moto2 and MotoGP races. We could see a lot of the track, although some of it was very distant, and there was a viewing screen a bit off to the left of our position, so we could tell what was going on in the parts we couldn’t see. It was a fun race to watch with the podium positions undecided until the very last few laps.

UP in Tower
Up in the tower. I’m 2nd from right, watching the racing through the clear floor. Russ is the guy in the black hat and shirt. It’s an open air space with a clear 4-foot railing at the edge. Photo by Dee Ritter.

After the MotoGP race we bought tickets to go up in the big tower, and we watched the 2nd Superbike race from that lofty position, some 800 feet about the track. You can see a lot of the race if you’re willing to move side to side. Worth doing at least once.

Unsubstantiated Rumors — I saw some criticism of MotoAmerica because there was no live TV coverage of the Austin race. Things like, “First round of a new series and they couldn’t get live TV? Bad start.” From what we heard at the track, from a couple of sources, was that Dorna insisted on it. It seems Dorna didn’t allow anything that might diminish the impact of the MotoGP races. From the tower we could see that the MotoAmerica team tents were set up in an area behind the pit garages, where they could not be seen unless you had a paddock pass. If anyone reading this can confirm or contradict these rumors please add a comment to this page, In the meantime, folks should ease up on MotoAmerica for now and see how they do on round two.

That finished out Texas trip. It was, I think, a successful book launch and fun visit with the added plus of seeing some good racing. We arrived home to Oregon happy and completely exhausted. I ended up sleeping all night, most of the next day, and all night again. I’m caught up now.

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