I’ve come full circle-I’m leaving my job.

Contrary to the current lifestyle rage of quitting your blood sucking job for a life of adventure, after (and actually during) college, I pursued and accomplished all my dreams of adventure before the age of 25-I swam with wild dolphins, climbed glaciers, spent a year surfing the south pacific, show jumped horses, snowboarded all over the world, lived in three different countries, learned a foreign language (German) and supported it all by living a total minimalist lifestyle working on boats and ships, in restaurants, in youth hostels, as a SCUBA diver, as a dressage instructor or whatever worked at the time and fit into my travel schedule to support myself. I read a ton of books and never had a TV–to this day I have never seen an episode of Friends–nonetheless, after a while I felt like my brain was disintegrating.

So in a really backward move, in view of others’ dreams of chucking it all and moving to an island, I moved from the island I was living on at the time (Maui) back to my roots (California) to pursue more difficult ventures than vagabonding around the world on nearly nothing: I went to graduate school and pursued a professional life, something I had never had. I had never even worked in an office before. The usual stuff followed-I bought a house, adopted pets, had a successful career, and got married. Which were all dreams of mine (actually the marriage thing was optional), and gave me more purpose than just trying to live an easy and carefree and sometimes meaningless life.

But also during that time, and this is kind of where this long story begins, I started racing motorcycles. And this changed my life more than anything–More than home ownership or money or marriage.

Racing became the center of my and my husband John-Mark’s life. All of our goals, travel, money,
focus, effort, sweat and tears went into racing. It brought me the highest highs and lowest lows I had ever felt in my life. Even spectating was exciting I discovered- being up close to the bikes and the noise and the competition was something surprisingly moving and emotional, with an added bonus of it being something I could share with my dad. He and I attended every World Superbike and later MotoGP race at Laguna every year for ten years.

I even attribute racing to pulling me out of the fog of shock and trauma I was in for months–after racing took the life of my husband. Somehow, two months after his death, I landed a gig at the annual MotoGP round at Laguna Seca in 2008, working as a tire and fuel tester in the Fiat Yamaha garage of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. The bikes and the excitment and the newness of the experience pulled me out of my autopilot survival mode and into the moment. I did it again at the Indianapolis GP, in the same garages, and again – I felt totally alive.

I had already been forced to see that very, very few problems or stresses in life truly matter, and so in a move that also allowed me to escape dealing with others who would not, or more probably did not know how to, acknowledge my loss and sadness, I left the US to pursue my new dream career–to work in MotoGP.

After several false starts, flash forward to last year when I was offered a job as a journalist at the MotoGP headquaters in Barcelona, my home for the last three and a half years. It was my second try for the job, so of course I took it. And it has been exciting and interesting and also a lot of hard work with some very long days and nights in the office. But I have gotten to experience things like today–Participating in a dirttrack race with Jorge Lorenzo, fans, journalists and pro riders at the ex-Kenny Roberts track after my cameraman and I first interviewed him for a story. Awesome opportunity and great experience–which may, though I hope it won’t be, be my last like it.

interview with Jorge Lorenzo

This is my final week at Dorna. It was a tough decision and I’m quite sad about it, but I am leaving. After learning there would be almost no work at the races for me this year, and the fact that I am already burning out on office hours and a daily commute, I gave notice. (Missing the first race in ten years in 2011 because I was working in the office in Spain didn’t sway me the side of staying either. I don’t want to miss another year of being with my father and brother and friends for our annual summer ride together to and from the races in Monterey.)

I am so grateful to have had this experience, though I have now come full circle and want to leave office life, even if it means leaving the most popular, exciting and pretigious motorcycle racing organization in the world. Though I’m not leaving my dream job to laze around on beaches or travel the world-I’ve already done that. What this move means is that I can go back to being directly involved with what I love and not just writing about it from an office. And that is the thing that has turned my life around so many times-  racing.

Farewell #58…

We watched on the live feed as it happened, we saw all the angles, rewatched and gasped when we realized the gravity of what had just happened, and kept working, keeping our eyes glued to the screens everywhere, watching the feeds, the crawl, twitter, email. We heard some false positive news from twitter, ere was a reschedule, and we prepared for a race restart.

The next thing we knew it was canceled, and watched as the big boss went around to each team, one by one. We saw the nodding grave faces, bowed heads and clenched jaws – it became apparent that the worst imaginable was likely. And minutes later we had to clinically announce it to the world, in so many words:

Farewell #58…

No reflection, just get the words out right- but it was hitting pretty close to home for me. I made a few trips to the bathroom and pulled myself together and kept working.

11 hours after I arrived at work, I climbed aboard my scooter and cried all the way home, slowing when tears blurred my vision so much I could no longer see.

In this sport, most of us have experienced the loss of someone close at some point. But familiarity might just make it that much harder to accept. When I say my heart goes out to the family, friends, collegues and even 58’s rivals, it’s not a platitude. There just isn’t any other way to put into words how sorry I am for the shock and sadness those close to him now face and will continue to experience for a long time coming…

I went home and looked at photography of abandoned swimming pools. They resonated a hollow sadness and an absence of a thing once grand. Then I looked up and out my window, and in the fading evening, saw a rainbow appear in the sky.

Valencia Moto2 test

I went to the Moto2 test in Valencia the end of January. It was cold, the first day so cold that no bikes went out. But I had a warm place to sit and work. And that’s what I did the entire first day. Which was fine with me because I was freezing.

My work computer, in the truck in front of the heater.

A few World Superbike teams including BMW and Aprilia, joined the test. Since the Moto2 bikes are all new everyone is curious about them. Xaus and Corser and a couple of BMW engineers stopped by the Kalex/Pons Moto2 garage to check out the bikes.

Corser couldn’t help himself, he had to climb aboard.

And then pretend to ride it. The only thing he didn’t do was make vroom vroom noises, (though I bet he did in his head).

That's Alex, the German engineer and co-designer of the Kalex bike observing Corser on his creation.

Speaking of the BMW Superbike. The swingarm is glued together. I don’t know about you but this wouldn’t inspire riding confidence in me. Evidently this is now common, shows you how much I know.

Second day bikes went out on the track. I took a scooter and observed from inside the track.

And from the hillside opposite the garages.

And then from pit lane.

Checa down the front straight.

The Moto2 bikes are … different. They sound great. Some are squirrely exiting the corners. The 250 riders are still learning how to ride them. But their times are all pretty close. By the way, the published times you may have seen for the Valencia test? 80% of them are false.  This is because they were recorded by someone walking into the boxes and asking for the best time of each rider. How hard is it for a mechanic be not to shave off a second or two? Very.

We went to one of the worst restaurants I have ever been to in my life. But it was convenient, being attached to the hotel. I ordered chicken and received a reconstituted, breaded, frozen and refried, patty of some sort. Now, I’ve been known to eat and even enjoy things that taste similar to cardboard. I’m not too terribly picky as long as whatever I’m eating isn’t greasy. But this place, I seriously would have been better off slathering a piece of cardboard with ketchup and digging in. And we went not just 0nce, but twice. Because you can never have enough chilled red wine.

This was the first test I have been to as a guest of a team- no messages to deliver, no people to meet, no agenda for me, and frankly, I felt a little awkward being there without anything to do. In fact, you could say I pretty much suck as a spectator.  I’m sure some people would be more than content to ride around on a scooter, drink espresso and wander around looking at bikes. While I am generally lazy, when it comes to motorcycles, and especially racing, I want to be involved.

Unless I have something to do, I’m skipping the rest of the tests before the season begins.

A special race factory

I paid a visit to Sito Pons workshop last week. It’s a big, impressive place on the outskirts of Barcelona.

1998 and 1999 250cc world championship winners observe from above.

Outside was a wall of used wheels of every kind – From old GP 500cc wheels to 990’s to 125’s. Just collecting rain water. I sigh at what could be done with these.

The wheel graveyard.

Boxes stacked in remote corners were filled with old parts from the team’s bikes throughout the years. There was also an unused dyno jet room out back, with big electronic machines collecting dust. (This is not this first incidence of this I have seen like this in Spain. In the US, a dyno room would be put into use every day!)

Which famous racer used to ride for Pons?

and which said racer had special air intakes on his carbon bodywork?

There may be forgotten parts stacked around the place, but the Pons team is very forward thinking and I suppose doesn’t have time for too much nostalgia. It’s a huge, clean, organized space with around 8 mechanics at work on different projects at any given time. There were at least 5 giant team trucks, (2 of them inside the workshop,that’s how big this place is) ready to go to their various races at any time.

Pons also runs a successful Formula Renault team. The car was spread over three work rooms when I visited.

Formula Renault car guts.
35,000 Euros carbon chassis. I left finger prints on it. (OK not really.) (OK yeah I did.)

Sito himself, while possessing the  stature of a 250cc World Champion, has quite a commanding presence and striking blue eyes that could probably sear a hole through your soul if you held his gaze too long. I didn’t test that out but I think he could probably do it.

For 2010, Pons is running a Moto2 team with German Kalex bikes. I’m attending the test in Valencia and maybe one more before the season starts. People are excited about this class and these bikes – the mechanics, the riders, the bike developers and designers,  riders from other championships, and of course, me. I am sad to see the 250s go and I will miss that sound and the premix smell. But these bikes are pretty cool to see on the track and we have to keep looking forward, just like the Pons team does.

The economy might leave the grids a little sparse right now however.

Valencia Part II

Finally, I am posting the rest of the photos from the Valencia race.

Some exciting things happened from Saturday afternoon on. First, my friend Nico’s team revealed their MotoGP racer for next year! Read more about it here.

Nico looking snazzy

We had some lunch in the Yamaha hospitality and watched qualifying there.

Oh, and VR’s father joined us there.

That night, we went out for paella with the Fiat sponsoring crew. Even though Paella was originated in Valencia, it was only so-so at this place. But the night was fun.

Sunday we watched the races from the Yamaha hospitality (well, Shanna watched some from the box). The normal end of the season festivities ensued, though on about 1/2 the scale from last year. There was no redbull present, no rookies cup, half the fans, half the riders, no privateer teams…it was smaller than last year. Also present was an overarching gloom over most teams, since many people lost their jobs this year and in fact did not find other teams to join. But the roaming band of terrible musicians made the rounds as usual and there were still crazy VR fans in all manner of wigs, yellow clothing and noise makers.

The wandering band in their circus outfits.

Then of course, the end of the year party. This year was better than last year, a bigger place, more people, and better music. Of course all the drinks were free, all night. I left at 6am. I had a good time.

Monday we went to watch testing. The Moto2 bikes sounded great. Simoncelli rode his 800 like a 250 and I thought he was going to pitch it in every corner. Kenny Noyes was there testing his Moto2 ride for next year, and disgruntled Honda employees had to work another two days even after they had been fired. When the new crew rolled the ne w bike out, still under wraps, the laid off crew said, go ahead, take all the photos you want, we don’t care. It’s understandable that after 6, 8, 10 years one would be embittered when the thank you they get is their last paycheck, ever.

Next year, I will be going to the Japan GP. I will tell you with whom later.