It was supposed to be different than this. The day offered so much promise.
The weekend started out right. On Saturday I was (arguably) the Best Man at my best friend’s wonderful wedding. The ceremony was short, meaningful, and emotional. The reception was simplistic, yet grand. I saw friends that I hadn’t seen for quite some time. It was a time filled with great celebration.
Sunday was a day that I look forward to every year: a singles ride to the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Trials meet held at the Grenogue estate in northern Delaware. We start out on a crisp autumn morning, our faceshields clouding with every breath, and ride from the Amish country of Lancaster, winding through the narrow single-lane roads of Chester County horse country. We choose the big thumpers for this ride because their small size is perfect for the narrow roads and lanes we travel. That and they make nice noises as they boom off the tall hedges and stone bridges. It is a day I anticipate for weeks prior, and it finally arrived.
I awoke at the crack of dawn Sunday morning and rolled over to perform my morning check of messages & news that my phone (nearly) faithfully produces. That is when I read the news: the Malaysian MotoGP was
red-flagged; Marco Simoncelli was gone.
It seemed unlikely. Malaysia is a relatively new facility built for high speed and offered plenty of safe runoff area in case riders were to go down. It is one of the safest venues to race at. There have been some big shunts there over the years and some pretty horrific weather conditions, yet everyone seems to emerge pretty much unharmed, if not victorious.
It seemed unfair. Marco “SuperSic” Simoncelli was too young to die. He was only 24 years old. Twenty-four. He had so much longer to live, so much more to show what he could do. When some in motorsports are killed in action, I have heard said the somewhat cold sentiment “Well, they had a long, successful career and died doing what they loved.” Perhaps a bit harsh, but true. That is how I felt about Dale Earnhardt, and—as painful as it was—Aryton Senna. They were true champions and had proven that fact numerous times. Simoncelli looked to be on track for several world championships with raw talent on par with the best. Tragically, we will never know what could have been.
It seemed impossible. Marco was known for his ability to almost always get himself out of the situations he had somehow gotten himself into. His bike control was among the best. At Indianapolis, I witnessed the #58 Honda push the front and catch it in time to push it a second time, all in Turn 11. On the sweepers he could slide the tail out with the best of them. He was smooth, yet supremely aggressive–many would say too aggressive–and that his carelessness would eventually catch up to him.
It seemed inevitable. I will admit that I didn’t appreciate his bravado during the first part of this MotoGP season. He was fast, yes, but also brash and a bit immature, in my eyes. He took risks that others weren’t willing to take by charging into the corners and putting his bike where it wasn’t expected to go. Normally, I applaud these maneuvers as they seem to be absent in so many forms of racing today. The issue I had with Simoncelli’s aggressiveness was that he often put his fellow riders’ safety in jeopardy in order to gain position. If he wasn’t passing, he was crashing—or causing others to crash. Marco’s infamous chop-block on Dani Pedrosa at Le Mans was the moment in particular that turned me against him. In my eyes it was just too risky, and Dani ended up paying the price for Marco’s aggression by missing half the season with a broken collarbone.
It seemed ironic that the Le Mans crash also seems to be the moment that also turned me in favor of Simoncelli. After the fallout in the paddock settled and the racing resumed in the weeks following the Pedrosa incident, I thought I perceived a change in Marco. It seemed as though he was beginning to mature, waiting a few more laps before making his moves. Those moves were usually aggressive, yet safer than what I had seen before. He wasn’t forcing the issue, but allowing his inherent speed advantage to do the talking. I was beginning to really enjoy watching him race. He was finally starting to control his talent.
A few weeks ago, a group of us gathered at our friend Ted’s home to watch Casey Stoner’s dominant performance at Philip Island. One of the most impressive displays of the day was Simoncelli’s big pass into second place on the last lap, over the factory Honda rider. I made the comment to those in the room (Ted’s two cats, Blue & SweetPea, included) “Simoncelli is the rider I really look forward to watching develop in the next two or three seasons. He’s exciting and fast. I think he could be one of the greats.” All present agreed. (Blue & SweetPea were silent, but this is typical)
It was with this memory of Marco Simoncelli on our minds and in our hearts that we headed out on the ride down to Delaware. My head was buzzing with the unknown as I strapped my helmet on. It’s tough to get back in the saddle after tragic news like this. I found myself easing up; backing off a bit more before entering a corner. I was tense, slow, and shaky. I didn’t trust the bike, the tires, or myself. I was an accident waiting to happen.
As our ride progressed, I began to relax a bit. The sun was shining beautifully and the narrow lanes were clean and clear. I realized that I was doing what I love most: riding through amazing countryside with some excellent riders on great machines. I thought of “SuperSic”, took a deep breath, and hung out the DR’s tail in his honor. It would be a super Sunday after all.