Watching Sunday's Superbike finals, seeing riders ride wheel-to-wheel, shoulder-to-shoulder through turns at well more than 100 miles per hour, watching them race down the straightaway at speeds more than 180 and looking completely relaxed, brought to mind a story a friend told me some years back.
He was a former motocross racer and loved motorcycles and thrived on speed. He bought the latest and fastest bike on the market and traveled to Europe to improve his skills and learn the art of road racing.
He signed up for the intermediate course, only later to find out there were two levels and he'd signed up for the higher of the two, which he also discovered included former racers.
The first day they showed him how to ride, how to lean, to pass and accelerate, all at low speeds and with an instructor close by.
On the second day he did a little low-speed racing, taking turns at moderate speeds and staying light on the throttle on the straights.
The third day he rode a little faster, and at this point he was feeling pretty confident.
The forth day involved all-out racing. There were six short races scheduled. There were three races in the morning, followed by lunch, then three races in the afternoon. He said at this point he felt good. He felt he'd ridden as well as any of his classmates.
Then, in the first race, going into the first turn, at speeds close to 100 mph, he realized he was in the wrong class. He was riding faster than he'd ever ridden, and there were his classmates riding just as fast and only inches away and thinking nothing of it. I can't remember how many laps he went, but he said when he climbed off the bike his hands were shaking and his heart was racing. Riding that fast, that close, was terrifying.
He skipped the second race to give himself a mental pep talk.
He felt good in the third. He stayed with the pack and rode well.
He skipped lunch and was feeling better about himself at this point.
The forth race was his worst. Speeds had picked up a little and riders were passing within inches on turns, and others rode within inches, mimicking his every move.
His nerves were shot at this point. His hands were shaking and he felt faint. He didn't ride in the final two races. He couldn't.
He called the experience one of the most exciting of his life and one of the most frightening. He was glad he did it but said he wouldn't do it again.
I watched the riders Sunday, as they sped down the straight at 180-plus and took corners tire-to-tire, shoulder-to-shoulder and looked as comfortable and relaxed as if they were sitting at home watching the race on TV.
Then I remembered the experience of the friend and, at that point, gained a lot more respect for what it was they were doing.
To ride at that level, a rider not only needs confidence in his ability but also that of the other riders. And he must be completely fearless.The problem is, at this level, they make it look so easy ... and it's not.
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