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It Really Happened
by dean adams
Sunday, August 30, 2009

After Roberts took his hot laps on the Indy Mile Yamaha, Rossi decided he'd rather watch.
image by brian j nelson
"A magical night" is how last evening at the Indy Mile could best be described. So much of it was perfect that the night was more like a movie you were somehow transported into than a moment from the real and true world.

Mile dirt track racing transcends cool if done right, 120 mph racing on dirt with men and boys with their tin feet scraping on the ground. A Mile dirt track race at Indy—one of the most legendary dirt circuits in America—ups the intensity and cinematic level yet again. A Mile dirt track at Indy is worth whatever they want for admission at the gate.

Then add in Kenny Roberts.

In the middle of the paddock, Roberts and his usual clan of friends, cronies and hangers on sat at the end of a newer box van. There were, literally, forty or fifty people crowded around KR and THAT BIKE, all standing more or less in the dark, a single afterthought of a bulb lit the scene. Roberts was in the center, holding his own in seemingly a dozen simultaneous conversations at once.

After the heat races, then it was time to ride. Roberts had been training of late, lost some weight, but his ego and omnipresent confidence haven't ebbed a tenth since 1983. He was ready.

What transpired next was otherworldly. Roberts pulled on his leathers, and his crew pushed the bike to the trackside. Roberts' one-time dirt track rival, Mike Kidd, now in charge of DMG dirt track, waved his hand in the air, the crowd cleared and Roberts was pushed off. The bike crackled to life, Roberts throttling it, paddling a few feet forward. Then he was off, throttling the TZ engine as he entered the track.

What transpired next was otherworldly. Roberts pulled on his leathers, and his crew pushed the bike to the trackside. Roberts' one-time dirt track rival, Mike Kidd, now in charge of DMG dirt track, waved his hand in the air, the crowd cleared and Roberts was pushed off. The bike crackled to life, Roberts throttling it, paddling a few feet forward. Then he was off, throttling the TZ engine as he entered the track.
The capacity crowd in the bleachers went bananas. It was an amazing thing to see—how many of these people were even alive when Roberts won his legendary race in 1975? Young, old, riders, fans, they all stood up and screamed as Roberts was introduced and then went out to make some laps.

Sort of like in 1975, Roberts wasn't in the mood for any grab ass, wheelies or waving to the crowd. He stood on it and accelerated hard into turn one, the TZ sounding healthy, if not a little soft. No matter, Roberts wailed the bike into turn one, put it into the soft outer section of the track and gave it the flick.

Simultaneously, thousands of learned eyes bulged and hearts momentarily stopped for a nanosecond—oh sh*t, he's done it now, that bike is going to flick him and hurt him. But, of course, Roberts jacked his body to one side, put his foot down and gassed it, the bike went beautifully sideways and he was in control of it all.

"That alone was worth the flight over the Atlantic," said one European scribe.

Starting cold, Roberts saw no reason to not to go faster. He shrieked down the straights and flicked it even harder and more beautifully than the first time.

Afterwards, he stopped and the crowd screamed, gave him multiple standing ovations. It was an amazing thing, a heart-warming sight, to see people not born when Roberts won the Indy Mile in 1975, Harley guys, and ten year old kids, all in the stands, all on their feet and all screaming in appreciation of King Kenny Roberts.

Valentino was there, of course, and he had been mulling all night whether he too would do a lap on the TZ. While the public word was he was just going to ride a 450 and wave to the crowd, just before Roberts went out, Rossi had decided, screw it, I'll ride it. What the hell, I have 50 points.

Afterwards, Rossi was one of the first people to meet Roberts after he stopped. He congratulated him and stood there like the rest of us, amused and not quite believing this just happened.

As the moment throttled back to normalcy, someone in Rossi's entourage said, 'Okay, Vale (pronounced "Valley"), time to get in the leathers'. Rossi was supposed to ride something, supposedly it's in his contract.

"No," he said. "This night is for Kenny Roberts. I'm not riding."

ENDS

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