What is the lasting memory I will take with me from this trip to the World Superbike race at Imola in September 2001? There are so many:
Paul Smart riding his 1972 Imola 200 winning Ducati racer. Still lean and taut, Smart never stopped smiling all weekend, signing autographs for fans and posing for photos with his steed from days gone by. Sure, the modern Ducati company has shown the ability to turn almost anything into a marketing application, but who else employs old racers, celebrates old races and mixes current model Superbikes with aesthetics from days gone by? No one but Yamaha US, who bring the riders from the past to Daytona each year. As Wes Cooley, Dick Mann, Gary Nixon, Dave Aldana and other greats fade into racing obscurity, the other OEMs have no use for them. Sad.
Colin Edwards draping an American flag over the windscreen of his Honda before race two. 'Nuff said.
Race one winner Rueben Xaus climbing the wire fence in front of the main grandstands and waving to his adoring crowd before race two. After the screams, he stomped back to his bike on the grid, not even pausing as he wiped his dirty from the fence hands on the shirt of a rival team mechanic.
He makes a 996 look small, his riding style exudes aggressiveness, he speaks five languages, and he seems to be having a really good time. Rueben Xaus is a name no one who has seen him ride will ever forget.
The full-on multi-participant fist fight in the paddock last night between two Supersport teams. Somebody decided somebody else knocked them down intentionally in the race, costing them the championship. The knocking down rider wasn't available to have his ass kicked, so the formerly prone rider slapped his girlfriend instead, was then attacked by the team manager, and then later a full on mechanic versus mechanic battle cleared two garages. Soon came the police. Welcome to European Supersport racing. In Italy.
Regis Laconi placing a small US flag staff into the visor of his helmet during the SuperPole press conference. Class act.
The statue of Ayrton Senna in a park next to the section of Imola where the F-1 driver (and Ducati enthusiast) was killed in 1994. Still today,fans place fresh flowers at the base of the statue every day.
Troy Corser's come from nowhere SuperPole lap. 2001 has been Corser's most bizarre season yet, and just the moment you think the former world champion has lost his will to win and ride hard, he hits the set-up exactly right and goes faster in SuperPole than he had all weekend, and faster than anyone in SuperPole. Not done yet.
The moment in the press room when, after the FIM release came out, that everyone reading it said "Treaded tires?!" almost simultaneously.
Regis Laconi's second race win, showing that a near perfect riding style, so smooth that tapes of him riding should be studied by racing students, will overcome wild aggression if applied correctly.
All those are fantastic memories, but the one I think will stick with me long term is Troy Bayliss' race one performance. Think about it: the guy had already won the world title, he was two hours away from a sun and fun filled off-season. The big championship bonus will soon be transferred to his bank account, making him a very rich man.
There was every reason to simply cruise to a distant third place, hit the plane and start living the good life, as champion he could have held his head high no matter the last race finish.
Instead, Bayliss rode so hard it looked like he thought he was going to possibly die if he didn't win. Trail-braking, dirt-tracking, out-braking and drafting, Bayliss showed absolutely no fear, trading moves with Laconi and Xaus. He was hammering the gas on wet paint and even the trackside grass to stay with or in front of them. Spinning 185 horsepower on damp paint brought him down and broke his collarbone.
Desire to win like that doesn't come from a paycheck, doesn't come from a motivational chat from your team manager before the race, doesn't come from an effort to beat back the demons of insecurity. It comes from the heart, and showed Bayliss has a great deal of heart. That's what I'll remember.
Oh, and by the way, after I chatted with him Saturday in the garage, nice guy Bayliss asked me to "Tell everybody back in the US hello from me".
I thought at the time he just meant his old Vance and Hines team, but upon further reflection, I honestly think he meant for me to tell everybody and anybody who knows him, has seen or might have heard of him, hello from Troy Bayliss.
Consider yourself told.