Ski Story #13
Ski's "Death Before Dishonor" approach to racing ...
by Dean Adams
Tuesday, November 21, 2023
For the entire time I knew him, Ski's body was in a state of repair
Dave Sadowski sacrificed his body for racing success. By the time he was a semi-fast 250 rider he'd already had numerous giant crashes which did serious damage to his body. After one big get-off on a 600 he came to the grid not being able to feel his feet. He actually asked his then mechanic, as they sat on the Armco barrier by the grid, if his feet were on the ground because when he sat, post-crash, he'd lost all feeling in his feet. They still worked, he just could not feel them from time to time.
When he moved into Supersport and Superbike racing, Ski's "Death Before Dishonor" approach to racing remained the same as it had in 250s; it's just that he was no longer crashing and throwing around a tiny, light-ish, Grand Prix bike. He was now trying to will GSX-R750 and 1100-sized bikes, not lightweight bikes at all, to do his bidding. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.
Ski's back was a constant problem, one that only became worse with time. Where his back problems originated is truly the stuff of paddock legend. Only it's true. Unfortunately, painfully, true.
On the warm-up lap for a now long forgotten Superbike race at Road America—see, "Ski at Elkhart" could be a book—the battery in Ski's GSX-R750 died or came un-grounded on the warm up lap. Dave had qualified on
pole and was in full flame-on motivation to win so when the corner workers pushed his bike behind a fence and locked the gate Dave elevated his mood to the temp of an out of control nuclear reactor. The warm-up lap at Road America is a long one so Ski still had a few minutes to fix his bike. After he did so, he asked the corner workers to let him back on the track so he could make the grid.
I've long said you'll never make an American happier than the day that you give them a whistle and the ability to say no; and that's just what the corner workers told Dave
I've long said you'll never make an American happier than the day that you give them a whistle and the ability to say no; and that's just what the corner workers told Dave — no. In their defense, rules are rules and procedure is procedure.
Frustrated, angry and full of Sadowski-level (volcanic) angst, plus adrenaline, Ski looked around and saw that what was preventing him from being in the race was just a chest-high fence made of wire and wood. And all that needed to happen was for his Superbike to be on the other side of said fence.
Ski possessed remarkable strength and an unwavering determination to outdo machines. I vividly recall an amusing incident when, one morning, we found ourselves at a hotel gym. Rather than hitting the track right away, we ended up indulging in donuts and coffee while Ski confronted an elliptical trainer he believed could defeat him. He bellowed in defiance, hammering away at the trainer, which was set to its most challenging level, resolute in his refusal to let it claim victory. As Ski battled the machine, a group of curious children en route to the hotel pool stopped to watch in wonder, perceiving the showdown through the unfiltered honesty of youthful eyes.
Undoubtedly, they must have thought they were witnessing a fiery redhead engaging in an unusual skirmish with a piece of exercise equipment—because, let's be honest, that's precisely what they were witnessing.
For those of us familiar with Ski, there was no cause for alarm. We understood that explaining to Ski that the elliptical trainer was merely an inanimate exercise machine and not an adversary who had sworn a blood oath against his family would be a futile endeavor. He was determined to 'beat' it, and reasoning with Dave on this matter was like speaking into the wind. Before long, one of the machine's arms gave in, finally succumbing to Ski's relentless assault. With the machine now subdued, we could finally make our way to the racetrack. It was just another typical morning with Ski.
Back to Elkhart. Dave faced the daunting task of lifting a 400-pound Superbike over a fence. He initially managed to hoist it halfway by leveraging the front end and tossing it over. As he attempted to lift the back, some fans offered to help, but Ski stepped in and, with mostly solo effort, heaved the bike over the fence. I can't recall if Ski made the race start that day because what sticks in my memory most vividly is the toll this incident took on Ski's back. It turned out that lifting the bike at Elkhart had caused him to crush three discs and inflict significant damage to his spine.
Ski's back troubles became a constant presence in his life from then on. Dave's initial remedy was a chiropractor. After just a few twenty-minute sessions, Dave felt a significant improvement. He had somehow extracted enough information from the chiropractor to consider himself a quasi-chiropractor, confident enough to address his own back issues and those of numerous others in the racing paddock. And so he did.
When self-chiro treatment stopped helping Dave finally saw a surgeon. The surgeon almost had his breath taken away when he viewed the first x-ray of Ski's back—he said he had seen patients who had survived their parachute not opening who had suffered less damage to their back than Ski had done to his by just being Ski. The surgeon opened up Dave's back and did an extensive repair, removing discs and fusing Dave's lower back. He also asked Dave when he had broken his neck—Ski said he recalled hurting his neck in a crash on a 500 Interceptor at Laguna Seca once, and being incapacitated for a few days because of it. Incapacitated in this case meant Ski laid down in the back of the van leaving the track and he could not get back up for days.
The van stopped at a party on the way home and people brought Ski beers as he lay in the van. This time no amount of beer would allow him to get up. This is the period when alcohol stopped working as a pain reliever.
The surgeon recommended that Dave's racing days were best put behind him. However, the only limiting factor Ski saw in his new "fixed" back was that it made it difficult to get into a full race tuck behind the windscreen.
He rode for Yoshimura Suzuki that year in Superbike.
It wasn't a great year; by the end of the season Yoshimura had their fill of Dave and Dave also had his fill of Yoshimura. The next season Dave was walking by the Yosh truck and noticed his old mechanic from the season prior looking at the new Yosh Superbike in puzzlement. Dave talked to him for a moment about the bike, then pumped the forks up and down. "It's too harsh," he said, walking away.
Incredibly because he had "let" Ski touch one of their bikes, the mechanic was fired on the spot.
Like I said, Yosh had their fill of Ski.
But it was a good rehab year for Ski.
— ends —