I’ll never forget a couple of Eddie Lawson’s friends back home in Uplands California asking me over a beer what exactly Eddie did for a living. They knew it was something to do with racing motorcycles but nothing more. At the time Eddie was already three times World 500cc Champion and I was there to prepare the launch of his multimillion-pound switch to Honda in 1989. He was a sporting icon in Europe. Being so anonymous at home suited Eddie but it clearly illustrated just how tough it was to convince an American public what World Championship motorcycle racing was all about and at the time just what success, fame and fortune their countrymen had achieved on foreign shores. The return of Grand Prix racing to the States obviously helped, but it’s always been an uphill struggle.
Back in the sixties, Daytona hosted a couple of Grand Prix but the United States Grand Prix finally established itself at Laguna Seca in California and how we loved it. Who would not enjoy staying on the Monterrey peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean? Sometimes the fog would roll in to engulf the circuit in the hills some 15 kms inland but usually the sun never stopped shining and then there was the Corkscrew. The likes of Kenny Roberts had been telling us about the Corkscrew for many years in his own bombastic style. When we arrived there for the first time in 1988, I rushed up to the Corkscrew for the first practice session and I had to admit to Kenny, which was never easy, he was right. Surely one of the most iconic strips of tarmac in the history of Grand Prix racing which gained legendary status thanks to a certain battle between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner in 2008. I can still visualise them side by side on the brakes before plunging down the step and then off the edge of the World into the Corkscrew. Rossi was forced onto the outside and then onto the dirt and dust of the inside as they switched left to right coming out of the bottom, but he was still leading, with Stoner having to run wide to avoid a massive coming together.
Incredibly in that same year, suddenly, there were two Grands Prix in America when the most iconic motorsport battleground of them all – The Indianapolis International Speedway – staged its first motorcycle Grand Prix. In 1909 it was seven motorcycle races that opened the new circuit and although 99 years later the 4.216 kms Grand Prix track in the centre incorporating part of the famous oval was not that exciting, for me, just being there at ‘the Brickyard’ was enough. The biggest sports stadium in the World with a capacity of over 250,000 featuring the famous line of original bricks forming the start and finish line. I could smell the petrol and tyres and imagine the roar of the crowd above the announcer’s excited voice at the Indy 500 the first time I stepped into the vast empty arena.
I have made many gaffes during my commentary career but Indianapolis in 2008 was one my friends never let me forget. A hurricane was approaching fast, and the MotoGP™ race stopped after 20 laps and never re-started. That resulted in an enormous amount of talking about nothing by yours truly as the television audience was diminishing rapidly. Advertising hoardings were being tossed around in the threatening winds. It was an advertising banner being blown up pit lane that prompted me to announce there was a White Horse trotting up pit lane and rightly I’ve never been allowed to forget it.
It was not a white horse but the circuit dog that reminds me of the first time we went to the superb Circuit of the Americas at Austin in Texas in 2013. The first practice session had to be delayed because the circuit dog had escaped on the track but at least I got the correct animal this time. Would you believe there were three Grands Prix in America that year with Laguna Seca and Indianapolis on the calendar? Not only was the circuit the absolute test for riders and especially that massive climb to the first corner, but the town had the reputation as the finest live music venue in the World. Enough said, Austin was and still is a great place.
Austin is now the only circuit hosting Grand Prix motorcycle racing in America. It’s crucial the Circuit of the Americas continues staging MotoGP™ to keep that incredible heritage and American Dream alive.