You can measure a racer by the number of wins he accumulates. But can you measure a man by how he deals with them?
There were many heartening things about Jack Miller’s Assen victory weeks ago. It was a win for an underdog, a reversal of recently unkind fortune and a welcome change to the established order of things.
At least as great as any of these were the young fella’s own reaction and celebrations. They ranged from emotional humility directly after the race to ebullient outpourings of unruliness some time later, marked by strong drink and strong language and enlivened (as I shall probably never tire of mentioning) by draining a bottle of Mezcal, and then eating the pickled worm from the bottom.
Proper old-school. Just like a real motorbike racer. And just like a real person.
You will not see anything like this when Márquez wins. Or Lorenzo. Or Pedrosa.
Rossi does make his happiness a little more obvious, but if anything unruly happens it is behind the closed doors and blacked-out windows of his enormous motorhome, which can from time to time be seen to be throbbing and emitting loud thumping noises late into the night.
This may be less the result of their respective characters than the influence of their media management teams. Along with the requisite youthful days and weeks spent dragging round and round dirt tracks to polish riding skills and racecraft, a modern racing star is also schooled in PR skills. Seemingly by people who think blandness is the key to popular success.
Win a race? Then thank your sponsors, pay tribute to your team, perhaps mention the support of your family … and then shut up.
Of course, having a vibrant and attractive personality is not in any way important for success in motorcycle racing. Or even a quietly attractive personality. There are many precedents that prove this rule, including some with deeply unattractive personalities.
But it doesn’t mean that all personality should be concealed, subsumed beneath a veneer of cheap multi-purpose polish.
In the long years I have been involved in racing, there is one obvious and shining example of a rider who understood this better than anybody. I shall probably be reviled for saying this, but Barry Sheene was not, overall, a very nice or kindly sort of man. He was brutally beastly to his teammates and ruthless to his rivals, and trampled rough-shod over womankind. It can be summed up by saying that he didn’t so much like to win, but that he liked to see the other fellow lose.
But Barry was the consummate public performer, a great wit, master of the sound bite … and even able to find amusing ways of thanking his sponsors without sounding like a creepy automaton.
And he knew how to celebrate in a sharing kind of way.
So too many of his successors. Getting pissed in public is one measure of it, and I have seen Roberts (Senior), Schwantz, Rainey, Doohan and, in his early years, Rossi, perform this important duty.
And, to be fair, a tiny and very youthful Dani Pedrosa, downing a glass of red wine almost larger than himself in a restaurant in Brazil, after winning the 125 title in 2003, with a hysterical Rossi egging him on. I think Dani fell over directly afterwards, but he was so small at that time it was hard to tell.
I am waiting, as I write this, to see who will win the German GP. And hoping it will be Jack again, just for the fun of it. If not him, then Crutchlow, another old-school racer. Maybe one of the Espargarós.
Or that if it is one of the usual gang, that he will for once forget the lessons of a lifetime, and let it all hang out just for once.
By MICHAEL SCOTT