I used to lie to my body every day. I’d tell it that the next training session would be easier. I’d tell it that if we kept working hard that eventually the pain would go away. It didn’t though. Your body never forgets.
If I pushed by upper body too hard my shoulder would give way. A reminder of when a competitor in UK Vees took his foot off the brake and rolled across in front of me as we battled for the lead out of the last corner on the last lap. I pushed his driveshaft through his gearbox, tore the left front off my car and finished 2nd, on three wheels.
I dislocated my right shoulder and tore every muscle in my back. I didn’t realise my shoulder was dislocated until we were on the Ferry heading home. Putting it back in place in a cabin was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I remember the pictures of my car being at 90 degrees to the track. I have no memory of that moment, only driving up the straight with sparks everywhere, trying to hold off Jeremy Clark to the line. The 750 Motor Club said they wouldn’t charge me for the signature I left on Snetterton’s main straight.
If I pushed my legs too hard my knee would give way. A reminder of tearing a Formula Renault in half at Oulton Park. I dislocated my kneecap. I desperately scrambled to get the car back to the pits, wondering why I couldn’t get gears. When I pulled up to the garage the right hand side of the car looked perfect. The shocked look on my mechanics faces was the first indication I had that the left hand side of the car had been destroyed. The tub and the engine held together by the throttle cable and pipes.
I remember these things because I’m reminded of them every time I push my body too far. I’ve had to learn that sometimes the only thing that matters is that you committed to the training. That it doesn’t matter if today wasn’t your day. You still showed up. When I got frustrated my dad would tell me it could be worse. He’d remind me of Neil Shanahan. A stark reminder that we were the lucky ones. On Neil’s Anniversary I spoke to Leo, I’m sure we all spoke to people about Neil. I still remember how unreal it was finding out he had passed. He was the best of our generation.
That might sound strange coming from what should have been a driver looking to be the best in that era, but Neil was the best of our generation. I’d only started racing and he was, in my opinion, the best of the karters moving to cars at that time. He seemed destined to move abroad and be successful. He had the right people around him. He had the right attitude. Nothing phased him. While the rest of us went to PR classes and tried to learn, he already had compartmentalisation way beyond his years. At that age already he was the complete package.
I remember the arguments in our garage. The disagreements about going to the funeral or not. Some drivers didn’t want to be reminded of their mortality. They’d had their brush with death and didn’t want to face it again. Eventually we had to respect that decision and the reasons. So some of us went and some of us didn’t, but we all cared. We all were hurt at some level by the loss of Neil Shanahan, even if we showed it in different ways.
It’s only as I had to deal with not being able to push myself as much as I wanted that I saw the sense in a saying I often dismissed by other, longer serving, racers. It’s not just about winning. It’s about more than that. It’s about the relationships you develop. The friends you make. This is a community. A family. One built out of a mutual respect in the knowledge that you knowingly put yourselves at risk for a sport that you love.
This weekend we lost another fantastically talented rider. Luis Salom crashed at Turn 12 in FP2 at the Catalan GP. A high speed low side at a part of the track with no gravel run off. It was terrifying. At first it seemed like a normal slide but he just didn’t slow. To their credit Moto GP reacted immediately and made changes to Turns 10 & 12 for the remainder of the weekend.
I struggle to describe it. That feeling when a fellow racer passes away on a weekend when your competing. Nobody wants to be there. Things pale into insignificance. Nothing else matters. Moto GP continued with the blessing of Luis Salom’s family. Things had changed. When the flag dropped we witnessed a fierce battle. Lorenzo dropped away from the fight but Rossi V Marquez resumed. It was a titanic battle. No quarter was given and none was asked, but this was different. Their body language was different.
Moto GP is in the middle of a golden era of racing. One that was at risk of being consumed by a petty feud between the Rossi camp and Marquez/Lorenzo. A football-esque tribalism, developing in a sport where there is no place for it, was threatening to consume what should be a phenomenal spectacle.
Motorsport is about more than that. It is about more than just winning.
Motorsport is one community and one family. Motorbike racing even more so.
Because they know the risks. Because they choose to compete anyway.
It didn’t feel like that recently in MotoGP. The mutual respect had gone. The Catalan GP delivered a reminder, a shockwave, that there are more important things in Motorsport than winning or petty one-upmanship.
Marquez and Rossi gave us a spectacle. A masterclass in racing. Rossi reigned supreme, but the biggest cheer of the race was reserved for afterwards. As these fierce rivals shook hands and then told the media in the post race interviews that the spat was over.
More than just winning.