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Monday, September 15, 2008

A two-wheeled weekend

Racing WheelSure, the weather could have been better, but the activities leading up to yesterday’s inaugural Indy MotoGP went on as planned, with the exception of the 250cc class race which was cancelled due to the high winds that accompanied the former hurricane Ike on its way through the area.

Thousands of out-of-town visitors still had a great time and Indianapolis put on a great show, closing down streets in Broad Ripple and downtown for pre-race events, and making accommodations for motorcycle parking and storage for helmets and riding suits at hotels, restaurants and bars. In a brilliant stroke of schedule coordination, the venerable Indy Mile flattrack race returned to the Indiana State Fairgrounds after a nine-year absence the night before the Indy MotoGP became the first motorcycle race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 99 years.

Judging by the bikes, t-shirts and jackets seen at the Indy Mile, quite a few Europeans took the opportunity to acquaint themselves with this uniquely American form of motorcycle racing. Flattrack events are as raw and basic as motorcycle racing gets — riders on high-horsepower bikes with no brakes charge around a dirt track and hurl themselves around corners, skidding around the left-hand turns by throwing their handlebars to the right. It’s loud, fast and exciting, and it’s about the last bastion of racing where an independent operating out of his garage at home can compete with and beat factory teams.

In contrast, the MotoGP was more like a Formula One race, with high-tech sport bikes racing on a road course with 16 turns. Saturday’s qualifying races enjoyed sunny weather, but that wasn’t the case for the main event on Sunday. But fans had the opportunity to watch something you don’t get to see very often: Motorcycles sending up rooster tails as they ran at speeds in excess of 175 mph in the rain.

Wandering around the track waiting for the weather to moderate a little gave us the opportunity to survey the food and drink available. The vendor offerings were a lot like fair food — turkey legs, meat on a stick, Philly steak and boneless pork chop sandwiches and Italian sausages, all about $7. The best deal in the place turned out to be at the grill under the grandstands, where the very palatable breaded tenderloins were a reasonable $5. Add a Foster’s for another $6, and it’s lunch!

Next year the schedule for the Indy Mile and the Moto GP races has been moved up to the end of August. This will restore the Indy Mile to its former status as the grand finale of the Indiana State Fair and move the GP race into a week that may be better for attracting spectators than this year’s mid-September date. For as long as those two races are scheduled back to back, one thing seems clear: For one week every year, Indianapolis is going to be a motorcyclist’s Mecca.
Katzenfinch, 11:10 AM

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