|Ricky and Jeremy share a laugh|
You’re already past that time of reckoning, weightless and coming down, approaching impact, wondering how lucky you’ll be, whether you’ll escape this bad time coming, and walk away from it. You’re past that black moment when all of your inertia stops dead against the ground. This is about the pain that comes afterward. This is what happens after your bike is pulled from your tangled body, and pushed off the track by someone you don’t know.
This is the time your luck doesn’t hold. There are two ways you can go now, two kinds of pain. The kind that takes a while to set in, and the kind that hits you so hard, it knocks the thought right out of your head.
With the first kind, you can feel yourself shutting down. That’s how you know it’s bad. Half of your body has gone completely relaxed. The moment is fast becoming the most important thing that has ever happened to you, and you want it to be of your own volition, to be somehow under your control, but it isn’t. It confuses you. So you don’t realize it at first, the pain as it begins to take hold.
It comes on dulled at first, a faint sort of itch, increasingly hot, each twinge of irritation gradually focusing into moments of noticeable alarm, collecting and overlapping until everything is one steady, throbbing emergency, radiating out of your body, and into the very air around it.
It’s when your body starts to go cold that the fear sets in. Your body is swelling, cutting off its own blood flow, cells bursting from the toxins of other burst cells, a chain-reaction of self-destruction.
But you’re not aware of that. All you know is that the good half of your body wants to tear itself from the vile, sick, broken half. You’re no longer at one with your thoughts, with the family of your body’s sensations, the way you manage what it’s telling you, the way it told you how to keep the bike in just the right position for each track condition. Something went wrong and now the ground is the only thing you can count on, the last shred of yourself the way you were before.
The way you were before. The way you are now. The difference between the two. That’s where the panic leaps out at you from. It doesn’t come from the fear. It comes from your own inability to recognize yourself. It makes you want to get up, to stand, to run far away from this place. But don’t do it. Because the moment you disturb that rest your body has put itself in, you’re lost in fire.
Welcome to the second kind of pain. Bright colors that stab through blackness as your eyes clench and roll back into your head. Your own weight has become your worst enemy. The injury isn’t your enemy. You don’t want it to be. You want to make friends with it. It doesn’t make any sense. You don’t care about that. Not now.
There’s no more room for thinking now, for things to make sense or not, only for things as they are, and they’re too much for one man to handle. You need someone else. Someone who understands. Someone you can trust, who you can say help me to, someone who can pull you through with one strong grip.
Time has become, simply, one dividing moment. Everything that was before, completely and utterly unimportant, and everything as it is now, so convincing and powerful, it’s difficult to imagine it ever ending. You want to crawl away from it. You want to leave it somehow, lying in the dirt where it has grabbed hold of you, tight in it’s cold, razor-sharp teeth.
The cold that has you is dragging you down and the longer you hold still, the more in danger you are of disappearing altogether. You need a reference point. Something to base yourself on. All there is is the ground. You realize just how dear it is to you.
Kevin Windham is down, his lower body, perfectly still where he has come to a stop. Roger DeCoster is running from the other side of the stadium. Lying flat on his back, Kevin is unbuckling his helmet and pulling it off, pushing it past his ears by the rubber-lining along the bottom and letting it tumble in a line away from the top of his head. It’s the last lap in the second practice and his right femur is broken in two. The trackside doctor is already with him. Roger arrives and bends over Kevin. The sound of motorcycles has died away. All the riders have pulled off. There’s just the steady murmur of the crowd and Kevin’s sudden cries rising up above it. When he screams, he isn’t using words. They’re raw emotion.
Just off to the side of the track, along the wall where the seating begins, the chairs are all empty. The crowd is on its feet, watching in silence.
Roger is hunched over Kevin’s legs, his yellow Suzuki fleece stretching tight across his shoulders. He’s trying to remove Kevin’s boot. His shoulders twist and his arms move as he pulls. Kevin’s arms shoot out, pushing on the shoulders and arms of the paramedics who are trying to hold him still. Roger’s body stops. Then, slowly and with small movements he starts to work again, until Kevin yells out with such force, his voice cracks and breaks apart.
Tonight, in front of nearly seventy-thousand fans, Round Eight of the EA Sports Supercross Series will spin a tale of emotional extremes.
It’s the second-highest attended event in the history of the sport. Even before the official program begins at seven, the Georgia Dome is full all the way to the top. And when seventy-thousand people cheer, the roar is deafening.
Ricky Carmichael will give them plenty to cheer about. After holeshotting and pulling steadily away from Bud Light Yamaha’s Jeremy McGrath and SoBe Suzuki’s Travis Pastrana in their heat, Ricky sounds confident. He says “I haven’t been getting very good starts lately, but tonight I feel good.” He doesn’t predict a holeshot in the main, but that’s exactly what he does. And once he starts out front, not even Travis Pastrana can catch him.
Ricky rides revving his Honda through the corners like it’s an outdoor track. The pitch of his motor sounds more like a 125 than a 250. The corners come and go and he attacks every one of them with the same urgency. Like there was someone right on his rear fender, threatening his lead.
But there is no one. Not tonight. Travis is riding with the flu, and will pull off the track in the opening laps while running second. He’s too sick to continue, and hands the position to David Vuillemin, where he will ride uncontested to the finish. But rider Number Twelve won’t challenge Number Four. Tonight Ricky is in a class all his own.
|Chad Reed – perfection so far|
Rider Number One-Hundred-and-Three, Boost Mobile/Yamaha of Troy’s Chad Reed will ride in the same fashion. A cut above the rest. Not even a mid-pack start to Simple Green/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Mike Brown’s near-holeshot can keep him out of the winner’s circle. As Mike applies the pressure to Moto Triple X’s Kelly Smith, Chad begins cutting through traffic. By the time Mike wrestles the lead from Kelly, Chad is pressuring Red Bull KTM’s Steve Boniface for third. Mike builds a safe margin over Kelly, but he doesn’t pull away, and plays into Chad’s hands. When he makes his way past Steve and Kelly, he’s close enough to read the lettering on Mike’s goggle strap.
Mike Brown will have to settle for second-place for the second time in three tries. Like Ricky in the 250 class, Chad is riding so strong and smooth, he has to be considered the favorite for the demanding conditions of the next stop in the series: Daytona. Each of them is so dominant in fact, in Atlanta, much of the excitement comes from the battles between other racers.
The 250 class has been heavily hit by injuries. Steve Lamson, Mike Craig, Tim Ferry, Nathan Ramsey, Mike LaRocco, Kevin Windham are all recovering, and Sebastian Tortelli and Ernesto Fonseca have missed earlier rounds to injuries. Travis and David have suffered knee injuries, but ridden through them. Ricky has missed one round to a serious crash, and ridden through the aftermath of a concussion, and a broken hand. The competition is so fierce, and the racing so close, the riders are forcing each other into making mistakes, and at times, even forcing each other right off the track.
The reality of injury is something that all riders have to accept. It gives meaning to the feats of courage they perform; something separate from the impressive quality of their skills.
But like Mike LaRocco the week before, the idea of injury and a ruined championship attempt at the hands of another rider doesn’t sit well with David Vuillemin. It’s what pushes him over the edge in Atlanta.
It’s early in the night and David has just pulled the holeshot in his qualifier. Almost immediately, he’s passed by Chevy Trucks Kawasaki’s Stephane Roncada, and soon after, Stephane’s teammate, Ezra Lusk. But rather than fall back, David regroups, and when Ezra blitzes by Stephane in a long rhythm section a lap later, David sees his chance to retake second.
The battle that follows is like others that have already played out earlier in the season. David is trying to get by Stephane and Stephane is fighting to keep his position. Then they’re heading toward one of the track’s many high-banked berms that will send them back the other way. David is setting up high and wide, coming in faster than Stephane, while Stephane drives up the middle of the berm in a defensive block, squaring it off at the top, and cutting an arc down along the top, not far from the tuff blocks. But as Stephane pivots his Kawasaki in front of David’s bike, David is squaring off his corner even earlier, and is cutting underneath Stephane in a low but rising arc.
|Vuillemin chasing Roncada|
When David touches the middle of Stephane’s bike with his front wheel, it’s all that’s needed to knock Rider Number Tweny-One off-balance, into the tuff blocks, and off of the track. As Stephane gets up, he looks for David and points his finger at him before he picks up his KX250. He’s still in a qualifying position as he re-enters the race, in fourth-place.
David is standing next to his bike off to the side of the track when Stephane leaps across the finish line, steers toward his Yamaha, and runs his into his back wheel. Whether David’s bike is knocked from his hands or he throws it down to reach for Stephane is unclear, but what follows can only be interpreted in one way. David has lost his temper, and it’s hotter than Stephane’s. By the time they can be separated, David has incurred a two thousand dollar fine by the AMA.
It turns out to be a tough main-event for Team Kawasaki. After winning his qualifier, Ezra gates third, and is running behind Travis and Ricky. He’s closing in on the finish line, holding his KX wide-open down the smooth straight that crosses the starting line, and setting up for the sweeping left-hander that leads up the finish-line jump. He’s mid-way through the corner, right in front of the mechanics’ area when Ernesto Fonseca slams into him from the inside. Did he come in too hard and lock up his front wheel at the last second, washing his front end out in the flat corner? Maybe. But Ezra, for the third time this year, has been taken out of the running in the main event.
He’s pretty mad about that. So when Ernesto scrambles to pick up his Honda, Ezra heaves it back down on the ground. By the time they re-enter the race, they’re running in last and second-to last. They start cutting through traffic.
Out front, Jeremy McGrath, has taken over third place behind David, and Stephane is locked in battle with Sebastian Tortelli that will last the whole race.
It will take Ezra seven laps to break into the top ten. And he’ll do it without his front brake, perhaps his most important tool on his bike, snapped off in the red clay of the Georgia Dome on lap one.
It’s reminiscent of Grant Langston’s plight two weeks ago, where he lost his clutch lever on the first lap and it cost him the race. Atlanta isn’t much kinder to him. He’ll go down in the first corner, and with a hand from his mechanic, pick it up and begin his charge.
His ride is inspiring. While Chad moves to the front, Grant moves toward the top five. He clinches fifth with five laps to go. Can he push all the way to second? No. Grant will go down again, in a frightening, high-speed crash over one of the track’s big rhythm sections, his feet lifting up over his head as he flips through the air, down toward the ground. Fortunately, Grant is alright. He’ll finish sixteenth, but his frustration can be seen.
After the race, all he can do is tilt his helmet-visor down in his arms, draped across his handlebars, and suffer through his emotions. Behind him, Chad climbs the aluminum ramp to the victory podium, smiling.
There are better races ahead for Grant.