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GP Week : Issue 200
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: At the designated gate reading Austin, Texas, Nicky Hayden sat on polyurethane bench inside the Los Angeles International Airport and waited for his flight to be called. If this were Spain or Italy or Japan – places that reverberate with their love for MotoGP – Hayden would be mobbed, beating back the advances of wild eyed fans shoving anything they had their hands on towards him, or at the very least, scrambling for position to have an iPhone ‘selfie’ snapped with the soft- spoken Kentucky Kid. Meanwhile, down in Austin, Texas, the owners and operators of the opulent, other worldly Circuit Of The Americas are fast at it. In the form of a cooperative, collaborative effort with DORNA, they were pounding the pavement and throwing anything they possibly could at the fine people of the Lone Star State to drum up interest and, if all went to masterplan, sell tickets (think Jake and Elwood Blues trying to get people to attend their gig at the Palace Hotel Ballroom). Ambitious as these folks were, however, they didn’t have an easy job in front of them. Even going back to 1978 when a brash Californian named Kenny Roberts escaped the bull-ring dirt tracks of California to win the 500cc World Championship, the United States of America has not taken to this sport called MotoGP. Even after riders such as Lawson, Rainey, Spencer, Kocinski globetrotted the world and brought FIM Gold Medals back home, the sport, decades later, remains an esoteric, acquired interest at best. Created to foster interest and – hopefully – create a centrifugal force of new fan interest for both MotoGP and F1 (another sport that struggles to find traction in this nation), COTA has done everything in its power to allow these said worlds to collide. Hell, they even got the X Games to recently pack up the big top and leave the spiritual heartland of Los Angeles to put stakes in the ground in Austin. Enter Californian Randy Mamola. A four-time 500cc World Championship runner-up who has done everything short of selling his soul to get more of his countrymen to take notice of his beloved sport, Mamola is still looking for clues: “Have you been down to 6th Street here in Austin?” asked Mamola, citing Austin’s world renowned live music and entertainment scene that teems with young folk. “I was down there last night to listen to some live music. There were a lot of young, fresh faces. I asked some of them, ‘What is MotoGP?’ They didn’t know, but in the same sentence, they’d say, ‘you know what’s coming here in June? The X Games!’ “They don’t have to ask what skateboarding is. They don’t ask what BMX does. They don’t have to ask what freestyle motocross is. They don’t have to ask about X Games because it’s on-air and it being pushed. Yes, the X Games are simple and MotoGP is a little bit more complicated because it is what it is. “When we talk about why MotoGP is so famous in Europe, it’s simple why it’s so famous in Europe: people ride scooters in Barcelona and Rome and places like that. People already have an understanding of what scooters and motorcycles are. These are the stepping stones we need to work on. We need to be able to educate these young people about the sport and show them how exotic and brilliant it really is.” When all was said and done and the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas was run, 118,918 fans had poured through the COTA turnstiles to watch the three-day MotoGP festival. That’s a big number, but when you consider just how sprawling and massive COTA is, the whole thing gave off a “hell is a half-filled auditorium” sort of vibe. Still, it was a very noble, proud effort and all who were involved are to certainly be applauded for it. But still, we still have some MotoGP ground to cover here in the USA. On Monday afternoon, Valentino Rossi strolled through the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Sure, all the Spanish and Italian-speaking fans waiting around in the place for a flight out went berserk when they saw the man, but then again, the dude running the baggage screening machine had no clue: “Who are you and what do you do?” asked Joe Security upon opening one of Rossi’s gearbags to find colroful gloves and boots. “I’m a guy who races motorcycles,” answered a bemused Val. “Are you any good at it?” he asked. “I have my good days and my bad days,” said Rossi. Then came a throng of Italian race fans who had caught sight of their “in our time” legend. As can be expected, all hell broke loose as the security man asked Valentino to “please keep the line moving for ward, sir.” LOOKING FOR cLUES AT cOTA OPINION OPINION Stateside ERIC JOHNSON