From the Blog

The best-ever dummy spit

photo courtesy of visordown

In these days of live coverage of motorcycle racing, with multiple cameras, a million angles and super-slow slo-mo replays, it’s rare for us to miss any of the action (unless the TV channel has switched to an ad break just before the critical action happens, which they often do.)

So I find it highly amusing when riders, for whatever reason, take their hand of the handlebars and make all sorts of gestures to other riders while the racing is happening. I mean the other riders are so focussed on what THEY are doing, they probably don’t even SEE it most of the time, but some riders seem to be making a specialty of it lately. I note that this especially seems to be happening in Moto3 with riders gesticulating long and hard to another rider for reasons that are mostly not apparent and I find it highly entertaining.

Fact is that, taking your mind off the job in hand to try and remonstrate with another rider for some perceived wrong is pretty much a waste of time. I’ve rarely seen any incident on track where the protagonists didn’t have exactly opposite interpretations of an incident, so the riders who is supposedly in the wrong is hardly likely to fess up and redress the balance somehow anyway.

Still, spitting the dummy is becoming common practice and it usually works in exactly the opposite way than the way the spitter wanted it to. I find the whole practice childish and, far from eliciting sympathy for the aggrieved rider, I usually find that it demeans him and makes him look foolish. I suspect that this is why the term “spitting the dummy” came about in the first place.

However, this week I want to hark back to an incident of spitting the dummy that was most effective and which brought a great reward to the rider concerned. First a little background.

For the majority of the life of the World Superbike Championship, the control over the series has lain in the hands of various Italian organisations. The dominance of Ducati over the years can be seen as ample evidence that this is so for, regardless of the numerous protestations to the contrary, the facts are that the Italian owners of the championship have always framed the technical regulations of the championship to blatantly favour Ducati. For a considerable period there was even the utter nonsense of Ducati being able to run a 1000cc V twin while the Japanese manufacturers were restricted to running 750cc engines. The claims of “parity” are shown to be false by the total domination of Ducati throughout this period. From 1991, Ducati won 8 of the WSBK titles with Honda winning two and Kawasaki one.

Anyway, Honda, at least, decided that, if they couldn’t beat them, they would join them and built the SP1 version of their road-going VTR1000 as a race bike, a V twin, like the Ducati. It debuted in 2000 and, in that year, with Colin Edwards in the saddle, lifted the championship from the hands of Ducati. Ducati hit back to take the title in 2001 but there was still plenty of life in the Honda and the 2002 season began with Edwards on the Honda squaring-off against Australia’s Troy Bayliss on the Ducati.

Both factories had been busy during the off-season and the early races showed that Ducati hadn’t wasted the northern winter. Bayliss won the first three rounds, (six races) at Valencia, Phillip Island and Kyalami. The Japanese round at the trick Sugo circuit saw Honda make an extra effort (as they always do at their home rounds) and the two races were won by Edwards and Makoto Tamada.

For the next five rounds (10 races) it was all Bayliss. Only Edwards’s win in Race 1 at Silverstone raised any hope for the Japanese manufacturer. Bayliss won at Monza, Silverstone, (1 race), Lausitzring, and Misano and won Race 1 at Laguna Seca and it was looking like another title for the Aussie. Edwards salvaged some pride on home soil by winning Race 2 at Laguna but it was looking grim for Honda.

And this is where the dummy spit comes in. Most Japanese teams are notoriously secretive when it comes to internal politics, so we don’t know what exactly was said and by whom. But it was widely reported in the media at the time that Colin Edwards met with Honda team management and issued the ultimatum that, if they wanted him to win the championship, they’d better do something about giving him a more competitive bike – or else (we don’t know if there was an “or else” but the point was made)

Whatever was or wasn’t said at that meeting, something DID change. Including his Race 2 win at Laguna Seca, Edwards won the next 9 races (four rounds at Brands Hatch, Oschersleben, Assen and the season finale at Imola. Edwards 9, Bayliss 0. It was a total turn-around in Honda’s fortunes and the championship concluded at the now legendary “Showdown at Imola”.

Back in the day when free-to-air TV channels broadcast the bike races, I well remember being glued to the TV as the knock-down, drag-out brawl for the championship unfolded that night. Fans still talk in awed tones of the two races that day and well they should. The two title rivals arrived at Imola separated by just one point. Bayliss had won 14 of the first 17 races and Edwards was sitting on seven in a row. With his placings points included, Edwards was just ONE point in front of Bayliss despite winning fewer races. Bayliss had to win at least one of the races and hope that Edwards had at least one bad race.

Edwards started on pole and the lead changed a number of times in the early going before Edwards snatched the lead and began working on building a buffer. All was going well for the Honda man but the race was red-flagged for a crash by Neil Hodgson. At the time, Edwards was nearly ¾ of a second in front of Bayliss so he knew that, even if Bayliss won the second part of the race, all he had to do was stick with him and he would win the race overall on time.

At the resumption, the battle between the two was just as intense, but Edwards had that valuable 0.7 sec lead in mind and, while Bayliss crossed the line first, Edwards had done more than enough to ensure he stood on the top step of the podium. Advantage Edwards by 6 points going into the final race.

I watched the races with split loyalties. As a dedicated Honda man who hated how the Ducati had won all of those titles by effectively cheating the system, I desperately wanted Edwards to win. BUT, the Ducati was being ridden by an Aussie and, given a choice between an Aussie and a Yank, it was no contest. I probably should have thought that either result would do me, but I WAS rooting for the Honda man, I must admit.

Race 2 was even more of a cracker than Race 1 had been. Bayliss HAD to win and he had to rely on a collection of Ducati riders to gang up on Edwards and push him down in the placings. Bayliss bounced to the lead with the rest in pursuit but Edwards soon passed him. Xaus was Bayliss’s only hope as the rest of the field faded but he was having trouble staying with the leading pair.

Back in front, Troy tried slowing the pace several times hoping that Xaus would be able to distract Edwards, but the clutch on Xaus’s Ducati was failing and he was doing astonishing things just hanging on to P3. The lead swapped several times more with neither rider being able to establish a winning break. Coming into the final lap, Edwards was in the lead and that lead changed FOUR times in that last lap before a minor slip by Bayliss gave Edwards the winning gap. Xaus crossed in third with a shot clutch, surely one of Reuben’s greatest rides ever, but the race, the day and the title belonged to the Texan having won the final 9 races of the season.

Standing up in my lounge room, screaming at the TV set that night, I knew that I had seen one of the all-time best Superbike races I had ever seen.

What did Edwards say to Honda team execs in that meeting? We will probably never know, but I am pretty sure that it was liberally sprinkled with the earthy language for which he is well known. Whatever he did or didn’t say, it certainly worked. As dummy spits go, it ranks right up there with the best of them.