Back in 1997, our old, greedy and cynical GP reporter indulges in his final column, which began in 1985.
“That Michael Scott has become terribly cynical. He’s only in it for the money.” The character reference came to me last winter, via a mutual friend, issued as a general update by the most noble of my colleagues. In it for the money? I admit it. It’s why I work. I will get paid for this column, for example. And there you were, thinking it was just a hobby.
Become cynical? My mother used to say that to me when I was 12 years old. Have I perish the thought, become even more cynical than I was then?
I think not. Looking back at the first Pitlane columns I did for Bike back in 1985 – a spatter-gun collection of cheap laughs at the expense of GP superstars, self-important hangers-on, and the new generation of business sharks then moving in – suggests that I’ve mellowed in the decade-plus since.
There’s a reason for this self-indulgence. This the last Pitlane. New Editor Trashes Old Column Shock. And not (to take a cynic’s view) before time. Having turned increasingly away from hero-deflating satire towards more analytical and serious matters of racing moment, the column was running out of space as much as time: said New Editor has promised more room to spread in proposed future articles.
Those early Pitlanes were ephemeral and often highly-amusing (well, I remember laughing out loud a few times). Mainly for epigramatic reasons, though I do recall an important description of just how far down the body Randy Mamola’s freckles went. GP racing was more lighthearted then.
Recently there have been high spots. Like an analysis of the post-Rainey decline of Team Roberts that had the great man glowering at me, saying “You forgot to mention my second divorce.” And a small glow of pride when MCN crowed how it was first with the news that Mick Doohan would switch to a pre-Big Bang motor for 1997...some two months after Pitlane had revealed the same thing.
The increasingly serious Pitlane has reflected a similar trend in GP racing. The stakes are higher, the participants more dour.
The worst thing is the way Britain has slithered backwards as a racing force. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but a relative dearth of talent is the biggest one. Riders like Ron Haslam, Rob McElnea and most especially the sainted Niall Mackenzie came very close to hacking it in the 500 class, but among the things that thwarted them, the most acute was the misfortune to coincide with a great explosion of tough ex-dirt-trackers from the USA and Australia. Our lads, who’d being racing each other politely (as it now seemed) since their late teens or so on damp tarmac simply couldn’t tough it out with a whole generation of Gardners and Raineys and Spencers and Schwantzs and Doohans and Lawsons. How could they, when these guys had been at it since they were six or seven, in an oval-track hurly burly that taught them if you weren’t sliding the tyres, you just weren’t going fast enough. The British contingent faded during a time of hugely-increased standard of GP living. The paddock changed from an assortment of trucks to a yuppie village, the smart set vying with one another for the biggest and most luxurious motorhome.
The money has been pouring in; sadly it’s also been pouring out again. Meanwhile, race promoters and trackside fans have been squeezed until many quit the game in disgust. Goodbye superfast Hockenheim, and nearly goodbye Great Britain. And, while we’re at it (though for different reasons) goodbye Spa Francorchamps, greatest track of them all.
In their place have come nasty new little tracks, twisting and turning back and forth on themselves, so that the 250s (and even sometimes the Superbikes) are as fast as the 500s, which is a ridiculous state of affairs.
GP racing has become very big in some countries during Pitlane’s existence, notably in Spain; although there’s been a dull patch since Rainey crashed and Schwantz retired, by and large the racing has been better than the detractors would have you imagine.
It is interesting to see what has happened to F1 car racing in the same period. Steered by the firm dictatorship of marketing supremo Ecclestone, astronomical costs and fees are matched by fervent interest worldwide. For this year’s season-opening Australian GP, all sorts of people who wouldn’t have bothered ten years ago stayed up until 3am to watch it. Monday’s papers reflected the interest. The Telegraph carried two half-page reports on the race in two difference places. The level of interest was close to hysterical.
There was one thing that TV commentators, press reporters and the general public failed to notice. Throughout the whole race, there was not one single overtaking manoeuvre, except on the very first corner, where the ghree drivers involved ran off the track and retired. All other passing was done in the pits.
Who cares? Nobody. Having been told this was a great sporting event, everyone believes that it must indeed have been so.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with bike racing. There’s nobody telling huge lies about how exciting and important it is. Instead of all the years I’ve wasted in Pitlane, trying to demystify racing, I should have been touting phoniness to a gullible larger public.
Ah well, here’s my chance.
Words Michael Scott