Last January, four of us decided to take a family vacation to southern Spain in early May. I worked out a deal with my editor at Motorcycle.com to pay me handsomely to cover the Gran Premio bwin de Espana, subject to my securing press credentials, providing some extra copy and photos, and giving them way more than my usual vapid kitchen table rant.
In mid-April, after reserving and paying for airfare, hotels, rental cars, etc., it became fully clear that Dorna, the Italian company that owns the rights to MotoGP, was not going to sully their pressroom by credentialing the likes of me. What had started out as a slam dunk junket had become a longshot.
Four of us left for Spain from O’Hare on Friday afternoon. I/we were lacking several of the necessities for most respectable journalists: press credentials, tickets for the race, journalistic skills, and/or a clear idea of where the track was actually located. When I say “we”, I’m including my intrepid son-in-law and budding photojournalist, Ryan Collins, who had the good sense several years ago to marry my youngest daughter Cate. Ryan, who knows even less about motorcycle racing than I do, told me he was pretty much up for anything, up to and including trying to find the track, trying to get into the facility, and trying to provide some semblance of “covering” the race with 130,000 drunk Spanish racing fans under a hot sun for eight hours.
Ryan and I set out from Cadiz, a jewel of a town that sits on the southern coast of Spain where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, on Sunday morning. [By this time we had missed Friday practice and Saturday’s qualifications. We had also survived a monstrous case of jetlag and the drive from Madrid to Cadiz in which I came uncomfortably close to getting us included in Spanish highway fatality statistics not once, but twice. And although we missed the action at the track on Saturday, we caught the action on the strip in Cadiz on Saturday night, eating tapas amongst a bunch of riders and listening to the music of big bikes turning high RPMs on the seaside street in front of the restaurant all evening.]
Cadiz sits about 25 miles south of Jerez, and we had passed several Jerez exits on the drive down from Madrid on Saturday. Once we cleared Cadiz on Sunday, the task of actually finding the track became pretty simple: stay with the hundreds of bikes on their way to the race that morning.
Which sounds easier than it actually is, in that these bikes were mostly traveling in excess of 100 mph while the Guardia Civil politely turned a blind eye.
Finally, we were one of a handful of cars in a veritable sea of motorcycles, and getting to the parking lot was a breeze. The same way getting from point A to point B in a mosh pit is a breeze: make no sudden movements, don’t resist, and go with the flow.
Problem #1 solved.
Problems #2 and #3 – no press credentials, few journalistic skills – weren’t going to get solved this day. This left Problem #4 – no tickets to a sold out race. On the walk from the parking lot to the track itself, I kept an eye out for ticket “vendors” on the street, and was finding none. Plenty of guys and ladies selling a lot of other junk – Spanish flags, food, water, trinkets, belts (?), etc., from little improvised roadside stands.
No guys holding tickets in the air yelling “Got Four!” in Spanish and looking furtively over their shoulders for the aforementioned Guardia Civil who, one suspects, take a less generous view of ticket scalpers than they do speeders they’re unable to catch anyway.
A mile in and it was looking bleak, when we noticed a trailer set off on a little side “street” with a big sign on it reading “Taquillas”. Ryan, my interpreter, said he had no idea what a taquilla is. I, by this time, was hoping it was Spanish for “tequilas”, as I was ready to give in and spend the day drinking shots and eating limes. It occurred to me that “tequilas” is already a Spanish word, but I shook off this notion.
We approached the trailer, and people were, indeed, stepping up to a window and purchasing SOMETHING, but we couldn’t really tell what. Apparently, by this time Ryan and I were looking fairly furtive ourselves, for it was at this moment that a guy in a Lakers shirt approached me and asked, in pretty good English, if we needed tickets. He, it turned out, was getting comped by Repsol (a friend of a friend of a friend…) and was going to stand with the great unwashed in the Pelousse, the fans’ and riders’ favorite section of the Jerez track, between Turns 10 and 11, where the crowd gets right on top of the riders. We negotiated a mutually satisfactory price for his tickets and, suddenly, Problem #4 was solved.
We still don’t know what folks were buying at that trailer; I’ll try to report back on that later tonight. We do know that we sat high in the stands between Turns 12 and 13 with a great view of the race. We spent plenty of time wandering around the facility mingling and taking pictures of a few of the gorgeous women you find in quantity at these events.
We watched one helluva Moto2 tilt and a premier class event that was a procession for the first 22 laps and a heart-stopping thriller for the last three. We made it back to the parking lot and thence our hotel in one piece without dying of dehydration or getting T-boned by any of the nutjobs they issue drivers licenses to in Spain. And we captured the story; a beautiful day spent 4500 miles from home in a second language, with a manual transmission, on the road to Jerez.