Austin MotoGP 2021 Memories – A Hot Time At COTA

Austin MotoGP 2021 Memories – A Hot Time At COTA

You’d think holding the American round of the MotoGP series in October at the Circuit Of The Americas (or COTA) assured a fighting chance that the famous Texas temps would have cooled a bit. Nope. Stepping off the plane in Austin felt like walking into a sauna. The heat was stifling and would play a major role in the weekend’s racing. Speaking of the racing, if you want turn-by-turn coverage, you can’t do better than clicking here to read the excellent reporting from Cycle News. I can’t come close to matching their photos and interviews, but I can share my thoughts on attending a MotoGP (my first time).

This year is the farewell tour for Valentino Rossi, who will retire at season’s end, and I wanted to be able to say that I saw the legend race in person. I wasn’t alone. From the moment we (me and my buddy Lance Sallis, of Central Texas Restorations) entered the COTA parking lot, you couldn’t miss the multitudes of Rossi fanatics. Many of the racers have their own merchandising tents but none of them had lines coming close to the length of Rossi’s. Fans stood in the baking sunlight 30 minutes or more for the privilege of purchasing a $40 Rossi T-shirt. The stands were a blur of day glow lime (Rossi’s signature color) and apparel stamped with the race number 46. Fans lit smoke bombs in his honor. There is plenty of amazing talent in MotoGP, but Rossi’s departure will hurt the series. No doubt about it.

I would have loved to see Rossi take a farewell lap for the fans after the race, but in true Rossi style, the 42-year-old rider left it all on the track and was exhausted keeping up with the kids. I’ve heard a few pundits say that Rossi stuck around too long, but judging from his adoring fan base, he is leaving too soon. It will be interesting to see how MotoGP does next year without their biggest draw.

The starting grid looks sparse in comparison to most motorsport events. There is a reason. There are are only a handful of riders capable of racing motorcycles at this level. The motorcycles are technical wonders and the riders are demanded to ride them with precision and confidence. It is impossible for me to describe the speed. It can’t be compared to any other type of motorcycle racing. These guys are in a league of their own.

My trip to COTA made me into a MotoGP fan. Sure, you can see the action better staying at home and watching the racing on TV, but you miss the experience of hearing, smelling and seeing the greatest show on two wheels.

Rolling with the locals: Lance Sallis (holding the doughnut) calls Austin home and made my visit to the MotoGP as simple as getting my butt on a flight to the city. You’ve seen Lance before on Jimmy Mac On Two Wheels because he is my riding partner on many Backcountry Discovery Route rides. Austin’s most photographed wall is the work of and on the studio wall of Todd Sanders’ Roadhouse Relics.

Representing the dirt: Troy Lee Designs had their motocross team on display at COTA. They look ready for 2022. Troy was on my flight into Austin but I didn’t get to visit with him. He was up in first class. He deserves it! You won’t find a harder-working guy than Troy.

Arrive in style: There were some awesome motorcycles in the Ducati VIP parking area. This was my favorite.

Sad farewell: The Dry Creek Cafe is an Austin institution that is gone by the time you read this. Rumor has it that the short-tempered proprietor, Sarah Ransom, once kicked Willie Nelson out for playing his guitar. His playing was stopping people from dropping money in the jukebox and she was pissed! Lance got kicked out too (for very different reasons). I can say I saw Valentino Rossi race a MotoGP and I drank a bottle of Coke at The Dry Creek Cafe before both called it quits.

Mini MotoGP: This was the coolest minibike of the weekend. I’m not down with starting young riders out on equipment like this. The smart move is to get them started on the dirt. The speed and consequences of falling on pavement are too much for children. MotoGP recently upped their minimum racer age from 16 to 18.

VIP sightings: Movie star Orlando Bloom was in the paddock but it was KTM factory motocross rider Marvin Musquin and Mathilde Musquin that Lance wanted to get a photo with.

Racer memorabilia: Autographed Collectables showed a giant array of signed photos and components from the sport’s biggest names. Their prices were not crazy high. This Kevin Schwantz saddle was offered for less than $6000. Compared to fine art, that’s a steal and I’d enjoy it hanging on the living room wall better than a painting of a bunch of dogs playing poker.

Sweet suite: Speaking of Kevin Schwantz, the former World Champion has a suite looking down on the starting grid. I was lucky enough to get an invite and couldn’t have asked for a better place to watch Sunday’s racing. It was air conditioned! Kevin provided color commentary over the track’s PA for Sunday’s racing and he was exceptional. He has a great voice (I’ve witnessed racers on the PA who are inaudible) and his insight into the racing action is way better than any announcer. Thanks to Kevin and his dad, Jim, for making me welcome.

Rossi fog: The Valentino Rossi fans are the loudest, most devoted and largest in number at a MotoGP. Smoke bombs were set off all over the grandstands. I didn’t see any, but I assume there were hundreds of 46 tatoos on arms and newborns named Valentino. It is the end of an era for MotoGP.

Autograph hound: One fan stood above the off-limits paddock and would yell at riders he recognized to sign his helmet that he lowered down on a rope. The riders I saw obliged him. I never saw Rossi so I’m not sure if he got the Holy Grail of autographs.

Special spectacle: The oppressive heat didn’t wilt the fans who braved the hot temps and intense sun. Luckily there was some cloud cover for Sunday’s racing. The heat still made it brutal on the racers.

Hyde and seek: So good to bump into Mark Hyde at the KTM demo truck. Mark was a Husqvarna factory rider on the National Enduro Team when I worked at Husky. Mark is now the manager of KTM’s Ride Orange demo fleet of motorcycles.

Off limits: The pits are tightly guarded and for good reason. The crew is busy enough without the worry of fans looking for souvenirs. We somehow got ourselves in the paddock and nobody tried to kick us out! I guess when you get to a certain age security either thinks you are an official (in my Motocycho T-shirt) or they feel sorry for the old, lost guy. Either way, it worked for me.

The Rossi bum rush: Security had to hold back a sea of Rossi fans who flooded the starting grid after the race chanting for their favorite racer. He was too exhausted to make an appearance. Not to worry. Valentino will be back with his own team and may be more approachable after retirement from his racing duties. Again, I have no idea why the security didn’t boot me out.

Play and pack: It is amazing how quickly teams box the bikes, parts and racing suits into shipping containers for the trip to the next race. MotoGP riders can’t drive from venue to venue like America’s Supercross, Motocross and Flat Track racers. Their next event may be continents away. This is not a sport for racers on a tight budget. Bonus points if you spotted KTM’s Selvaraj Narayana in the white shirt to the left of the crate.

Congratulations Marky Marc: Marc Marquez raced to an inspired victory in COTA’s heat and on a race track that drew criticism from many of his peers for its bumpy condition. Marc made the best of the tough conditions. See you guys next year!