Round One of the World Superbike Championship, like all major sporting events, is a giant production. There might be a few dozen top level competitors getting all the media attention, but the event couldn't happen at all without the expertise and energy of hundreds and hundreds of support staff, volunteers and of course, the fans that are the lifeblood of any sport. So with Mike Hanlon and Fabian Fitzgerald busy checking out the latest in motorcycle technology, I thought I'd turn my back to the track and speak to a few of the lesser known characters that add life to the World Superbike paddock – and as it turned out, I met a few doozies. Here's their WSBK experiences in their own words.
I would have been racing this weekend, this was going to be my first race in Australian supersport.
Adam: We all have different backgrounds. I’m actually a doctor, Joe’s a paramedic.
Megan: And I’m a nurse.
Adam: Most of the equipment is in the medical center. We have some cars with more advanced equipment in them.
Joe: This is my 8th or 9th event, Megan’s 5th. You see the guys crash and slide and roll for ages, and then just get up and walk away, it’s a sigh of relief for us. It’s a testament to the protective gear they’re wearing these days and to their own physical fitness. I think I’m most nervous for the juniors, riding around on their 80cc bikes with their spongy bones.
I watched qualifying from the pits, the kids were out in the cafe completely oblivious, haha! It’s a bit stressful, yeah, watching somebody you love out there trying to go as fast as they can.
The mood that’s in the house after a race depends on how he’s done – but normally just tired, and he gets straight back to being daddy. There’s a lot of daddying going on. He’ll have his pasta and he’ll go to bed early like he usually does. He wants to be on top of his game, and that involves lots of carbohydrates and an early night, not 20 Marlboroughs and a bottle of gin!
Sharon: We’re here because my son’s racing as a wildcard in World Supersport. He races British Supersport in England, he goes back to England in April.
Jesse: They’re using the wildcard as a bit of pre-season training. They usually go over to Spain, but here they’ve got a chance to do a race simulation – practice, qualifying and the race to help them get ahead for the British season.
Sharon: I’m normally a medic. I’m just hoping he comes home safely.
Jesse: I get a bit nervous during the race, if it’s too close. If he’s all by himself out there with nobody around him, I’m completely fine. But the minute there’s a group of people, I usually stand out the back of the shed and I don’t watch.
What’s the best thing you guys can do to support him at a race?
Sharon: Help him relax, and not be in his face.
Jess: He takes full advantage of that fact as well, he gets pampered a bit!
Motorcycling in the past has been a pretty individual activity, but I think it’s grown from that into more of a lifestyle choice. We want people to get involved, check out the website or even attend a few meetings to see what’s going on.
It’s a confidential system – the rider community is such a small community that this is about education and prevention rather than prosecution.
They’re all sportspeople, they’re all athletes, they look after their bodies and they take their sport very seriously. Safety’s not about being the fun police, it’s about working with them and educating. People will respond much better to you if you make yourself approachable instead of reading them the riot act.
What sort of tips would you give somebody who wanted to do your job?
Peter: Become an acrobat. You never know what’s gonna come next, or which way you’ve gotta jump. I’ve been coming here since 1989 to see Wayne Gardener win his 500GP championship, I’ve never missed a year. The bikes are so loud near you, that you might not hear one coming if you’re in the pits. We always have someone looking out behind us.
Tim: The worst is when you’ve got headphones on as a sound recordist, you have no idea where a sound is coming from, it’s just all noise. Somebody might give you a shove and you have no idea why, and then a bike comes flying past beside you. You learn to be very vigilant about where you stand.
I got Alex Lowe’s underbelly fairing. He crashed and I was the lucky person to collect it. I’m waiting for him to come out and sign it. This is Giuliano’s knee sliders, I’m just nice I guess. They’re going in my dad’s man cave.
My dad races classics, Island Classic and stuff, and my brother got third in the ASBK on 250 proddies.
I did my first commentary on Australia day in 1965, I’d been going to speedway and scrambles long before that. It’s just one of those things where you follow your interest and your passion, build up knowledge and work at it. You keep learning all the time.
I have to say, of all the stuff I watched in the last year, Speedway GP was the most spectacular motorsport I’ve seen. It gets back to the basic of the sport. What a rider can do with a piece of machinery on a bit of ground. Nothing to do with aerodynamics, tire technology, team strategy, pit stops, safety cars or anything, it’s just get on with it and do it. That’s the one that really hits me an terms of pure sport.
This is a fixed 300mm lens. We have 3 or 4 Canon bodies, the 1DX, the Mark 2, and we use the 550EX flash. We have a 70-200, a 24-70 and a fixed 500, lots of stuff.
Yesterday, during the superpole, Chaz Davies saved a big slide in the last corner. I was on the inside post, he was only 2 or 3 meters away, he saved it, it was f*cking amazing. The wheel like that and the back out like this, you can see his eyes in the photo and I think he has some brown in his trousers.
What brings you to World Superbikes?
Shenanigans. And a love of motorbikes. It’s actually genuine motorcyclists here, rather than people just coming along for a gander because they’ve got corporate tickets. Honestly I don’t have a favorite rider, I kind of lost the plot when it got taken off free to air TV, and unfortunately I think it’s really brought down the whole following.
That’s Patty. Hi Patty! This is one of the best events I’ve had in a long long time. It’s busy! If you’re busy, it’s fun, ya know! I gotta run, I need to find Sam. I'll catch you in a second!
I’ve been marshaling for about 15 years. I love motorbike racing. I’ve got a Can-Am Spyder at the moment, they’ve nicknamed it the Abomination.
I know probably 85 percent of the marshals here, we all get along great, we have a great time, sitting around drinking at the end of the day having a good laugh. We’re all volunteers. It’s a chance to catch up with each other and also riders that we know. Just caught up with Troy Bayliss, Randy De Puniet, Wayne Maxwell, I know all the guys and they recognize me. They’re very appreciative. After the event they’re very willing to do signatures for us.
It’s great, when you’re working out on track the bikes are right in front of you. The crowd behind the fence is getting annoyed because you’re blocking their view. We get the best view in the house!
I’ve been involved with the sport for an awful long time, and I guess you try to have a plan for younger people to take over, because you can’t do it forever!
It’s always been a volunteer job. You’re doing it because you love the sport, not because you’re getting paid. We’re drawn from all around Australia. I volunteer for all race weekends through the year, so I travel a lot around the country.
I’m interested in not only the racing, but what goes on behind the scenes. What goes into making a grand prix or superbike racer. I enjoy that. I’m lucky, I’ve been involved with riders for such a long time, I’ve got a bit of insight into it.
This gentleman coming through the gate, Troy Bayliss, is probably one of the nicest gentlemen around. I’ve known Troy since his 250 proddy days, he’s the same now as he was then, hasn’t changed a bit and he still has time for everybody.
That reminds me, I need to go see the Clinica Mobile guys, I spent a lot of time in there with injuries over the years and we get along great, so that’s next on the agenda. Otherwise I just wanna see some good safe racing.
Do you miss it?
Yeah and no. It has its moments. Right now I do enough flat track to keep my mind away from this. But I know it’s only a matter of days before I’ll be out on a bike.
We set up all the cameras and all the infrastructure, cabling and satellite gear that gets this event beamed around the world.
I’ve been involved in motorsport for over 20 years. V8 supercars, MotoGP for 14 years, Formula One for 5 years … I enjoy the personalities, the color, getting out and about, it sure beats a football game.
What’s the difference between a motorsports event and a footy game?
About 8 days. Haha!
The riders are the world’s best, so they don’t fall down that often. When they do, it’s usually fairly minor and it doesn’t require us to stop. The rest of the medical team are there for the ones that aren’t too badly injured, we’re there for the ones that are.
Everyone in Team Medical Australia is a volunteer – doctors, nurses, medics and drivers.
But you do get to fang an Alfa Romeo around the track, so ...
Yes, that’s a compensation I must say! We do have fun out there!
This weekend I’m helping put back into the sport what I got out of it. I’m in pit lane helping with starts, giving assistance wherever need be. We had a bit of an oil spill on the straight earlier, so I was out there with a broom.
It’s a sport that I love, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, it’s an opportunity to help out the flag marshals that have helped me out through my years of racing. Just wanna do my bit. It’s one big family really!
Might we see you on a World Superbike one day?
Lauren: We’ll see how the testing goes. It’s nice to come down because we know quite a few people who cross over between MotoGP and WSBK. It’s great to catch up with people in more of a relaxed setting. Because during the GP weekend it’s complete madness. It’s nice to be able to chill out a little bit. And it’s always good to be home!
Michaela: He’s one of the Pirelli riders.
Intan: Aprilia. Our weekend consists of early morning, lots of rushing, limited food, but an amazing experience contribution. We get to experience the fast pace atmosphere.
Michaela: And sore feet, and blisters.
Intan: And a bit of groping, now and then. Lots of whistles.
Can you spot a groper coming?
Michaela: I reckon I can, yeah.
Intan: The guy with the cheeky eyes.
Michaela: And you get that low hand.
Intan: You’ve just gotta pretend it’s not happening, get the photo and then move on really fast.
Do you get tired smiling muscles?
Intan: Oh god yeah. Too much, you’re just smiling at everything. I think it’s an amazing event that just allows people to show their talent, what they can do on a two wheel bike. And just show that they are capable of, you know, being incredible.
We’ve got to make sure that the bikes are safe to go on track, and that the rider’s gear is safe for the national races. Also we have to do the eligibility, making sure that the bikes comply with the regulations for their class.
As far as safety, we’re looking for lock wiring - making sure anything that might leak oil is lock wired shut. Chain protection, so nobody gets any finger and toes trapped, they’re the main things, making sure the bikes are in good working order.
Most of the guys now are pretty good. They’ve been around long enough to know they can’t get away with much. We don’t know what’s going on inside the engines, but we’re able to strip those down and have a look if we suspect something’s going on, or if somebody lodges a protest.
There’s a few characters out there - in the historics there’s Robbie Phyllis, Mr. Superbike, “born to be horn.” I’ve got the t-shirt here. I really do love the sport. Everyone who’s here loves the sport.
Tom: It’s been a golden day. We normally ride down from Brisbane, but the good lord hasn’t let me ride this time. These boys are treating me like a baby and looking after me. I’ve been chatting to everybody.
Kevin: The main problem I find is the numbers, you can’t read the numbers, you can’t tell who the riders are. They should go back to the yellow background with a black number, you can read that. You can’t read these ones.
Tom: I used to race in Queensland from ’61 through to ’67 with the likes of Kel Carruthers and Eric Hinton. In about ’63 I was the quickest bloke around in Queensland, one day I even came in ahead of Eric Hinton.
Hippie Pete: The best bit about the Supers is that it’s actually for riders who love motorbikes. At the GP you get all the pretty people with their cash and they just wanna look good. You can ride your bike right up to the track.
Nobby: I’ve been coming here since the 80s, it’s been grouse.
Hippie Pete: It’s the shit ones I remember, the ones where it’s been rained out and you’re freezing your arse off. We did well with the weather this weekend actually.
What’s your biggest hope for the weekend?
Simon: A warm breeze at Siberia? No major crashes. Well ... as long as they get up and walk away, I’m OK with crashes.
So bikers are better behaved than anyone else?
Especially at the Superbikes. This is a more mature crowd. They’re more about the motorbikes and the racing, and not all the other stuff that goes with it, the glam of the GP for example. I mean, you get your drunks, you get your idiots, but you deal with those as they come up.
As a policeman, do you feel an extra obligation to follow the road rules when you’re out with your mates?
I do. I feel a bit guilty if I don’t. Not that I’m saying I never … possibly … encroach slightly …
This was your first motorbike ride? What did you think?
What did they tell you to do?
Chin up and look straight but not down.
What do you like about motorbike racing?
I like it when they crash and they get hurt.
Did you just have a crash?
Yes. I hurt my tummy and hurt my arm. Because I crashed into the girl’s wheel.
What are the AMCN team like after hours?
We work hard, so we don’t mind partying hard. We work hard for our beers. I probably shouldn’t say that.
I had a few little accidents when I was younger, so I tend to keep off the bikes … the old wet road and the white line.
You might watch a helicopter pilot – they only ever make very slight moves of the controls, but I can guarantee you their minds are going at a million miles an hour, thinking "what if …"
So you’re a psychopath then?
Everyone says so! I haven’t ridden it yet, it’s still in the build. We went a little bit crazy with it. I’ve done in in a stealth form so you can’t see the turbo from the outside. It cost 16 grand just to put the turbo on, we’re running 20 lbs of boost … faster is always better. I think it’s the pursuit of man to go faster.
Another brand we do is CFMoto, they do a learner-approved 650cc parallel twin, and I’ve got one of those set up for stunt riding. Big sprocket, twin rear caliper, crash cage, a few other bits and pieces. I’ve been practicing with Lukey Luke, who does the commercial stunt riding. Rolling burnouts, ends, trying to get to that rolling 12 o’clock wheelie and maybe scrape the tail. It’s good fun!
Who’s the worst behaved?
Ashley: People with writing on their foreheads.
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