Now, change the venue to a very congested place like Japan, add in a scorching hot sun and humidity, and finally add in a sister and your mother to the mix. This was my Suzuka trip.
WHAT I DID RIGHT: I flew us all over in first class and we spent the beginning of the trip touring around Japan as a family vacation. We had an amazing time and thankfully we planned the vacation part of the trip before the race. Yes, that was intentional just in case…
WHAT I DID WRONG: I underestimated my duties and the expectations of me from my team and the sponsors for this massive event. Looking back, I should have made myself more available for pre-race activities and spent a little more time with my team. I also assumed that just because I love hanging around race tracks day and night doesn’t mean that my family does too! I also never thought about how a one-year-old doesn’t understand why they must sit strapped in a stroller for eight hours with ear plugs in, sweating, and listening to a foreign language. (The upside was that she was the centre of attention no matter where she happened to be as the Japanese people were fascinated with a smiley Caucasian baby with bright blue eyes). The real clincher was that I didn’t think about how my family would feel if I had a crash, let alone a serious crash, and then another crash.
If you ask my family for their perspective, they will say it was all a great experience since looking back, it was a once in a lifetime experience that very few would ever get to do. After all, we are a small but close knit family and they have always supported me in my crazy life. However, I would find out later that the stress and emotion that my big crash caused them is something that family should not have to deal with. With my team not talking until I regained consciousness in addition to the clear communication challenges with the Japanese, I found out later that my poor mother and sister were absolutely worried sick. (I am pretty sure that is an understatement and that it was really much worse on them.) Holly would have been worried as well (I hope) but she has a little more experience with these circumstances and understands the risks. She also has this really calm, cool approach to tough situations, which is great in a racer’s wife.
As we all know too well, racing is a very selfish sport, but bringing your family to an event as I did takes it to a new level of selfishness in my opinion. At a certain level of highly competitive racing, I do think bringing a bus full of friends and family to hang out is not the best idea and not fair to your team, and as a rider, your full focus is never completely on the job you have to do.
Bring your family to a track day or a club race where the stakes aren’t so high. By doing it this way your team has your undivided attention and you aren’t putting additional stress on the people who care about you. It also allows you as a rider to only focus on the jobs at hand: going fast, being safe, and being accessible. As quickly as I write this, I need to separate my wife from this approach since I do believe that having your partner in crime with you in these high pressure situations actually helps cope with everything. Especially if you have the type of relationship when your partner ‘gets it’ and gives you your space if you are having a tough day, but is there for you if you do want to talk.
I mention that last part since I experienced a situation at the Isle of Man where the wife of a very prominent racer (can’t mention the name) was constantly giving him a hard time for spending so much time with his team, and he confided in me that it was really stressing him out. He went on to have a serious crash in practice and was pretty badly injured. I couldn’t help but feel that part of that crash was because his head was messed up with some personal issues and he wasn’t totally focused on his TT lap. (He has since made a full recovery.) Riders thrive on positive energy and crumble when things go wrong. Think Bradley Smith in MotoGP recently with five crashes in a weekend.
Thanks mom and sis for supporting me at Suzuka, and please don’t take this blog the wrong way – we had a great time there, but I think I learned there is a time and a place to juggle family and work. I never really treated racing like work before, but when you see how much effort and investment goes into an event like Suzuka, you owe it to the team to be there at their disposal.
And by the way, at that level, it is work!