I guess its fitting that as I pen this piece “The Last Goodbye”, I’m watching an excellent docu-series about arguably the greatest basketball team ever assembled, the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s and more specifically their last year together. How did they know it was their last year together? Because management told them so! No guessing, no wondering, the general manager told Coach Phil Jackson, “Even if you go 82-0… You ain’t coming back!”
It sounds cold, but at least they knew, the fans knew and therefore it made that year more special, and gave a sense of purpose to go see this team that year as there would not be another time. Kind of like being in your 60s and Haley’s Comet is showing up that year. That Comet comes around once every 50 years, so you make plans and that is priority numero uno because you know, you ain’t gonna catch it again! Unless you pull a Gulliver or find the Fountain of Youth!
How I wish this was the case in MotoGP.
Valentino Rossi, the nine-time World Champion and one of the greatest motorcycle racers the world has ever witnessed entered his 24th season as always full of hope and excitement, as did all the other riders. The 2020 season was going to be the greatest ever! I know, I’ve said that time and time again but I seriously, seriously thought so, unlike last year or the year before that or the year before that.
The eight-time World Champion, Marc Marquez was nursing a recently operated on shoulder that left him at 80% of working capacity and it showed in his face. The sharks were circling. Fabio Quartararo, the 20-year-old French phenom was again lighting up the preseason testing as was fellow Yamaha Rider, Maverick Vinales. I personally felt Vinales was going to take the championship.
He was happy, fast, and more consistent than Quartararo. Then came Rossi. He wasn’t exactly killing it in testing but The Doctor seemed somewhat pleased. All that didn’t matter to his adoring fans. They knew The Doc had seen his better days. I had him maybe, maybe winning “a race” and that would’ve been a Herculean task at best. The 2020 field was loaded with killers! Similar to the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls team, but what role would Rossi play? His last race victory being in 2017.
It was Marquez who was ‘dat dude! Rossi was almost an afterthought, but to MotoGP fans the world over, we didn’t care, we just wanted that #46 to come roaring out of the garage, adjust his wedgie on pit lane and zoom onto the racetrack and hope it was his day!
The fans sensed it was his closing in on his last year. Nothing was official but you knew. Kinda like when your dog is in their last days, you just know.
Fans would be gobbling up tickets like a fat man would pizza at a buffet.
Everybody wanted one last glimpse of The Doc. He was the 97 and 98 Bulls on two wheels. He was Michael Jordan in a helmet but in a much cooler sport! Shhh… Don’t tell MJ I said that.
We were all ready for the start of the best season ever, until… COVID-19!
That word will echo in the lives of the world for decades to come. It was when the world literally stood still.
I personally haven’t seen anything like it except when Michael Jackson died but even then you could leave your house. COVID-19 is different. It is deadlier than the current POTUS on Adderall at a rally held down South at an NRA Convention! Even deadlier, I might add. People were losing their lives to this mysterious virus. And racing – rightfully so – as did the rest of the sporting world, had to stop.
As of the writing of this article, the world remains at the mercy of this virus. Sports do not know when or even if they will resume. And therein lies the question, “Will we see Rossi again?”
This never occurred to me until corresponding to a fan who was devastated that the AustinGP was canceled. “I wanted to see Rossi one last time!” This hit me like my mom after refusing to eat my eggs at the breakfast table, but that’s another story for another day. Some fans would be robbed of saying goodbye to their racing hero in person.
For a lot of fans, saving up to go to a GP race is expensive. You have flights, tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars. This ain’t exactly the “Dollar General” of racing. This is second only to Formula One racing! But if to see your hero one last time, it’s worth every penny! These people were being deprived off this experience.
The 2020 season was to have 20 races. MotoGP is contracted to do 13 but a 10 race season is not out of the question and personally, in that aspect, it works in Rossi’s favor.
If you noticed in years past, Rossi starts strong and eventually wilts like a rose in the heat. The season is long and although 41 years old is not old, it is when you’re traveling around the world chasing world championship-caliber kids on a Sunday!
He’s similar to having your grandparents babysit a 5-year-old. They’re great the first hour, but around hour two and three, they’re looking at their watch like, “Does this kid ever slow down and when’s his mom picking him up!” In Rossi’s case, imagine chasing Marquez week after week after week. It wears on you.
But a shorter season? He can maintain his focus. It’s easier to maintain your energy over a shorter season than a long drawn out marathon which is what GP is. Start in March and ending in November, it is a beast for anyone, young and old alike.
But this is only in theory because as of the writing of this article, the talk is of maybe, maybe starting the season in August and with the unknown of this virus, the plan is to race in possible empty circuits with the bare minimum of people. No press officers or PR for the teams.Just the rider and mechanics. A skeleton crew for the remainder of the season, in part so this ugly virus doesn’t pop up again.
I pray that this season is salvageable, for selfish reasons obviously. But also it means the world is healing. Humanity is being given a rebirth and normalcy is restored. But it also saddens me that many will be deprived of seeing The Doctor race in person one last time. Again, I don’t know for certain that Valentino will retire but, at 41, not having won a race in almost three years and a buttload of talent waiting in the wings, the writing is on the wall, not engraved in stone but maybe in spray paint.
Rossi is a special rider, one of the greatest to ever do it! With that comes pride, a lot of pride. Sometimes that pride is a hindrance and leads to staying around too long. Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Brett Fahrve… All great, but maybe hung on a season too long.
I feel Rossi is at that point. He’s happy in his personal life, having found the woman who he wants to have babies with. It was this statement that made me say “This is it!” He’s a millionaire multiple times over. He’s in love. And he’s accomplished everything a rider can accomplish. So why risk your life on a Sunday chasing the two-wheeled grandkids?
It’s simple. He still has the passion! And that is something that has enabled him to endure 24 seasons in the MotoGP paddock. His life in the paddock is older than some of the riders! It is why we love him, but its also maybe to his detriment. Somebody has to step in and say, “It’s time.”
I feel, even The Doctor knows this. Although his words ring true, his eyes are just a tad duller, than they used to be. The dull of a man that has a life outside of racing waiting.
He deserved a victory lap. He deserved crowds chanting his name before and after races, The Racing community with its great fans owed to Rossi to show that appreciation by showing up in drives for one last glance at the G.O.A.T.!
Will it happen? I don’t know the future, but as of now, it is not to be. With his contract with Yamaha due to expire in 2020, I really can’t see Rossi riding for another year just to ride! This is Valentino Rossi we’re talking about! A champion’s champion!
However, age plays no favorites. It comes for us all. We may win a few rounds but in the end, it wins.
Sometimes, the ending is not to our liking but so goes life! Will we get to say goodbye to Rossi the way we want? With fans screaming his name, many tearing up, as I’m sure I will, waving as he passes by, knowing that this is it? Or will it be at a circuit devoid of fans and emotion, in a sterile environment?
Know one knows what will happen to the MotoGP Season. We are not soothsayers. We are ordinary human beings, who only want to say one last goodbye to a Champion that has given us so many joyous moments on a racetrack. I pray we get that chance as I’m sure you do as well.
Stay safe and healthy, GP Freaks!