2008 Motogiro America

Famous Italian event makes it to America

| November/December 2008

Translations from Italian can be tricky. This holds true for industrial design, food, fashion and motorcycle events. In the heyday of Italy’s Motogiro — the mid-1950s — the whole country turned out for the festive long-distance races. Local priests blessed the motorcycles and riders, and favorite riders and marques were cheered on by the crowds along the road.

Americans are generally more skeptical of such carryings-on — although vintage motorcycles, like sidecars, do tend to elicit smiles from most of the observing populace. But California’s central coast, site of the inaugural Motogiro America, presented quite a mix of logistical issues. In June, wildfires had closed roads planned as routes for two days of the five-day rally. California State Highway 1, the gemstone of coastal macadam from Carmel to Lucia, was out; as was Carmel Valley Road, slated for the return route from Paso Robles to Monterey.

Ducati’s Bologna-based marketing maven David Gross had enlisted Burt Richmond and Diane Fitzgerald, aka Lotus Tours of Chicago, to get the inaugural Motogiro America off the line. They enlisted some local talent, namely Patrick Hayes and California Giro chief Harley Welch, to chart the course, and Bob Coy to set up timing and scoring groups, plus a crew of two dozen volunteers for flagging, medical corps, chase trucks, mechanics and assorted helpmates. Oh yes, and a vintage bike show, the Moto Concorso, which fell to Lorin Guy and Hans Mellberg of the Ducati Vintage Club.

The whole deal looked shaky. Burt and Diane looked apprehensive. Then, as if by divine providence, Highway 1 through Big Sur was re-opened after three weeks of yeoman work by firefighters. Huzzah!

And they’re offDay 1 served as a shakedown run in the Monterey-Salinas foothills, preceded by a morning lap of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was here, in the same turn where Casey Stoner would come to grief a few days later during the Red Bull MotoGP, that Dave Roper would spin his 1953 Moto Guzzi Airone (the day after his 60th birthday), and leave a few patches from the seat of his Aerostich suit on the racing surface.

Not to be outdone, 1972 Imola 200 winner Paul Smart — on a Ducati Hypermotard — opted for a quicker second lap, and was summarily asked to leave the premises by the corner worker at the Corkscrew. That incident, with the descriptive help of fellow guest rider and ex-Cycle editor Cook Neilson, would become more dramatic in the ensuing days.

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