It was Sunday morning and we'd already had a long 80 hours at Circuit of the Americas. I was dehydrated, sunburnt, hungry and exhausted... yet content. Tosha and I were sitting in one of the packed Club Level dining rooms in the COTA paddock building enjoying our first real meal in days. On the far wall, a huge floor-to-ceiling screen displayed the MotoGP North America Talent Cup broadcast. The race had just ended and the image on screen was from an on-bike camera pointing at the back of a rider, which meant everyone in the room was staring at a 3-foot tall display of the word "BISON" emblazoned across the back of the suit's accordion panel. I looked around at all these people from all over the world and realized this was it - this was the next level.
Tosha scarfed the last of her brisket down and chucked her plate in the trash. "Let's get down to the podium!" She exclaimed. I looked down at the last bit of food on my plate, knowing that once I got up from this table I was going right back to work. Even though it was Sunday and the weekend was pretty much over, there was still a lot of work to be done at the Bison booth. "You go ahead, I'm going to finish this and I'll be right behind you." Again... it had been a long 80 hours leading up to this moment. Grover and Kim of Sage Tailoring had been up until the early morning hours with Tosha and I working on suits, remeasuring competitors and repairing cosmetic crash damage from the race prior. After a few hours of sleep we were back up and at it again, albeit with the help of several caffeinated beverages. I just needed a minute.
Normally in this moment I would have been scrambling to the podium (our first all-Bison podium, I might add!) to congratulate the racers and snap a few photos for the 'Gram. Instead, I calmly finished my food and drink and casually tossed my plate and cup. This isn't to say I wasn't excited - quite the contrary! I just felt like I needed to keep myself composed and make my way calmly to the exit. You know, like they say in moves right before all hell breaks loose! As I walked out the door I took another glance at the TV screen which now displayed three Bison-clad racers (Jesse James Shedden, Alex Enriquez and Alessandro Di Mario) rolling into pit lane and being showered with congratulatory applause and hugs from their crews and parents.
Despite my excitement I leisurely made my way down the concourse, down the stairs and onto pit road where MotoGP teams were preparing to take to the track for morning warm-ups. As I walked down pit road I looked across the front straight at the grandstands where I had watched the prior years' races with my family. To my right, just within arms' reach, were all the GP bikes I had only ever admired from afar. Their exhausts puffed my hair and filled my nostrils with the fumes of combusted race fuel as I walked past. I had made it about 3/4 of the way down pit road when I took a break from gawking at the GP machines and looked back across at the grandstands. There, on three huge screens above the fans, Jesse, Alex and Alessandro stood atop the podium steps. "Please rise and remove your caps for the playing of the United States national anthem for Jesse Shedden". The crowd stood, the anthem started, and something profound happened.
Before I go further it's important for you to know something about me: I'm not a crier. I've been through a lot of things in my 41 years including elation, loss, excitement and struggle. I married way up out of my league and watched the woman of my dreams walk down the aisle towards me. I witnessed the birth of all four of my amazing kids - the youngest of which, Edith, was an emergency birth as a micro preemie under 2 lbs. I've lost my father, my grandparents and cousins. Sure I may have shed a tear here and there during the course of these events, but never was I moved to uncontrollable crying. With all that in mind, I bet you can guess what happened next.
As soon as the anthem started playing I lost my collective ****. At first I blamed the race fuel fumes... seconds later I was a babbling mess. Looking back, I think it was because there wasn't just one emotion at play here - it was all of the emotions. It was the embarrassment and frustration of an entire week that hadn't gone right. It was the joy of being in the paddock with so many good people. We shared the ups and downs of watching some of these families and teams succeed and while others faltered, in many cases due to circumstances outside of their control. It was the anguish I felt for the Clark family who watched as their son Chris lay motionless on the track after a big crash in the race we just finished (he ended up being concussed but okay). Then there was the exhaustion (both physically and mentally) of sun-up to sun-down work to get these riders outfitted. Most of all, there was pride; I was proud that we were able to deliver 20 suits to the competitors in just 5 weeks' time. I was proud that even when things didn't go right with many of those suits, we were there giving it our all to correct the situation for 72 hours straight. And I was proud to be here, at a MotoGP event, not only as a fan but as a major contributor to the program which will likely breed the next US GP contender. To the quote the great Talking Heads, I had found myself in a moment in which I truly asked myself "Well, how did I get here?"
When I finally reached the podium I looked up at the riders perched upon the second story display from pit road with tears streaming down my face. The good news here is that the pit lane Covid mask mandate was good for one thing: the mask, combined with my large aviator sunglasses meant that most of my face was covered and I could stand in the back of the crowd and bawl like a baby with no one being any the wiser. As an added bonus, said mask also absorbs most of the tears! 10/10 I would recommend crying with a mask on.
As I stood in the back of the group and the podium ceremony concluded, I started to collect myself. About that time NATC competitor Haydn Meng walked up, still in his Bison suit having just got off his bike and removed his helmet. "Let's give one more round of applause for your North America Talent Cup podium finishers!" Haydn threw his hands in the air and jumped up and down, clapping and cheering for his fellow riders whom with he had just done battle. I lost it again.
And now, as I sit here typing this I am getting welled up again. I guess that settles it - it wasn't just the race fuel fumes after all.
Rob Lackey has been a motorcycle gear connoisseur for years, mostly because he crashed a lot there for a while. After spending 20 years in the automotive industry managing service departments with a focus on culture and customer service, Rob decided to combine his passion for making people happy with that of racing and "going fast while staying safe". He founded Bison Track LLC with his wife, Tosha and they now roam the country with their two youngest kids, Edith and Carter, growing The Herd and educating others about the importance of safe riding gear. Every now-and-then he still gets to race.