Updated: Nov 10, 2022
After a night of drinking the most famous beer ever to leave the borders of Czechia, it was time to head over to the main reason for this trip.
But first, we stopped at a castle for a quick tour. Specifically Hluboká Castle, which was worth every second of our detour. Remember that King of Bohemia that granted brewing rights to the city of Budweis? This was his place, originally, but the version that we saw was a complete rebuild. I will spare you all the details, but you need to check out all the pics. The woodworking is next level master class stuff, and according to the tour guide the hand carved features took 30 years to complete. To put that into perspective, had they started carving in 1992 the project would be finished this year.
If you were born on or after this date in 1992, shut up. I don't want to hear it. Damn kids and their rock music.
I was in the van for this leg of the trip, and I discovered that the owner of the van had more than just the unlabeled (probable) David Hasselhoff CD that was in the radio. There were dozens of similar discs, but within the chaff there was Twisted Sister's Greatest Hits, an under-rated best-of disc that became the soundtrack to my time in the van.
If you were with me in the van and could have convinced me to turn down the soothing wails of Dee Snider, we would have discussed just how fucking narrow the roads were. If you live in the bay area, I would compare the width of the pavement to that of Mines road, but pretend that Mines road was the only way to get between Livermore and San Jose. Also pretend that anyone cared about the condition of Mine's road, as the pavement was perfection. For those not in the know, picture your favorite single lane twisty bit, but then have busses and logging trucks coming at you at pace around blind corners.
I made it to the track well before the rest of the group, and decided to park the van and walk around a bit while I waited. I pulled up Cat's location on Whatsapp and noticed that it had not moved since the last time I looked about a half hour before. This was not unusual, given how slow the location updated, so I was not worried. After walking around for 45 minutes or so I decided to check in and grab a beer while I waited. I got my room key, and while walking to the van to grab my luggage my phone rang.
It was Cat, and it seemed that Rage had suffered multiple flat front tires. They patched it once, but the slit in the sidewall that could have easily been delivered by an angry ex in the middle of the night was not about to be tamed.
"Hey buddy," Cat began, "So we fixed Rage's flat again, and it. is. fucked... I need you to bring the van so we can swap bikes."
The rest of the group had started their way to the hotel, and when Cat shared the location, my heart sank. They were 2 hours away, meaning that first beer suddenly went from minutes away to 4 hours minimum.
I did my best to find anything that I could navigate to on the GPS unit, and kept my phone open to the live location from Cat. Between the two bits of technology, I had a rough idea as to where they were and an even rougher idea of how to get there. As already discussed, the GPS was sketchy, and phone based navigation was very slow to update, something Cat gave me shit about once I finally got to where they were waiting for me.
I drove down roads that should have been driveways, the vans wheels sometimes straddling the pavement like a nervous cowboy waiting to drop onto the bull he was going to ride. It seemed like I was getting further into banjo country when I finally arrived to the scene of the flat. After a quick unloading of EVERYTHING from the back of the van, Rage had a fresh moto and he and Cat motored off into the sunset while I buttoned up the van and followed well, well, behind them.
Two more hours later, I returned to the Grid Hotel located just outside the paddock of the Brno Circuit.
After a quick shower I met the group downstairs while we waited for our Skoda's to take us into Brno Proper for dinner, and after Brno shenanigans we then Skoda'd our way back to the hotel to rest up for day one on the track. Things got a bit hazy given that I had not eaten anything other than sour gummy worms and Nicnacs since breakfast, and began dinner
with an appetizer of a liter of beer.
The morning weather was reminiscent of my day of riding in Austria. It had rained most of the night and was still a bit misty in the morning. Given that we would be on R1's, on slicks, and since none of us were Jack Miller we took our time getting to garage 14, our track home for the next three days. Once we got there we were treated to our own personal riders meeting by the track day provider and given our riding groups. I should point out that all of us completed a brief questionnaire about our riding, and by answering honestly I ended up in the fastest of fast groups, finally proving that honesty is not always the best policy. As the only rider with a current race license and riding an R1, I was put into D group. For those more familiar with the ABC method in America, one would assume that I was finally where I belong, in a group slower than C. Much like the Metric system, and other things that remain a mystery in America, D group was the "Racer 1000" ass-haulers, and I was pretty far out of my element.
Fortunately for me, day one was run in mixed conditions, and by me being in the uber-fast group I was able to get out for a session in between storms. I was told that they would be combining groups due to the weather in an attempt to get people more track time. I heard the words, but something got lost in translation. In America, I have experienced combined groups in similar conditions, but they had stuck to the 20 minute sessions. I thought I heard 20 minutes, but I did have my helmet on and ear plugs in.
I set out and after 6 laps or so, I was wondering if I missed a flag.
It is impossible to miss an end of session flag, at Brno BTW, as they wave red flags for a couple corners before pit in, and then a dude stands on track with a sign that might as well read Really bro? Pit in already!
So there I was, on an R1, on slicks, with damp patches littering a track that I am not familiar with trying to will the above end of session scenario into existence, and after missing the pit entrance two laps in a row (don't ask) I finally pitted in...with 10 minutes left on my 40 minute session.
I was whooped, and happily turned the bike over to anyone that wanted the extra time. Shortly after, the rain fell again and we called it a day. My take away from the first day was as follows, if you believe everything that I post on social media.
"The track is wider than the paddock of Thunderhill West.
One early apex screws up the next 2-3 corners.
Banging two quick "downshifts" in GP shift while having a standard mindset will put you in sixth gear into a second gear corner.
I am too out of shape to muscle an R1 for 30 minutes.
I am looking forward to the next two days for sure!"
To expand on the above, at a consistent 15 meters, the track was wider than most of the next widest track I have been on (Aragon), which was 12 meters wide, only growing to 15 meters on the straight. Every corner begged you to dive in late and use every millimeter of track surface, making it pretty forgiving for most medium pace riders. That said, if you're like me and hit turn 4 too early every. single. lap. then you can kiss that infield section goodbye.
The next bit is fairly easy to understand. I do not have any of my motorcycles set up for GP shift, so on more than one occasion I found myself approaching a corner in 4th, and shifting into 6th instead of 2nd on the brakes. The lack of engine braking is exactly what you might expect when making this mistake, sadly I was not expecting to make the mistake, so my entry speeds were often higher than I wanted, and I in turn accelerated away from these corners with the agility and speed of a narcoleptic sloth.
Reread that sentence and pause extra long at each comma, and you will get a rough idea what it was like to ride this way...
Anyway, we all went back to the hotel for a shower and hit up the bar for beers while we waited for our respective Skodas to take us to dinner again.
Ahh! The hotel! I almost forgot.
I alluded to the fact that it was just outside the gates of the paddock, but I didn't really give much detail. The Grid Hotel has spoiled me for any track day at any track ever again. Imagine waking up in a proper sized bed, taking a shower in a proper sized shower, getting breakfast, and then walking to your bike in the paddock. Then you ride all day, walk back to your room to find your laundry done and a full size beer in the fridge that is not marked up 110% for the convenience of having a beer in your fridge. Seriously, the honor bar pricing was identical to what you would pay at the bar in the lobby.
The next morning the weather was much better meaning that we would all get a full day on track. There was also a new track day provider, which meant a new riders meeting that was in German, so I understood nothing. I did follow up with people about if the flag rules were the same (they were) and proceeded to go out for my morning sessions. As mentioned, we were all on R1's, but being towards the very tail end of the track day season, they were not the sharpest tools in the shed. Cat had mentioned that the place where we rented the bikes from was not his first choice, and that said place had quite a few bikes down with varying cases of what I am calling "gravity fever".
Some of our machines were stuck in certain power modes, which was less than ideal but manageable. One bike threw a chain, and then a little later it threw a second chain... Pro tip to the motorcycle shop that put the second chain on. DON'T USE A CLIP LINK ON A LITER BIKE. A couple of bikes also suffered a little "gravity fever", but all of the riders were fine.
On lunch the second day I went down to seek out the photographer, and introduce myself as a fellow trackside photo taker. I always appreciate it when people come and tell me what they are riding and bring a small group of guaranteed sales with me, and figure that would translate to Europe. We talked shop for a bit, and at some point I mentioned that I was writing an article for Road Racing World, which didn't seem to leave any sort of impression.
I was wrong about that.
On day three, I saw a photographer snap what I knew was going to be cover worthy as Cat and I were walking to talk to the people at Ducati Austria (more on that later). I didn't want to miss talking to the Ducati people, so I figured I would track down the rogue photographer later to see about buying the photo. A few minutes later, I ran into her and asked if she was selling her photos.
"Um, no? Well, I am taking some for Christian (Lauer), but it is for...wait, are you the American?"
Laughing, I responded "I am an American, but I don't know about being THE American. There are a group of us."
"But you are the American journalist, yes?"
I humbly said yes, once I stopped laughing at the thought of people taking my writing seriously again. We talked about what I was going to be riding, and the type of photos I was hoping to get and we went on our respective ways.
Oh, yeah... What I would be riding.
With the various issues that we were having with the R1's, Cat schmoozed the Ducati Austria people enough to let us ride their demo V4s for a session. Remember in part one when I explained the difference between a tour guide and a tour operator? This was operator level shit at its finest. Sure it meant that Cat got first dibs on the V4s, but... without his assistance I would not have had the shot to ride a Streetfighter V4s.
Hey Max, you do know that you mentioned two totally different machines that Ducati makes, right?
Yes, bucko. Keep reading.
Cat went out for his session, and I was due to head out right after him. I grabbed my camera to get some photos of him tucked down the front straight, and when he went by I repositioned for a second angle, as any self respecting photographer would. Only he never came by a second time. I made sure to pick a rider and watch them come by for a second lap just to make sure that I didn't miss him, and when that guy came by me two more times, I went to see if Cat just "bought" a Panigale V4s. I ran into him in our garage, and he explained what happened.
"I broke the Ducati" - Cat.
Entering turn one at triple digit speeds he sat up to brake and grab the downshifts needed, only most of that became impossible. The dash lit up like a Christmas tree and the bike would not shift. For reasons still not known, every light on the dash came on, and the electronic failure would not allow Cat to get out of fourth gear, so he limped the thing home and parked it in the Ducati Garage.
I walked down to the Ducati Austria garage to figure out if there was a simple fix or if I should just plan on taking the R1 out. I was two garages away when I heard, softly at first, "No electronics, no shift"
One garage away - "NO ELECTRONICS, NO SHIFT!"
In the Ducati garage - "NO FUCKING ELECTRONICS, NO FUCKING SHIFT! FIGURE IT THE FUCK OUT!"
The bellowing voice, noticing that I was there turned to me and explained that due to a (still to this day) unknown electronic issue, the Panigale was down for the foreseeable future.
"Sorry, but we have people coming in from the mothership to try and figure out what happened, it is not going anywhere until then."
"Bummer", I said and then gesturing to the Streetfighter V4s that was sitting next to it, "What about this fella?"
"Well, it isn't on slicks, or warmers, but sure if you want."
Twist my fucking arm, why don't you. Of course I want!
After gassing it up, (and finding the key before that) I was given the grand tour of the electronics, and was rewarned about the 5000 Euro deductible I would have to pay if I wadded their fancy machine. I elected to keep the electronics in the wide open, no holds barred mode because as I have mentioned before A) Momma didn't raise no chump, and B) If I am going to ride a bike I can't afford to crash, I might as well make the most out of that deductible, right? I'd be losing money if I didn't total it.
Kidding, I don't ride hard enough to hurt myself.
I rolled out and took it easy for the first lap, but after that it was game on. I was not allowed to put my transponder on the bike, but it felt like I went a little bit faster on the Ducati than I did the R1. It was standard shift so I didn't screw up my downshifts, and it was more of an upright riding position so my aging back was happy to let the rest of my equally aging body move around a bit more.
The gearing was much shorter than the R1, meaning that I was shifting a bit more, but I didn't care.
There was zero wind protection, meaning that I was clinging on for dear life down the straights (and everywhere else) But I didn't care.
I was on one of the bikes I had been itching to ride since it was introduced, on a MotoGP track in Europe. I am fairly certain that my laughter was louder than the exhaust, and I honestly still get goosebumps thinking about those laps.
There was no topping that, so once my session was up I swapped my leathers for some regular clothes and wandered down to the first garage and had a beer...that was poured by the track day provider. At the riders meeting they gave everyone two tokens for end-of-day drinks, which included both beer and Jagermeister on tap, or an energy drink. Obviously, once you had a beer you were done for the day, so shut it about drinking and riding.
Did I mention that the bartender is an endurance racer on a ZX-10?
Our whole group, and everyone else in the paddock was invited to a bbq at the end of the day, where they would be serving two full roast pigs and all the sides that came along with such a meal. I hung out by the bar and looked at photos that were taken over the last couple of days. Slowly the garage filled up with riders that were following my lead, and when the track was cold, the garage was packed. I ran out of tokens pretty quickly, but much like the hotel bar, beers were cheap enough for me to buy a round for the person behind me each time, and eventually my generosity was topped by a guy that I only know as "The Giant Baby".
TGB, as I will refer to him, was an Austrian rider that was in my group, and he was faaaaaaaast. He was also about 6'3", 220 pounds, in his 30's with a pretty epic beard that you just knew he grew so he wouldn't get carded at the bars.
I bought him a beer and a shot one time, and then every trip to the bar after that he made sure to cut in front of me and buy me the same. I don't know for sure if he was doing it out of kindness, or if he was trying to get back at me for being in his way all day, but either way we hung out and talked motorcycles in broken English until it was time for dinner.
Somewhere around this time, I came up with the whole motorcycle people vs people that ride motorcycles bit that I wrote about earlier. Here I was, thousands of miles away from home, at a track that I knew nobody, at a track day hosted by people that were not native English speakers, and I was welcomed unconditionally as one of them. Most of the Leod Escapes group left for the city again by this time, but I wasn't going anywhere.
I was home.
The whole reason I got involved in racing motorcycles was for moments like the one I was having right then. I was with motorcycle people that were going out of their way to make me feel like a guest of honor. Somewhere around 2am, after doing some sort of Austrian dance, I walked out of the garage and noticed that there was a small group of people outside around a fire pit.
I walked up to them, pretty hammered thanks to TGB and associates, and asked if they spoke English. They told me that they did a little, so I asked if I could sit with them and talk about riding. The hospitality was exceptional around the fire, and they grabbed me a chair, and a shot of Jager to go with the fresh beer that came with the chair.
I asked the group if they understood the term "fucking motorcycles", which lead to some confused smiles. They knew both words, but were lost on the context. I then did what most drunk Americans do, and continued speaking louder with excessive hand gestures.
"There are two meanings to "fucking motorcycles", I began while holding up two fingers. "First is fucking motorcycles", I said in a dramatically angry tone, "you know, when they break, or you fall down... fucking motorcycles." I fell out of the chair while saying this, thanks partially to that last shot of Jager, but I highsided the chair at the perfect part of my explanation.
They laughed and pointed at a guy who I later found out had both a mechanical and a crash that day.
"But then when everything is going great, it is FUCKING MOTORCYCLES!!!!" I cheerfully shouted, throwing an energetic fist in the air as if this was my new battle cry.
They laughed again, this time they pointed at a guy in their group that did his first track day ever that day. We talked about our street bikes, and motorcycles in general for about an hour before I stood up and politely excused myself, explaining that I had an early morning.
I walked away thinking how much better my life has been because of moments like what I just left. No politics, no racism, nothing that divided or polarized. Just a common hobby that we all take a little more seriously than the reality of the world that exists outside the paddock. It didn't matter that they only understood about 75% of my English and I only picked up on 10% of their German. We spoke trackday. Fluently.
I got about 20 feet away from their pit when I heard them all exclaim in unison "FUCKING MOTORCYCLES!"
If that is now a thing in Europe, I am taking full credit.
Pics that go with the words in this article.