With arguably the greatest MotoGP rider of the modern era (and maybe the one before it as well) announcing his retirement, there are bound to be some incredible stories written by his peers about what it was like to race with him. Experts will no doubt write detailed pieces detailing his career, and others will talk about his future within the MotoGP paddock
This isn't any of those. This is about the time that I helped Valentino Rossi get away with a hit and run in Monterey...technically.
It was 2010 and I was at the Laguna Seca MotoGP round as a tire tech. My job was to make sure that the MotoGP teams were using only their allotted tires, and to track what they were using... Or it would have been if I was assigned a team to monitor. With no actual duty to perform, I wandered up and down the garage area while the MotoGP guys were on track, and strolled through the paddock when the AMA racers were doing their thing. As lunch was concluding on Saturday, July 24th I was walking through the paddock, probably eating a Frog Dog (mustard only) when I heard sirens off in the distance. Not little blips to clear traffic, not one vehicle, but three police bikes all rolling code 3 with a Mazda CX-7 sandwiched in the middle. My first thought was "someone stole a CX-7? I guess they get on the road somehow, I have never met anyone that bought one..." but then I realized that the whole parade was coming into the paddock. Three screaming sirens, one CX-7, and a growing number of people taking pictures of a bloated econo-box being masqueraded as a Sport Utility Vehicle were coming right for me. The closer the cacophony got to the paddock, the slower it had to go, what with all of the attention it was drawing.
As the autocade reached the paddock proper, it took a sharp left down a dead end and came to a stop. Well, the first two police escorts and the underperforming Mazda SUV did at least.
The third officer didn't get the memo, and channeling his inner squid bounced off the right rear bumper. This drew a bigger crowd, and, as it turns out, the passenger in the CX-7 was trying to avoid crowds. By now you have figured out that Valentino Rossi was in the back seat, and he was not entirely thrilled with his police escort. Oh, in case you didn't remember, for a large portion of the 2010 season Valle was unable to walk without crutches. Running, however...
He hopped out and scurried away as fast as I have seen anyone move outside of a track meet. To this day I am not sure if his hurried departure was due to the blandness of the CX-7 or if it was to try and avoid the rush of fans. Either way, it was as if he didn't have any leg injury at all and was using the crutches to bound away like a gazelle on the Serengeti. Seriously though, Rossi is fast on ANYTHING it seems. He was out of the car and around the corner before most people knew what happened, but I was positioned to see exactly where he went.
The Doctor dipped behind a dumpster, desperate to displace his devotees, directly. I saw his hiding place and stopped nearby. He looked at me like a scared puppy, and put his index finger to his lips. I nodded politely as he ducked back into hiding, and as he did, I began the diversion. "THERE HE GOES!" I shouted, pointing off into the opposite direction, sending a group of about 30 fans decked out in yellow hats over to Johnny Rock Page's pits. I felt a little bad about the wild goose chase, but I did triple JRP's traffic for the day, so there is that.
I looked back at Rossi, and he give the biggest smile I have ever seen from the man. Neither one of us had a plan for the next step, but fortunately his team did.
Shortly after a golf cart full of people wearing Yamaha sweatshirts arrived and I calmly motioned for it to stop. Before I could even point to Rossi's temporary bunker, Valle had covered the 20 yards to his new ride, and was swept back to the garage with no further drama.
Later in the day when I was back at my station Rossi gave me a wink and a thumbs up as I passed by his garage.
I didn't get any photos of him in hiding as I didn't want to blow his cover.
I will miss seeing him grid up, but I am excited to see what his future holds as a team owner and wish him the best of luck!