El Circo del Barro: The Rain in Spain Makes Racing a Real Pain

Story and Photos by Donn Maeda

Let’s cut to the chase: I hate traveling. Having been at this moto-journalism gig for some 13 years now, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit over half of our United States and about 10 different countries; but there comes a time in a man’s life when enough is enough. Lucky for me, being the boss means that I can pick and choose which events I’d like to attend, leaving my eager staff to hit the rest of the events on the magazine’s behalf.

Though Europe definitely isn’t on my list of all-time favorites, the thought of seeing defending World Supercross GP Champion Chad Reed go head-to-head with defending U.S. Supercross Champion Ricky Carmichael in Seville, Spain, was just too good to pass up. Well, that and the fact that my wife was itching to take her first trip abroad… For Eileen, the thought of seeing my American credit cards go head-to-head with exotic European boutiques in Seville, Spain, was just too good to pass up.

With our passports issued, tickets booked, and Grandma set to stay at our house to babysit the girls, we anxiously awaited our early December departure date. As the day drew nearer, however, my reason for being (in Spain) slowly began to unravel. First, rumors began to spread that RC had decided to forego the first two rounds of the World Supercross GP in order to do some last-minute testing aboard the four-stroke Honda CRF450R. That rumor became irrelevant a couple days later when RC blew out his knee and announced that he would be missing the entire SX series altogether. Shortly thereafter I was disappointed to learn that other contenders Mike LaRocco, David Vuillemin, Tim Ferry, and Ezra Lusk were electing to pass on the event, but I was completely blindsided when Reed dislocated his shoulder while playing pool and also became a non-entrant. The sole full-factory riders left on the entry list were Honda’s Ernesto Fonseca and Red Bull/KTM’s Grant Langston, but the lack of big guns on the starting line was not nearly as disheartening as the weather report that I found on the Internet. Rain, rain, and more rain was in the forecast, and I warned Eileen to pack wet-weather shopping gear. Not once did it occur to me, however, that the Estadio de Olimpico might have a big hole in the ceiling…

The words that follow are excerpts from my travel journal. Be forewarned, however: within the paragraphs to come are one parking ticket, two discarded shoes, three emptied minibars, and four missing sausages…

Wednesday, December 3

In anticipation of horrendous traffic, Eileen and I left Corona at 4:00 a.m. to catch our 7:15 a.m. flight out of LAX. Planning to sleep on the miserable plane flights, I never went to bed the night before. Though we tried to kiss Samy and Meg goodbye without waking them, we were unsuccessful and the tear-filled goodbyes that followed just about ripped my heart out of my chest.

Naturally, there was no traffic on the freeways and we found ourselves sitting at the airport at 5:00 a.m. with nothing to do. I decided to try out the goofy inflatable neck donut that I had bought the night before, but then I remembered the time that I slept through the boarding process the morning after the Peoria TT in ’93 and had to spend an extra day in lovely Illinois.

The plane rides themselves weren’t too bad. My trusty neck donut, plus a Benadryl and a beer equaled a near-painless flight, though I was plenty annoyed by the fact that Delta Airlines now charges you for your in-flight meals. Yeah, that’s right: unless you’re willing to fork out 10 bucks for a sandwich, it’s all peanuts and sodas. Damn nice. Pirates of the Caribbean was the featured airline movie, but it wasn’t enough to keep me awake. Besides, it’s hard to look at that Johnny Depp clown without remembering his mullet and eyeliner days on 21 Jpstreet. Lame.

Thursday, December 4

When we landed in Madrid today and awaited our connecting flight to Seville, I decided to grab a bite to eat. The airport café had some ham sandwiches on hard rolls to choose from, plus some pretty good coffee. In the airport we spotted Ryan Clark, Keith Johnson, and Damon Huffman. They all looked just as beat as we did.

In Seville, we rented a Skoda Octavia, a Czech Republic-built diesel hatchback in a sporty green color. Having owned automatic transmission-equipped cars for the better past of the last decade, it took me a few minutes to get the hang of the manual transmission. Remarkably, we made it to the hotel by using the Hertz-supplied map and didn’t miss a turn. Eileen proved to be a pretty good navigator, and I’m really glad that she took Spanish in high school. Me? I took French, which was totally and completely impractical. To this day, I haven’t had to ask someone where the post office is in Francais… Sorry, DV.

The Barcelo Gran Hotel Renacimiento is actually a lot more modern than I had expected, and our room has all of the things that an American room would, plus that extra cool butt-washing sink! We ventured into town tonight to have dinner. Having eaten at all of the trendy “Tapas Bars” back home, I was anxious to dine in one in Seville, where tapas are said to have originated. (Tapas are small appetizer-like dishes, and one orders several to make up a meal.) Unable to find any of the dishes I have become accustomed to at home, I ordered tapas that ended up being a plate of burnt french fries, topped with ham and poached eggs. Strange…

In the hotel lobby, we ran into Steve “TFS” Bruhn and Davey Coombs from Racer X. Both were lacking their luggage, as Iberian Airlines had somehow misplaced their bags and couldn’t tell them when to expect them. I didn’t have any clothes that would fit TFS and I didn’t think DC would like to wear any of the TWMX T-shirts that I packed, so I wished them luck instead of offering them loaner threads. I feel lucky to have gotten to Spain with luggage intact. Over the years, it seems like I have developed a 50/50 lost bag ratio.

Since we’ve arrived, a steady mist has been falling from the gray skies. I couldn’t believe my ears when TFS told me that the Estadio de Olimpico was built just like Texas Stadium, with a big, gaping hole in the roof. The track has been covered in plastic, but it looks like tomorrow’s practice sessions might be cancelled.

Had a San Miguel beer before turning in for the night, and tried out the butt sink just for kicks. I like it.

Friday, December 5

Just as I expected, practice was cancelled today, so Eileen and I decided to go sightseeing in downtown Seville. Funny how having your wife along can change the whole dynamic of a road trip: if she hadn’t been with me, I would have likely ordered room service and a pay-per-view porno.

Somehow, and don’t ask me how, I managed to get a parking ticket in a country where no one seems to give a damn about traffic of parking regulations. Thus far, I’ve come to the following conclusions about vehicular etiquette in Spain: 1. Traffic signals are nothing more than pretty decorations; if you aren’t endangering someone and no cops are watching, ignore those pesky red lights! 2. If you are on a scooter, no traffic rules at all apply to you and you should feel free to ride on the wrong side of the road or even on the sidewalk if it tickles your fancy! Penalty points are issued if you wear a helmet. 3. Cars are not status symbols like they are in the United States. Here, everyone drives crappy little cars that they couldn’t care less about. The coolest car I’ve seen thus far is a novel Mini Cooper. 4. Park wherever the hell you please, even if it’s in the middle of a crosswalk or half on the sidewalk. If you double-park and block someone in, it’s perfectly fine if you leave your hazard lights on. 5. Fold your mirrors in when you park, if you would like them to be there when you return. The streets in downtown Seville are so narrow that I doubt Big E could negotiate the intersections without buttering up his sides.

While walking through the city, I must admit that I was in awe of the old-world architecture. Eileen had our entire day mapped out and I’m sure that we visited every Cathedral, museum and place of interest in Seville. Heck, we even visited the bullfighting arena. Sadly, it was the off season and instead of seeing a real bullfight in person, we were forced to settle for a guided tour of the matador’s chambers. I wanted to see a bull bite the dust, in hopes that I could maybe eat something other than ham.

Naturally, we also found the shopping district, which is comprised of a seemingly endless maze of small side streets, many of which are too narrow for a car to fit through. Though there were a couple of larger department stores, the most interesting proved to be the smaller mom and pop shops. Amazingly, we ended the night only a few dollars lighter, as none of the goods available in Seville struck a chord with my wife. Instead, some touristy t-shirts for the kids and a couple pairs of Spanish-made shoes for them rounded out our purchases for the day.

Oh yeah… We also stopped for tapas twice today. No empanadas to be found anywhere. Instead, it was ham, ham and more ham. For Eileen, the local cuisine proved to be quite delightful, as seafood galore is available everywhere. Me? If any sort of shellfish even touches my lips, my face swells up and I look a lot like Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes. Shrimp for me? Wha’choo talkin’ about, Willis?

After dinner, I spoke to TFS on AOL Instant Messenger. I asked him if his bags had shown up, and he replied, “Hell no! Right now, I’m wearing Spanish clothes that were made in Vietnam!” Apparently, Steve was forced to venture into town in search of some “manly sized” threads, but had little luck. “These Spanish people are all midgets!” he complained. I can’t wait to see TFS in the Spanish rip-away nylon track suit he just bought!

Saturday, December 6

Jet lag sucks. I had a tough time falling asleep last night, and I was forced to drink everything in the hotel mini bar to finally get to sleep. Unfortunately, the San Miguels, Heinekins, and mini booze bottles, coupled with the super-thick Las Vegas-style curtains in our room allowed both Eileen and me to remain in a comatose state until 3:30 in the afternoon! Scrambling to get to the track, we were greeted by Grant Langston and his girlfriend Chelsea in the hotel lobby. They told me that the afternoon practice sessions were cancelled, and that the entire program was going to be delayed. Instead of rushing to the stadium, we sat down in the bar and had an early dinner. And guess what Cool G and I ate? You got it: ham sandwiches. Garth’s vegan living is starting to sound better and better every day.

When we finished, Grant walked up to the bar and told the bartender, “Billeta, por favor.” Now, I may have taken French in high school, but I still know that “billeta” is not Spanish for “bill” or “check.” It cracks me up how some people think they can create their own Spanish, simply by adding a syllable or two. (Excuso el me, do you know when el Supercrosso is el scheduled to la starta?) Just kidding, Grant. You know you’re my el doggo…

When we got to the stadium, a snafu between the Clear Channel staff and the Spanish workers on hand forced Eileen and me to sneak into the pits because our pit passes were nowhere to be found. I used my old photo pass from the Summeon the sidewalk. If you double-park and block someone in, it’s perfectly fine if you leave your hazard lights on. 5. Fold your mirrors in when you park, if you would like them to be there when you return. The streets in downtown Seville are so narrow that I doubt Big E could negotiate the intersections without buttering up his sides.

While walking through the city, I must admit that I was in awe of the old-world architecture. Eileen had our entire day mapped out and I’m sure that we visited every Cathedral, museum and place of interest in Seville. Heck, we even visited the bullfighting arena. Sadly, it was the off season and instead of seeing a real bullfight in person, we were forced to settle for a guided tour of the matador’s chambers. I wanted to see a bull bite the dust, in hopes that I could maybe eat something other than ham.

Naturally, we also found the shopping district, which is comprised of a seemingly endless maze of small side streets, many of which are too narrow for a car to fit through. Though there were a couple of larger department stores, the most interesting proved to be the smaller mom and pop shops. Amazingly, we ended the night only a few dollars lighter, as none of the goods available in Seville struck a chord with my wife. Instead, some touristy t-shirts for the kids and a couple pairs of Spanish-made shoes for them rounded out our purchases for the day.

Oh yeah… We also stopped for tapas twice today. No empanadas to be found anywhere. Instead, it was ham, ham and more ham. For Eileen, the local cuisine proved to be quite delightful, as seafood galore is available everywhere. Me? If any sort of shellfish even touches my lips, my face swells up and I look a lot like Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes. Shrimp for me? Wha’choo talkin’ about, Willis?

After dinner, I spoke to TFS on AOL Instant Messenger. I asked him if his bags had shown up, and he replied, “Hell no! Right now, I’m wearing Spanish clothes that were made in Vietnam!” Apparently, Steve was forced to venture into town in search of some “manly sized” threads, but had little luck. “These Spanish people are all midgets!” he complained. I can’t wait to see TFS in the Spanish rip-away nylon track suit he just bought!

Saturday, December 6

Jet lag sucks. I had a tough time falling asleep last night, and I was forced to drink everything in the hotel mini bar to finally get to sleep. Unfortunately, the San Miguels, Heinekins, and mini booze bottles, coupled with the super-thick Las Vegas-style curtains in our room allowed both Eileen and me to remain in a comatose state until 3:30 in the afternoon! Scrambling to get to the track, we were greeted by Grant Langston and his girlfriend Chelsea in the hotel lobby. They told me that the afternoon practice sessions were cancelled, and that the entire program was going to be delayed. Instead of rushing to the stadium, we sat down in the bar and had an early dinner. And guess what Cool G and I ate? You got it: ham sandwiches. Garth’s vegan living is starting to sound better and better every day.

When we finished, Grant walked up to the bar and told the bartender, “Billeta, por favor.” Now, I may have taken French in high school, but I still know that “billeta” is not Spanish for “bill” or “check.” It cracks me up how some people think they can create their own Spanish, simply by adding a syllable or two. (Excuso el me, do you know when el Supercrosso is el scheduled to la starta?) Just kidding, Grant. You know you’re my el doggo…

When we got to the stadium, a snafu between the Clear Channel staff and the Spanish workers on hand forced Eileen and me to sneak into the pits because our pit passes were nowhere to be found. I used my old photo pass from the Summer X Games to get in, then snuck Chelsea’s pit pass back out to Eileen so she could get in. Fortunately, we found Denny Hartwig inside and he made everything right. After arguing with so many el personello, it was great to see a familiar face. Thanks, Denny!

The track was an absolute mess, and it seemed like most of the riders didn’t want to trash their brand new 2004 race bikes in the quagmire. When it was apparent that the race would go on, all of them started making creative use of duct tape, cardboard and trash bags. Mike Brown had so much duct tape and cardboard visor extensions on his helmet that he looked more like a Rose Bowl Parade float than a motocrosser, and Tyler Evans looked like he was trying to an Arnold from Diff’rent Strokes impression of his own with a big chunk of black skid plate foam taped to the top of his lid. Grant wore a cutoff plastic rain slicker over his jersey and Tiger Lacey made some gigantic hand guards out of what looked like two helmet boxes and 14 rolls of duct tape. Needless to say, the normally super-stylish motocross heroes on hand looked like a bunch of Mad Max wannabes. Not that any of it mattered once the gate dropped, mind you. Two turns into the race, and everyone looked like they were racing in the Hershey Squirts Marathon.

In anticipation of the horrible conditions, I tied the laces on my Etnies as tight as I could so that I wouldn’t lose a shoe when I trudged into the slop. Ted Campbell’s girlfriend/mechanic lost her boots in the signal area, and I felt her pain as she walked around barefoot for the rest of the night. As I entered the arena, I was dismayed when the rent-a-cops informed me that I had to wear my “Track Crew” T-shirt over my jacket. Yeah, like I didn’t look fat enough already! As soon as I took a mid-thigh level step into the mud, however, I quickly forgot about looking cool.

The muddy conditions wreaked havoc on not only the machines but on the results as well. Heck, Ernesto didn’t even qualify for the main after he smoked out two clutches in his heat and LCQ. So deep and thick was the mud that a 20-minute intermission between heat races was required while the track crew struggled to free the stuck machines of Keith Johnson and some Euro dude who thought it was quite amusing that his KX250 was buried to the bars in the mud. It was hard to tell who was who while I was taking photos, and I still can’t believe that I didn’t ruin my equipment in the horrible conditions. Halfway through the main event I got a gnarly cramp in my left calf from trudging through the mud, and my feet were on fire from the tourniquet lace-tying technique I had used.

When the checkered flag flew, a brown rider on a two-stroke crossed the finish line, dropped his bike and did his best to run around in the mud with his arms above his head. When I spotted MotoworldRacing.com Team Manager Paul Lindsay hugging him, I figured that it was either Andrew Short or Daryl Hurley; turns out it was Hurley, who led the race relatively unchallenged after Brownie dropped out with a smoked clutch. Langston and Evans came home second and third, respectively, though some riders tried to protest Cool G for cutting the track in the early stages of the race. The FIM overruled the protest, though, and Langston’s runner-up finish remained intact. To celebrate his podium finish, GL tackled Hurley’s mechanic Dean Gibson in the mud. For a split second Grant looked at me as if he might do the same to me, but then he realized that I was carrying my cameras. If he had tackled me in the mud, I would have protested him, too!

After the race, I noticed that only TFS and I were brave enough to venture into the middle of the track, knee-deep in mud. Well, my new British buddy Steve Jackson did have a little mud on his shoes, but for the most part the other photographers shot from the dry perimeter of the track. Sissies!

After the race, I met up with Eileen and we both attended the press conference. I was miserable as I sat there cold, tired, and with mud in my butt crack. Don’t ask me how, but it did make it there… I can only imagine how miserable the riders felt.

Back at the car, I removed my shoes, which looked more like cinder blocks than skate shoes, and I left them on the top of the Skoda as I drove off. I think they flew off somewhere near the hotel. A long, hot shower rejuvenated me, even though it was well past midnight, so I decided to write my Monday Kickstart web site report then and there. So muc