Day 24: Sunday 7th October: Hanging out with the racing stars…

Sick of hotel breakfasts, and unwilling to pay the frankly ridiculous $15 charge, we walked to the nearby Cracker Barrel, where I could get a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal and a hot tea for $5, then caught another Uber back to the circuit. Today was slightly cooler this morning with a little cloud cover so we headed straight to the paddock to have a look around. Here there were lots of vans with race bikes of all sizes and vintage parked up in the shade of the gazebos. The racers, who came in all shapes, sizes and ages, were lounging around trying to stay out of the heat. We got talking to a few as we wandered around, checking out the bikes.

Close to the main control building was a guy I wanted to meet, riding a very interesting race bike. Michael Neeves is the chief road tester for MCN and a guy who won a competition to become a journalist with the paper a few years ago. Now he travels the world riding interesting bikes and is here to ride a very special replica of the bike Mike Hailwood returned to race and win the TT on in 1978, after an 11-year absence. This replica is an exact copy of the bike, including a copy of the prototype Ducati 900cc engine, one the engineers that built it had to re-create from the original drawings. I found him in the pits and went to introduce myself, using the excuse that I thought he might appreciate a fellow English accent. Turns out most of his team in the paddock are ex-pat Brits! We had a good chat, though, discussing the bike and how it handles, the heat, my 6,000-mile journey to be there (MCN is running a “ride 5,000 mile” promotion to get people to ride their bikes more, I’d done more than that in the last 2.5 weeks!) and my trip next year guiding the Globebusters’ London to Tokyo expedition.

After chatting to Michael I rejoined the others at the BMW Motorrad pits, where we got chatting to Nate Kern, the racer campaigning a BMW RNineT against proper race superbikes (and beating them). Nate was a pleasure to talk and listen to again, as he took us through the challenges of riding a boxer-engined bike on track and supporting his racing career on a shore-string. As we sat in the air-conditioned comfort of his rented motorhome, listening to him and Aaron strategise on how to get BMW to make more of the opportunities to promote the brand at events like this and the track-days Aaron runs from his dealerships, it was easy to see them both being successful in the future. The prospect of Nate racing the BMW Boxer Cup 2.0 series that’s being proposed is mouth-watering. I just hope he gets the chance and we get to see him again, racing in the UK.

When we left the motorhome it was once again very hot, so we caught the shuttle back to the museum for a final look around and some lunch. On the basement floor, whilst admiring a collection of racing Porsches, we bumped into Mr Barber himself, so we had the opportunity to thank him personally for creating such a marvelous monument to all this motorcycling.

Then it was back to the hotel for a shower and a walk to the Pappadeaux restaurant across the road, where I had a truly excellent steak and shared a bottle of good wine with Dean. A few beers in the bar of the hotel set me up nicely for the early start the following day!

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