On August 7th-9th, MotoGP was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you know nothing about these races, MotoGP is the largest and most exciting motorcycle race that travels around the world. The event spans over three days, from Friday to Sunday—Friday is a practice day, Saturday is qualifying for the race, and Sunday is the actual race. The excitement builds as each day passes. The experience of being on track and hearing such amazing machines flying by you at 200mph is unlike anything else.
Throughout the weekend, you notice many different people enjoying themselves. There are spectators who've been race fans for years, umbrella girls walking around taking photos with fans, track workers directing traffic, and journalists trying to cover their stories. Unique for Indianapolis, the MotoAmerica series was also present and held races around the MotoGP races. It got me wondering how everyone's weekend differed, so I spent some time talking with each of these people.
As a Spectator
Among the 67,648 fans who attended the race was Mary, an avid motorcycle enthusiast who lives in Indiana. She's been attending the MotoGP race in Indianapolis since 2009, which was around the time that she started building interest in motorcycling thanks to her husband Ryan. She also always attends all three days of the race.
"Who wouldn't want to be there all three days and hear the glorious sound of the bikes whizzing by?" she said. Mary and Ryan have both ridden and driven to the event, and each year brings its own unique experiences.
This year was particularly unique as they decided to spring for paddock passes on Friday. A general admission ticket to the race gets you into the general vendor area, but a paddock pass gets you closer to the action with a chance of meeting the riders.
Mary had a particularly great interest in meeting the riders this year. She has been working on the craziest project—she bought unfinished fairings for her CBR1000 and has been decorating them in sharpie art doodles for close to 200 hours. She brought the cowl piece of her project in hopes of getting rider signatures, and her mission ended victoriously.
"The best part of the weekend was I got Valentino Rossi to sign my cowl! It absolutely was worth the sunburn and waiting," she said.
After qualifying on Saturday, she went home to get her CBR 1000 and ride it an hour back to Indianapolis to attend Motos on Meridian.
"I rode my CBR around the downtown circle monument with thousands of motorcycles. I've never seen so many motorcycles in one spot before, it was incredible! The weather was a little warm in all gear, but the experience was worth it!"
By Sunday, Mary was ready to just relax and enjoy the race with her reserved seats. "Sunday, it's serious, and all eyes are on the race! This year we sat in E box by turn 1, and I think that has been the best seating for watching the race so far out of all the years we've been." Mary recommends both the paddock passes and reserved seating now to anyone, as she felt both contributed to such a phenomenal weekend.
As a Grid Marshal
Christy, a Tennessee native, drove to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday before the action started. She's been a grid marshal for MotoGP (and now MotoAmerica) for five years, which she started doing as a way to get closer to the action. At an employee dinner on Thursday, she gets any pertinent updates about rules, regulations, and her gear for the weekend. On Friday, the fun starts.
Her workday kicks off at 6am on Friday with opening the track.
"It's dark, calm and cool. There's nothing but the lingering smell of race fuel and burnt rubber. As the sun starts to rise, one by one, the track starts coming to life with the roars of the bikes and crews fumbling with tools in the garages," she described.
Christy's day is scheduled to the minute by Dorna, the organization that runs the MotoGP races.
"Around 8am all stations must take their place, including pit in, pit out, grid, pit lane, all flagger stations, and medical professionals. Dorna and FIM officials come out to make a hot lap for inspection to make sure track is ready to go. Once that's complete we can go on with our minute by minute schedule. If we aren't there to make sure things start smoothly, nothing will happen,"she explained.
As the day progresses, her responsibilities range from ensuring that riders are in the proper location, to checking that people aren't getting run over in the pit lane. The chaos progresses with each day.
"Fridays are pretty laid back because only practices are going on. Saturday it gets more hectic and busy because of qualifying. Sunday is when the big show really starts because it's game day! There's a lot of pomp and circumstance since everything is televised worldwide. They like our team to be smooth and very organized so that it looks good for the audience!"
As a grid marshal, she has her own row to monitor. "I was assigned row three this year, so whichever rider qualified 7,8,9 I was responsible for them."
This year that meant Valentino Rossi, one of her favorites, was in her row! "We have to stay on grid for two full laps once the race has started in case a red flag is called, and then we proceed off grid to our staging area to watch the races on TV."
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What's amazing is that the 12 hour days that Christy puts in are all volunteer hours. "We do it because of the passion we have for racing and motorcycles."
So what's the best part about it for her? "I live for that moment on race day when the riders are pumped up and ready to race! Over twenty bikes coming in hot right at you on the grid looking for your number to line up. Your heart is beating really fast, the earth is shaking under your feet and the sense of smell is alive with race gas surrounding you. Then rev, rev, rev, then the green flag, and then GOOOOOO! It is the moment we've all waited for!"
Additionally, five years of working as a grid marshall has brought her countless friendships that the race brings together in one place. All of this makes for a amazing, unique experience. She suggest this to others: "If you love it like I do, but just can't get close enough to the action then volunteer and work a race. You wont be disappointed!"
As a MotoAmerica Rider
Among those in attendance at the race, MotoAmerica held races for the Supersport, Superbike, and Superstock 1000 Championships in between the MotoGP races. For many riders, it was their first time ever at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The presence of the series had mixed reviews.
Yamaha Superbike champion Josh Hayes told me, "Being in front of the world crowd, there are going to be more people who are going to show up. It's good that we are performing here in front of the crowds. It is a difficult weekend, however, because we feel like the side show. Our paddock is separate and we don't even have access to the other paddock unless someone gives us access."
This sentiment was definitely evident. The MotoAmerica paddock was open to the general public unlike the MotoGP paddock, allowing fans to meet American racers and learn what the new race series was all about. It definitely gave fans a chance to feel the energy of being in the paddock. Yet, the stands were not nearly as packed for the MotoAmerica races, which took place after all the MotoGP excitement had ended for the day.
Despite this, the MotoAmerica teams still had their work cut out for them for that weekend. I asked Josh Hayes if he even had time to enjoy the MotoGP races, which unsurprisingly he didn't.
"It's really hard to follow the races. This is a difficult weekend because we've never tested here before. I'm a bit overwhelmed between focusing on what we need to do and the crowds that are here. We still follow MotoGP though because we have many friends in the paddock."
For Josh, his focus on Friday was on the championship. "Being tied between Cam and I with the championship is really exciting. I knew this was going to be a tough weekend for me, as he's raced here before. I've struggled a bit. I'm further down the list than I'm accustomed to being. I've never seen this track before. I didn't even get here early enough to get to walk around the track. I have never seen the curves with my own eyes 'til I was out here in the rain. It's been quite a challenge." The weekend concluded with Josh taking 3rd in the races on both Saturday and Sunday, which meant that his teammate Cameron Beaubier now has an 18 point lead in the championship.
As an Umbrella Girl
Kimberly Bogle is a model for Umbrella Girls USA, but she favors going to race events for work.
"I definitely enjoy race events most. Growing up in Indiana my entire life and attending races as a fan naturally allures me. It's exhilarating and intriguing. I have friends participating in all types of racing, so I have a vested interest," she tells me.
The recent college grad and Harley rider admits that MotoGP holds a special place in her heart, "MotoGP is the most culturally diverse atmosphere I work in and my favorite. I love learning about other cultures and meeting worldly people, which is perhaps why I chose a degree in International Business when I was in college. The concentration of so many different nationalities is rare in Indianapolis, and I love it. Fans travel far and wide for this series. Their excitement to see people like Rossi and Marquez up close is so incredible, and I love watching their reactions and the pandemonium."
This year, Kimberly spent the weekend as a Ducati Factory race team umbrella girl for the third year in a row and held an umbrella for Andrea Dovzioso.
Kimberly's working weekend technically starts on Saturday.
"On Saturday's qualifying day, we roam the paddock interacting with fans and posing for photos. We later switch to pit lane just outside the box to pass out posters during the fan walk. We then return to the paddock for the remainder of the afternoon," she said.
For race day on Sunday, she continues to meet fans but also has grid duties. She explained, "We walk to the grid and meet our riders in their position, shading them and the bike from the sun while posing for cameras for about thirty minutes pre-race." After the race starts, she heads to the pit box with the rest of the team to watch the race.
Seven years of working the grid and being from Indiana provided her an especially unique weekend.
"I've made so many friends and typically become the American tour guide. I always get groups of riders together and my local friends for dinners, shopping, go-karting, nightlife, football games or whatever they're interested in doing in America and it's a blast. It's my favorite weekend in Indy. My boyfriend is an open-wheel race car driver, and we took a few Swiss Moto2 riders go-karting with our friends this past weekend. It was great for them to get to know each other's worlds and see them race one another. That was my favorite night because it was a big group of comedians having a good time getting to know each other," she said.
Kimberly says that all umbrella girls have access to the paddock, and she recommends anyone who attends the races to purchase a paddock pass and get a taste of the excitement.
As a Motorcycle Journalist
I've been attending MotoGP since I started riding in 2011. I knew I had to see this race live after watching Valentino Rossi in the documentary Faster.
In the four years that I've attended, this was simultaneously the coolest and weirdest weekend I've had at the races. Many of you know that I broke my foot earlier this summer, and I've only just started walking again with the assistance of the boot. I was happy to be able to finally walk, and I was determined to get my motorcycle fix no matter how much pain it caused. I brought my awesome knee scooter to assist in covering the long distances from one location to the next, and parked the scooter when necessary.
My race experience began on Friday. I arrived at the track early, got my credentials, and then spent the day figuring out where I could get good photos and who I was able to talk to.
The coolest part of the weekend was when I met up with the Yamaha Factory team to tour the garage. Like most people, Valentino Rossi is a favorite rider of mine and being close to his bike was very exciting. I had the chance to meet Rossi's mechanic, and I felt like I could've spent all day asking him questions about what he does. Alas, I only had a few minutes to take in the garage before I was escorted out, but it was an incredible experience anyways.
The paddock was definitely an exciting place to be. So many racers were riding around on their scooters, and it was amusing to watch the fans often mob them. If you've never had the chance to be in that area, the paddock passes are generally cheapest on Friday and are worth the experience. Additionally, I enjoyed getting to Motos on Meridian with my knee scooter, which was quite a feat considering there were thousands of people present. It was definitely an exciting weekend, and I was happy to be able to cover so much on it for RideApart.
So if you've never been to a race weekend, there's so many things to do and see that's worth seeing once in your life. If you're already a regular race attender and are eager to get in on more of the action, you can buy a paddock pass, volunteer, or model if you're one of the beautiful people.
Jen Tekawitha is a regular contributor for RideApart. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at @Jen_Tekawitha.