Our story: “Ducatista”

DUCATISTA

Adrian Palmer

 

As consumers, most of us probably think of companies as entities designed to make money and consumers of their products as individuals who use them to accomplish something or other:  a car to get them around, a microwave to heat up leftovers, a video game to keep them amused.  If we stick with products from a particular company, we may develop some sort of relationship with the company itself.  We may trust that it will provide good value for money spent, that it will keep improving its products, and that it will answer the phone if the darn things break.  In fact, we may become so used to dealing with such a company that we consider ourselves to be a company person, e.g. someone who generally buys Fords (“Built Ford Tough“) and looks down on owners of presumably enfeebled Chevrolets. But once in a while, a company outgrows the trusted-provider-of-useful-product role and evolves into a culture with some of the richness of a New Orleans or a Venice, so when we buy one of its products, becoming part of the community is as important—or perhaps even more important—than the actual use we make of the product.  In fact, it may actually not perform very well.  (The image of a Harley Davidson materializes, perhaps unfairly, in my mind.)  Those of us who buy Ducatis and become part of Ducati culture are known collectively as Ducatisti.  The singular form is Ducatista.

I first encountered Ducati culture when living in Thailand in the early 1970s.  My position as a Fulbright scholar gave me access to U.S. military bases with American-style soda fountains and racks of American magazines for sale.  Happy to find a way to reconnect with one of my hobbies (I had owned several motorcycles in Ann Arbor, Michigan back in the 1960s), I felt some sort of an impulse to buy a copy of Cycle Magazine, and over burgers and cherry pie a-la-mode at the soda fountain I began to read.  Of all the story banners, one in particular grabbed me:  Racer Road, Cook Neilson and Phil Shilling’s quarterly update of their adventures bringing their 1973 750SS up to Daytona 200 race-winning level.

Unique among the mainstream Cycling press writers of the day, Neilson and Schilling both made the news about Ducatis and reported it.  I read their stories one word at a time to prolong the high and waited for each new issue of Cycle Magazine to appear on the rack each month, the biggest gift under the Christmas tree.  In fact, I remember that I couldn’t decide which I anticipated more, the content of their stories or the prose that conveyed it.  In any case, after following Cook and Phil’s travels down their Racer Road, I never veered off of my own.

When I returned to the U.S., in order to establish a social life I started visiting the local Ducati shop in my new home in Salt Lake City.  On one of my early visits, I spotted the first issue of the Ducati International Owners’ Club (D.I.O.C.) Newsletter on the counter.  I immediately subscribed and even contributed to it in a minor way, and to this day my complete collection of this irreverent assortment of stories is one of my treasured portions of Ducati cultural history.

These mimeographed documents emerged from the basement of Joel Eliel Gonzalez, who owned a small Ducati dealership in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  The metaphysical masthead told me how I was to contextualize my Ducati experience: “Motorcycles transport the body, Ducatis transport the soul.”  In fact, I was so fascinated by the newsletter and the soul behind the typewriter that I actually I played hooky from a professional conference of applied linguists in Miami to meet Joel at his shop in Fort Lauderdale.  After that, Joel and I talked on the phone from time to time over the years.  I wish I were still in touch with him.

I also subscribed to every other English language Ducati newsletter I was aware of from New Zealand, Great Britain, and Canada, and I still have correspondence from some of their editors.  As I get very old, I find myself wondering if there is a way to preserve my many records of Ducati Culture from the 1970s and 1980s (magazines, posters, newsletters, correspondence, T-shirts) and whether they would actually be meaningful to new enthusiasts.  Or might a friend of mine in Venice have been correct when she hypothesized that that there’s cut-off point to understanding?   We’d have to see.

From the early 1970s up to the time when the Ducati started to compete at a factory level in world competition, I sensed a disconnect between the Ducati corporation, Ducat S.p.A (Societa per Azioni, “Joint Stockholder Company”) and the folks who owned their motorcycles.  When American Ducati owners sought to hop-up or even simply maintain their Ducatis, we had to rely almost entirely upon the experience of fellow Ducati owners.  As a group, we took Cook and Phil’s words as doctrine; after all, their racing wins established their credibility.  As for suggestions from other members of our community, we often had to act on simple faith that the purported fixes would actually work.  (After all, some sense of direction was better than none.)  If you’d like to get a sense of just how big was the gap between American Ducatisti and Ducati S.p.A, consider that in the D.I.O.C Newsletter, rumors circulated that Cook and Phil were actually writing a shop manual (in their spare time) for the big desmo twins, a manual that the Ducati Factory had, as far as we knew, failed to create.

Almost 35 years ago, I bought my first Ducati at C&G Cycles in Salt Lake City: a 1975 750GT that still strikes me as one of the most beautiful “standard” motorcycles ever made.  I was introduced to this long-legged runner in Cycle Magazine’s December, 1973 Superbike comparison test, which characterized the Ducati as the one bike all of the testers wanted to ride home.  But that Ducati, and mine as well, weren’t perfect: electrical switches were under engineered and exasperating to live with, setting the spark timing required two incompatible interacting adjustments, and air intake hoses tended to collapse under vacuum, choking the carburetion.  I did my best to deal with my 750GT’s challenges as well as I could and was very happy with my beauty…

Until one Saturday morning afternoon when I pulled up for my for my weekly visit to C&G and saw of a flash of blue in the window.  Right there was one of the most compelling sights I’d ever seen: a new 1976 900SS (Super Sport), a barely street-legal road racer.  The price also got my attention:  $3000, which at the time made it the most expensive motorcycle one could buy.  As a beginning Assistant Professor, I could hardly afford such an indulgence, but I also would never have been able to forgive myself if I turned my back on “the one.”  I’m particularly embarrassed to say that in order to hide my financial irresponsibility from my wife (of that era), I convinced her that I had simply repainted my gold 750 GT and not spent any of the family reserves on a new motorcycle.  “Turned out beautiful, didn’t it?”

I decided right away to approximate the modifications Cook and Phil made to their 1973 750SS.  Over the next two years, I completed the upgrades and went racing…at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Sears Point and Willow Springs raceways, and even Laguna Seca!  In fact, I also went drag racing once or twice.  I was truly terrible—and terrified—in all venues except for one:  Bonneville.  Back during the 1970s, Bonneville was a friendly place for modest family efforts.  (If you’ve seen The World’s Fastest Indian, you know what I mean.)  We were actually able to put up our awnings and camp out on the salt right next to the racecourse.  No one bothered us, and we could make unsupervised moonlight runs down the track long after the folks in charge had left for the evening.  I even took my 10-year-old daughter on an easy but irresponsible 100mph run down the salt under a full moon.

 

Ducati at Bonneville

 

I also had some fun replicating Rollie Free’s historic attempt at ultimate streamlining, but this time with advanced safety gear.

 

Rollie Free at Bonneville

 

 

Ducatista, Rollin’ Free at Bonneville

 

After several years, I managed to set a speed record, 141.06 mph, which in that era was really fast for the “Top 130” class in which I was competing.

 

Bonneville Salt Flats timing slips

 

Of course Cook and Phil had gone faster, about 149 mph on their race bike at sea level.  But for a novice, my 141.06 at nearly a mile high wasn’t bad.  140 mph had always been my target, so when I picked up my timing slip back at the starting line after my record run, I knew I’d just run out of racing-related goals.  I also realized that I’d taken fairly big risks any number of times without any broken bones, but I couldn’t count on my luck to continue.  In any case, my interests in Ducatis veered more down social roads—watching races, talking with racers and mechanics, and keeping up with the literature.  I corresponded a bit with Cook, sent him a few pictures of my bike and actually met him and Phil at a Superbike race at the Laguna Seca Raceway in California.

As far as I know, Ducati S.p.A. started to recognize its place in American Ducatisti hearts when it participated directly on large racing stages such as the American Motorcycle Association and World Superbike Championships, met its admirers in person, and felt the heat of their lust for Ducatis.  I spent many hours in the Ducatisti gatherings around the factory racing tents year after year, and on one very special evening at Laguna Seca my buddy and I were actually joined for dinner by Doug Polen (World Superbike champion for Ducati) and his wife, Diane.  Perhaps my friend and I looked more like motorcyclists than donors at the upscale charity event to which we had somehow gotten invited.  I remember that we actually talked a lot about out Apple Macintosh computers. Doug had two Quadras at the time, and I had owned Macs from the day they were put on the market.  So there!

During the 1980s, Ducati created a new design, the 916, that, from my point of view, finally equaled the beauty and competitive successes of the original 750SS.  In doing so, they built upon styling and engineering cues from their 1973 750SS masterwork:  voluptuous fuel tank, steel trellis frame, and desmodromic valve actuation system, all based upon a fundamental governing value:  form must serve function.  Expansive curves increase liquid capacity; trellis steel frames stay put; and desmodromic valves open and close exactly when they’re supposed to.  Unlike purely styling indulgencies like soaring tail fins on 1959 Cadillacs or miniscule gas tanks on Harley Davidsons, the bedrock Ducati components actually make the machines work better.  And they keep owners of modern Ducatis in touch with their cultural heritage as exemplified in the 1973 750SS, described in the Guggenheim Museum’s “The Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit as one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made.  I agree, which is why a huge poster of that very motorcycle occupies 1/3 of a wall in my office.

 

1973 Ducati 750SS


Finally, in 2001, I decided to participate again in Ducati events as more than a spectator.  With some buddies from Salt Lake City, I spent an epiphanic weekend in Las Vegas at Ducati Revs America where I met Cook again and hung on to every word of his accounts of Ducati history.  But what I’ll never forget is circling the racetrack on my first love, eardrums itching with the explosive resonances of her magical motor that had hurled me down the Bonneville Salt Flats 20 years before.  Ducati had staged an optimally organized party—neither chaotic nor strangled, one that that satisfied in so many ways that I’d be up all night if I started describing them here.

 

 

 Ducatista’s 1976 Ducati 900SS at Ducati Revs America
Photo appeared in Motorcycle Sport & Leisure, a wonderful magazine.
(Permission to reproduce requested.)


Following Ducati culture on the Internet, I first read about the existence of another celebration that by all accounts set the bar even higher than Ducati Revs America:  World Ducati Week (WDW).  Situated in the Ducati homeland and held only once every few years, it drew many thousands of Ducatisti and their motorcycles from all over Europe for a Felliniesque blow-out that put an end to any question of what company ruled the sport bike culture (just as Harley Davison dominates the cruiser culture).  OK.  I’d go there some day, when the time was right.

That time was December of 2009, when I read a short announcement on the Ducati web page that proclaimed World Ducati Week’ cosmic theme:

WDW is World Ducati Week – the colossal Ducati celebration with a magnetism that attracts thousands of motorcyclists from all over the world to land on its stunning ‘Red Planet’ and breathe pure passion.

Since the first episode of the saga in 1998, the Misano World Circuit in Italy has been the perfect landing site for all Red Planet Ducatisti. Track rides, test rides, shows, MotoGP and Superbike star men, music, non-stop fun and more bikes than you could possibly dream of.

World Ducati Week 2010, Misano Adriatico (Italy)

Star date:          10th – 13th June

Coordinates:          Misano World Circuit in Misano Adriatico (Rimini)

Mission:          Shows, test-drives, stunts, parties, music and lots of fun, but above all motorcycles.

Over the next couple of weeks, Ducati S.p.A drew its bow and arced eight arrows straight into the heart of the male libido.

Announcement 1:            Movie stars

Announcement 2:            Models

Announcement 3:            Playboy Bunnies

Announcement 4:            Italian Army mine disposal robots

Announcement 5:            Italian Air Force Mancuso helicopter gun ships

Announcement 6:            Rock bands

Announcement 7:            Stage performances by performers from the Athens Olympics opening and closing ceremonies

Announcement 8:            Pyrotechnics

Yep.  They got my attention.

As soon as WDW was announced, I got on the Internet to find a place to stay in Misano Adriatico, a seaside resort south of Venice.  I needed a place within walking distance of the event since I would have to rely upon my feet to get me to the racetrack.  I came upon an advertisement for a small, family-run Bed & Breakfast, Il Frantoio (the olive oil press), which was only a 30-minute walk to the Misano World Circuit.  It consisted of about six rooms in the owner’s home on a small olive orchard and oil extraction business.  It provided a down-home experience of a clean, quiet room, a family breakfast, and an owner and his wife who took me into their family for a few days.  They drove me to town when I needed to do some banking, to the track when they saw me trudging off on foot one hot morning, and to catch an early train in Rimini when I finally left for Venice, and then home.

On the opening morning, I almost sprinted to the event and was actually the first one through the gate.  However, I didn’t just get my wristband and walk down some path.  I passed through the Star Gate and emerged into Ducati Universe.

 

 

First Ducatista through the Star Gate

 

Star Gate in the morning

 

But in an altogether different world was a night entrance.  A couple of weeks before, back at a World Superbike event in Salt Lake City, I had talked with an motorcycle insurance representative, Brett Keynak, who had been to WDW and asked him what I might expect.  He said that arriving at WDW was like walking into a rock concert after downing four shots of espresso.  You know how your mind fragments trying to take in an explosive scene.  Setting out from Il Frantoio one evening, I saw the racetrack glowing in white light in the distance and felt the sound of Ducatis and the PA drawing closer.  But neither prepared me for the Star Gate at night: a tunnel of pulsating red light-emitting diodes that pulled me into Ducati Universe.

 

Star Gate in the evening

 

Barbecues pumped clouds of smoke into the sky, and a huge stage glowed blue in the night, the venue for the evening’s stage show, where the audience not only stood but also—if they wished—rode in on their motorcycles and watched from the comfort (?) of the plush backs their Ducks.

 

Waiting for the concert

 

I was one of the standees and had a few minutes to pass while the band tuned up.

Tuning up

 

I found myself talking with a German Ducatista who, with his father, owned 70 Ducatis: “One of every model ever made.”  My fellow Ducatista also volunteered his appraisal of Italian Ducatisti. “My God, they’re like kids!  Just look at how they ride their Ducatis on public streets.  You could never get away with that anywhere else but here in Italy!”

And he was right!  They are absolutely like kids—in the very best of ways.  It’s one of the things I love about them.  They have so much fun and are so completely un-self-conscious about it.  One morning, I got a first hand experience of the kids’ fun.  I was headed off for my hike to the racetrack when Carlo Linetti, one of the Italians staying at Il Frantoio, asked if I’d like a ride down to the event on his new, 150-horsepower Ducati Multistrada.

 

 

Carlo Linetti’s new Multistrada

 

“Of course!”  But I’d need a helmet.  The owner of Il Frantoio overheard us and handed me one of his.   So I climbed on the back of Carlo’s Multistrada, and we motored down the hill, followed by Carlo’s wife on her Ducati.  When we cleared the traffic circle, Carlo shouted back, “Do you want to feel the power?”

Hell yes.  “Go for it!”

I grabbed the back of the seat and Carlo pulled the trigger on that big motor.  The front wheel lifted into the air for over a block while somewhere between ecstasy and terror I came close to being thrown off the back.  When the front wheel finally settled down to the pavement, Carlo shouted back over the noise, “I wanted to show you what 150 horsepower felt like.”

“Got it!”

Back at WDW, Ducati got right on the task of coming through on its eight teases.  Not more than 10 minutes after entering the Red Planet for the first day of the event, I saw a crowd of guys in one of the tents featuring motorcycle art on the theme of the Ducati Monster, Ducati’s most popular all-purpose street bike.  The canvas at this art show turned out to be a lovely young lady wearing only bikini bottoms with her back turned to the crowd while an artist airbrush-painted her front side.  The audience kept edging around to the side as well as we could, but we didn’t have to worry.  After a while, she turned to give us our full exposure to Monster Art.  This was going to be quite a party!

A couple of hours later, I was standing at the top of the grandstand when I heard shouts from an excited crowd.  I ran down the stairs just in time to catch the opening round of one of the featured events: “Sexy Bike Wash.”  In the WDW version, several ladies in bikinis and male models in shorts started to wash some Ducatis, but before they got very far with this, the Master of Ceremonies turned his hose on the models, pulsating the spray in time with the music while they washed one another with sponges. OK, fair enough.  But why was it called a “Sexy Bike Wash,” when the bikes seemed to play only a minor role in the whole performance?  Well, later in the day at a repeat performance I listened to the MC more carefully and realized the event was actually called “Sexy bike washers.  Inattentive me!  Of course the whole show now made perfect sense!

 

Sexy Bike Washers

 

As inspiring as the Sexy Bike Washers were, I couldn’t wait for the promised Italian Playboy Bunnies to arrive.  I wasn’t sure where they were supposed to show up, but I made sure I was at the paddock, where I thought I should be, in plenty of time.  Sadly, no Bunnies appeared.  I figured either something had gone wrong with their plans or I had just not been in the right place.  Down hearted, I wandered around aimlessly until I saw a group of Dutch guys I‘d hung out with on two previous occasions—drinkin’ beer.  I sat down with them and eventually asked if they had seen the Bunnies.  They said they had, and that they were coming around every hour.  In fact, there they were—over there at one of the event areas I hadn’t thought of.  Disaster averted, I sprinted to the venue just as the Bunnies drove up on the back of a Mercedes convertible.  God bless the Dutch!

Now you will note in the picture below that the Bunny is wearing black ears.  But I had always remembered American Bunnies as wearing white ears.  Was there any significance to this?  Any insights from you readers?

 

 

Italian Playboy Bunny

And while we’re at it, God bless the models!  Look below at the stunning young lady posing with a Ducati MotoGP bike and check out her expression.  You’ve seen many like it all the times you’ve watched models on TV wobble down a runway: nice and bitchy with a bored “I’m too important for this” pout.

 

Model with Ducati MotoGP bike

Well, it wasn’t unimportant to the guys in the crowd who kept calling out, “Hey, Bambina!  Sorriso (smile) per una foto!”  The young lady tried her best to keep “the look” going but simply couldn’t and started to laugh.  I sure wish I had a photo of her when she finally melted.

But the models were not only there to be ogled or coerced into responding to us.  They were also the experts to whom I turned if I wanted to buy insurance from Genertel.it (“la prima assicurazione online”), to buy a Ducati branded laptop computer from Toshiba (see photo below), to buy a Ducati electric bicycle from Italwin, to outfit my child’s bedroom with Ducati theme furniture from Colombini Expo Mobili, to find a “Ducati Caffe” at Passione Urbana (where passion comes to town), to “give strengths to my projects” with a Ducati affiliated holding company of the Mediobanca Banking group, to style my hair with “Style’n’go” (where the world of style and hair style is evolving), and, if I had any lingering doubts about my animal magnetism, to finish off my shower with Ducati Cologne (Il primo profumo Ducati).  Apparently, models were the only individuals Ducati S.p.A trusted to help us achieve our highest goals.  You’d have to agree.  Why take chances?

 

 

Ducati branded laptop computer expert

 

Navigation expert

 

 

Hospitality experts

 

Now I haven’t said a much about the actual motorcycling aspects of WDW, since these are well documented on a number of easily searchable websites.  But I can hardly write about the WDW experience without mentioning the backing track for the entire weekend: 90º V-twin resonances.  Ducatisti, bless their hearts, felt moved to start their motors and wind ‘em out for however long, and I would just stand there shaking my head with a grin on my face.  Back when I was just a teenager, I was smitten with a German exchange student down south in North Carolina.  In those days, I drove a 1955 VW Beetle whose sound-muffling tail pipes I had removed just to be cool.  Now I don’t know whether the Fraulein was just commenting or actually judging me (I expect at least a bit of the latter), but after one particularly raucous ride she volunteered, “Little boys like noise.”  That we do.

During my first day at Il Frantoio, I was the only guest, but I was soon joined by six Italian Ducatisti who sat down with me at breakfast to talk about Ducatis and Ducati Culture.

 

Some of my new Italian friends at Il Frantoio B&B

 

One of our topics was the competence that enabled Ducati to dominate racing given its relatively limited resources.  I got an introduction to this at Ducati University, one of the WDW events in which classes were held on various aspects of Ducati ventures.  At one session, Ernesto Marinelli, Project SBK Director explained how he built the Ducati Superbike Teams.  He laid out the principles in a PowerPoint presentation that included organizational structure, lines of communication, rules of communication, and decision making procedures under a wide variety of challenging circumstances, including one in which you have no information on the basis of which to make a choice but need to make one none the less, since uncertainty is worse than the wrong decision.

In choosing team members, Marinelli said that he wanted not the best people but those who would work best together, and that there was no room for know-it-alls, since you can always learn more, and his teams won or lost together.  His teams were not just a group of employees but groups of friends who enjoyed working together.  And when figuring out roles for team members, he asked the team members what they liked to do and let them do it.  Group leaders were chosen on the basis of experience.

Back at the University where my wife and I work, we once directed an English as a Second Language writing program.  One of my wife’s areas of expertise is educational leadership, and I watched her build a team of graduate students that to this day remains the finest team I’ve ever been a part of.  So when I listened to Ernesto Marinelli, I compared the challenges he faced with those my wife and I faced and realized that the system he created and the principles he followed were a model for any team project.  No wonder Ducati was so successful!  I know this must be only a small part of the competence that characterizes Ducati Meccanica, and, I’d guess, many other Italian corporations as well.

During another breakfast, my Italian friends explained about how a relatively small company could compete with huge Japanese corporations, such as Honda, and beat them the first time Ducati chose to compete in MotoGP, the world’s highest level of motorcycle racing.  According to my friends (if my memory serves me correctly), the MotoGP branch of Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), which is only one very small branch of Honda Motorcycles, throws more engineers at this one racing enterprise than the entire Ducati company devotes to all categories of racing, as well as street bike production.  My friends suggested that perhaps smallness worked to Ducati’s advantage.  In fact, one of them worked for a company that produced the electronic engine management system for the Ducati MotoGP racing program, and the entire contract was for only something like 150 circuit boards.  He suggested that this scale was something that Italian companies were very comfortable with, whereas the Japanese might be more oriented toward very high volume production.  It might actually be harder to find a company willing to take on such a relatively small project in Japan than in Italy.

During my time with my new friends, I couldn’t help noticing that though we were all at least middle aged, we seemed to see the world through the eyes of the very young (remember “They’re like kids!”).  I was reminded of this again after I got home from WDW and got an email from Carlo Linetti.

“I hope you were not shocked by our wheeling on Saturday morning, but despite my age and my three children I am a little crazy.  During my test in the Misano track I have been able to bend the gear lever (as per picture). I sent the photo to Ducati people complaining about this, and their answer was that to do this the angle of inclination was 47°!!!!!  Hopefully they don’t have too many customers like me.”

 

Carlo Linetti’s gearshift lever

 

Carlo on his Ducati 1198S

 

Another of my new friends, Gilberto Gatti, and his wife Barbara, arrived with a Ducati Desmosedici, a $65,000 barely-street-legal version of their World Championship MotoGP bike.

Gilberto Gatti’s Ducati Desmosedici

 

Gilberto has only one leg (he walks with a prosthesis), and Italian law formerly didn’t allow him to ride a motorcycle, since he couldn’t use the left foot on the prosthesis to operate the shift lever and side stand. Giberto went to the Ducati Company, who volunteered to engineer the various controls that would permit safe operation without the use of his left foot.  In the picture below, you can see the gearshift link that allowed him to change gears from the handlebars, as well as the motor operated side stand.

 

 

 

Ducati factory-modified gearshift and electric side stand

 

Gilberto also worked with a variety of individuals and organizations in order to get the law changed so that the physically challenged could legally ride motorcycles.  These included the National Association of Rotarian Bikers (associated with the Italian Rotary Foundation), the Technical Director of Ducati—engine division (Gianluigi Mengoli).  The president of the National Association of Rotarian Bikers (Enrico Cavallini) and its Secretary (Davide Gallasso), are visible in the picture taken in the breakfast area at Il Frantoio back on p. 27.  Gilberto rode his Desmosedici on a special lap of honor at WDW.

 

Gilberto and his wife, Barbara, prior to Gilberto’s lap of honor

 

Having gone to WDW alone, I knew I’d have many opportunities to see what I could work out without much of a plan.  So one evening at Il Frantoio, I asked the owner where I might get a bite to eat.  He said there was a restaurant right at the bottom of the hill, so I tucked a couple of motorcycling magazines under my arm and walked down to the Due Archi (Two Arches) for pizza, beer, a salad, and a close-up experience of the traffic circle that shot Ducatis out in four directions:  a 2010 Overture on a Ducati theme.

 

Due Archi

Dinner at Due Archi

 

I immediately adopted Due Archi as my personal restaurant, so late one evening after a blues concert at the track, I stopped in again to enjoy a glass of Chianti on what had become my favorite porch.  A local couple having dinner at the table next to me seemed happy to talk with me about my experiences at World Ducati Week and my infatuation with Ducatis.  Since I had never studied Italian, I had to substitute communication strategies for actual language knowledge to keep the conversation going.  First, I’d try to think of a word or phase in any Romance language I’d ever studied: French, Spanish….Latin from way back in high school.  Then I’d guess at how it might be pronounced in Italian.  Then I’d try to recall some grammar structures from arias from Puccini operas I’d memorized in college over 50 years ago and use them to piece the vocabulary together “as best I could.”  Then I’d rely upon the patience and good will of my conversation partners to parse the conglomeration I’d presented to them and work with me.  A few minutes into my linguistic adventure, the restaurant owner, a lovely woman who remembered me from previous nights, brought me a huge basket of freshly baked bread.  I munched on the warm bread, sipped Chianti, and chatted with the couple for about an hour as Ducati after Ducati shot by.  Yes, here it was:  the exact center of the universe.

After midnight, when I finally got up to pay the bill for the Chianti and bread, the owner just waived it off.  “No need,” she said.  It was on the house.  Well, it may have been the lateness of the evening, or the Chianti, or my realization that this trip was the fulfillment of a ten-year dream and consummation of a 35-year love affair, but I felt tears come to my eyes.  It seems like so often I just get lucky and meet the kindest people in the best of times—the owners of Il Frantoio and Due Archi, my new Italian friends, folks at WDW who took the time to talk with me, and friends around Italy who offered to help me if I needed anything.

You know…maybe a particularly wise entity had nudged my hand toward that copy of Cycle Magazine way back in Thailand and was still taking care of me here at World Ducati Week, nearly 40 years later.  At least that’s how it seemed to me, walking up the hill toward Il Frantoio on that gentle, summer night.

 

Postscript

While cooling off under the canopy of the vintage Ducati exhibit at WDW, I had the great fortune to meet Vicki Smith, a beautiful writer and owner/editor of Ducati.net.  (You don’t want to miss it!)  She turned me on to a new publication, Benzina, a quarterly(ish) magazine showcasing classic Italian bikes.  I subscribed immediately, and Issue #1 arrived just yesterday.  So last night, I made my way to the porch of my favorite diner here in Salt Lake City and savored an exclusive new interview with Cook Neilson about his win at Daytona in 1977—a story that took me right back to Racer Road.  Read about the adventure from the source and settle into the old magic.

 

Ducatista and his new Ducatis back in Salt Lake City