I hope many of you watched or have caught up with World Superbikes from Assen last weekend. Not only is The Cathedral of Speed one of the finest circuits on the calendar to ride, it provides plenty of close racing and unconditional on-track action thanks to its fast and flowing nature. And this weekend saw a certain amount of conspicuous off-track action, too.
To cut a long story short, Jonathan Rea had just completed a qualifying lap. Chaz Davies had just begun another. Rea was cruising. Chaz was still in beast mode and eventually came across the dawdling Kawasaki, which was very near (or on, depending on the rider) the racing line. The Ducati man took offence to Rea’s casual manners and mildly twatted the double world champ’s arm on passing. Needless to say, it didn’t end there.
The antics reignited in Parc Fermé, where the two exchanged words and Chaz fired some fucks in. It was captured on live TV, all very awkward, aired to the world and punters relished the additional off-track entertainment. Anyway, this isn’t necessarily about that particular incident, who’s right or wrong (although Rea was clearly wrong in this case), or defending naughty riders. It’s about racers’ red mist: a very particular and exclusive strain of the competition-induced wrath.
Events like Davies v Rea are what social media was made for. Of course, there’s a massive amount of sarcasm in that sentence, but this occurrence perfectly encapsulated social media’s hyperbole tendencies. And given today’s live-for-the-moment approach, there’s always a good story to be had. Judging by some comments, you’d think nothing like this had ever happened before: racing journalists – who have never actually raced or even grown-up around racing – were quick to lend their opinion and disparage the heat of the moment like it was a crime. Remember Pier Francesco Chilli in a dressing gown at the very same track?
I recall my first proper encounter with red mist. It was during my first season of road racing, battling for the Hornet Cup championship at Cadwell Park. Stuart Martin – lesser known brother of the famous tea-drinking truck mechanic – knocked me off as we headed into The Hairpin at the top of The Mountain. Of course it wasn’t intentional. Did that matter? Not one bit. By the time the race had finished, I was marching around the paddock like Phil Mitchell, arms swinging like I’d drank 10 pints, ready to exploit foolish behaviours.
Would have I attempted such twatishness if I was sober, free from possession? Absolutely not. I couldn’t throw a grape in a fruit fight and was eventually pacified by friends, soon consolidating my friendship with Stuart – I somehow doubt Davies and Rea will be anytime soon.
It’s almost impossible to articulate the definition of red mist. Road rage? Nah mate. It’s another level of fury manifested from chasing tenths and busting your balls, and can only be experienced through the thrill of racing motorcycles. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the bike, off the bike, visor down or that a helmet has been removed. It’s a drug, a temporary paralysis of the mind, body and soul that leads to irrepressible conduct. If you should tread anywhere near a man/woman suffering with red mist, treat with trepidation.
Anyway, some suggest the Assen saga is exactly what WSBK needs: a bitter rivalry that’s been desperately missed by hardcore fans since the glory days. Chaz’s statement – released yesterday – was eloquent and perfectly put, and certainly adds another element to the 2017 title skirmish.