Motorcycle racing emerges as the hippest new celebrity fascination.
Thursday, July 7, 2005
When six-time NBA Championship-winner Michael Jordan began backing an American Motorcycist Association (AMA) road racing team in 2004, fans and industry insiders hardly knew what to think. Some hoped that Jordan’s worldwide fame would bring additional attention (and television airtime) to the sport, thus thrusting it into mainstream America; others labeled his participation nothing more than the passing fancy of a billionaire, and predicted the team would be short-lived.
One season later, Jordan Suzuki riders Jason Pridmore, Steve Rapp, and Montez Stewart have proved their team a legitimate fighting force on the AMA circuit, and other celebrities have made significant contributions as well—contributions that prove that a passion for motorcycles can run as deeply in the fabulously rich and famous as it does in the average fan.
Matt LeBlanc, best known as “Joey” on the sitcom Friends, has been a motorcycle enthusiast since the age of 8, when he received his first motorcycle. A couple decades later, he was the recipient of something larger—the first Aprilia RSV 1000 Nera available in the United States (and one of only 200 in the world). Known to drop in on the occasional MotoGP race and visit friend Colin Edwards, LeBlanc also hosted the Discovery Channel’s The 5 Coolest Things, a series that focused on the stars of four different genres of motorcycle racing, including supercross racer Jeremy McGrath and MotoGP rider Nicky Hayden.
Indie filmmaker and actor Vincent Gallo (Buffalo ’66, Arizona Dream) himself raced 125cc and 250cc WERA bikes in the ‘80s, and although he soon moved on to bigger things, the memory of two-strokes tearing around asphalt—and of long, lonely drives to the next track—never left him. His 2004 release, Brown Bunny, told the story of motorcycle racer Bud Clay, who rode a beautifully painted Honda NSR 250 that was painstakingly designed by Gallo himself.
Dirty South hip-hop artist Ludacris, whose albums include Back for the First Time and Get Back, appeared in the film 2Fast 2Furious, and he liked sport bikes so much that he decided to get in on the action by sponsoring a MotoGP team with his DTP label; you’ll find his logo on the Blata WCM bikes this weekend.
Many road race fans know that actor Ewan McGregor—on screen now as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Stars Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith—also narrated the excellent MotoGP documentary Faster, but how many are aware that he accepted the job by leaving a message on director Mark Neale’s answering machine, delivered in his best Valentino Rossi impression? (“Mark, I watch-a the film, is a-very nice…”) McGregor—who completed a 20,000-mile motorcycle trip around the world in the summer of 2004 that resulted in a TV series and book entitled Long Way Round—perhaps best summed up celebrities’ attraction to motorcycles while being interviewed by a London Free Press reporter. In a statement that could be a motto for every motorcycle rider on earth—rich or scraping, famous or otherwise—McGregor said, “I am in a business where so many decisions are made for me. When I’m on my motorcycle, I am the one making all the decisions.”
—from RoadRacerX magazine’s US Grand Prix 2005 program.