Before I narrate my story about Ducati, I should confess. My heart is with the
Honda CBR Fireblade series. Like most kids from the 80s and 90s, I had a poster of a Fireblade on my wall and so, obviously, it is my childhood emotional bond. Today, I ride a Honda and a BMW but let’s just say that I love motorcycles. For sure I appreciate Ducati for the aggressive yet elegant stance.
Today, kids of all ages drool over a Panigale and cheer for Andrea Dovizioso. And in India, a few are fortunate to own it while many are lucky to see one in the street (at least on Sundays!). But my love affair with Ducati started way back in the 90s. I used to follow a championship, which is the most undervalued one: the World Superbike Championship. During Race Days (Sundays), I would watch these races and the schedule worked just right for me, unlike the MotoGP class (then, 500cc), which would start just 30 minutes before our Sunday evening church service.
In a small town called Tirunelveli (in Tamil Nadu, India), which was light years away from the world of the WSBK, there was a little me. Glued to a 21inch large box called TV. We had only 8 channels and lucky to have Star Sports, which covered the WSBK and MotoGP series. And within that low quality 21” picture-tube device, a red hooligan of metal called Ducati was being tamed by an equally hooligan super human, Carl Fogarty. As primitive as the technology might sound, it was still magical. Those were blissful Sunday afternoons in front of the TV.
Last year, my son and I, along with a bunch of my friends were lucky to visit these automotive factories, where the machines are built with a heart. The machines that I’m referring to are Ferraris, Lamborghinis and of course, Ducatis! The town of Bologna was our choice to stay. And our plan included visiting these factories, watch the Italian MotoGp 2018 in Mugello and later, ride through the Alps across Europe. And for my son, it would be his first visit to a Grand Prix and for all of us, the first European Grand Prix.
Like most Moto followers, on Friday, we visited the Ducati factory. The script was that we visit the factory, buy some souvenirs and then, take pictures. Our mind didn’t conjure anything beyond that. We thought if we completed this, our heart would be content.
As we bought our tickets to the museum and factory tour, we had to wait for our turn. Just then, the fire alarm rang. As grown men with a mind of a pre-teenager, we were pulling a friend’s leg saying that his bad luck would get us kicked out and we might have to cancel the tour. Luckily, it was just a drill and everyone stepped out to the assembling point. We could see a plethora of red t-shirts.
Suddenly, a buddy of mine pulled me aside and said: isn’t that “Claudio”.
I’m like: “Who?”.
There is confusion within our group and then, we Google to see if the name and the face is right. It was Mr. Claudio Domenicali, CEO, Ducati. And before any of us could react, my buddy jumped across and interrupted Mr. Claudio Domenicali. Not sure what ran in his mind, but like a true gentleman, he stopped his conversation with his staff and paid attention to my friend. He was excited to hear that one of his customers (my friend owned a Ducati Multistrada) from India was in his factory! And as we gathered around him, we spoke about Ducatis in India and many other things. He posed for couple of pictures with us and we had a good time. And out of the blue, he said: “wait here. Let me give you my business card.” We were like WTF!! The CEO wants to give his business card to us!
A few minutes later, he met us at the same spot and gave us his card. If that wasn’t surprising enough, he asked: “what are you doing tomorrow? Are you coming to the Grand Prix?”
Excitedly, we said “yeah”.
Then, he asked: “which stand?”
We fumbled and said: “somewhere on the camping side.”
Then, he dropped the mother of all bombs. “Message me. I will see what I can do for you”. And walked back to his office.
In an excited, yet confused state, we proceeded to our official tour of the factory. One part of my brain was processing the wonderful sights of their factory and the magnificent machines in the museum while the other was thinking what could happen if we were invited to their pits or something like that. In front of us passionate Ducati workers were putting together these hooligans for a customer across the seven seas while our hearts were beating faster for what lies ahead of us tomorrow.
The museum was a fan moment after a moment as I got to see Carl Forgaty’s bike and also that of #27 Aussie rider, Casey Stoner and that of Carlos Checa. Some of the true legends in the world of motorcycle racing.
When the night set in, we pulled out some Italian beer and were drinking to what could be endless possibilities. Constantly, we were checking our email and Whatsapp to see if Mr. Claudio Domenicali had responded. The highs and the lows of our emotions were probably pumping our hearts faster than it should. One beer wasn’t enough. We guzzled some more and then, got an email that said: “come to the main entrance tomorrow and message me.” All that we drank died out.
On Saturday, the guys dressed in their new Ducati merchandise (none of the guys wanted to sit in a Ducati area in a non-Ducati t-shirt and so, we bought these t-shirts in their official store. My son and I bought a die-cast model because I refuse to wear anything that isn’t Chris Cross!). From Bologna, we drove towards the track at Mugello.
The atmosphere was electrifying. The Italian fans of Valentino Rossi were flaunting their VR46 merchandise and yet at the same time, we could see fans of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso in their Ducati MotoGP t-shirts. It was like one huge party with flocks of people swaying around to the music and chanting their favorite rider’s name. Again, as we continued to soak into this atmosphere, we were still anxious to hear from Mr. Claudio. It was the day of qualifying and we didn’t want to call him. It is the CEO of an Italian motorcycle company and it’s the Italian grand prix!
And then, he messaged us and said, “come to the main entrance. Meet my assistant. He will get you in”. My son and I looked at each other. We didn’t have our Ducati gear. Worse, my son is a Marc Marquez fan and so, he was sporting a #93 cap!! We ran to one of those stores. My son picked up an AD04 cap while I picked their retro trucker’s cap. And then, my son said: “papa, I’m a Marquez fan. Outside, I’m all Dovi and Ducati but inside, I’m all Marc Marquez.”
And to hear this from a 10 year old kid, I was a happy man because I know he has the necessary skills to survive in this world. We caught up with the group and we rushed to the main gate.
A member of the Ducati company was standing there with special passes.
In the past decade, almost every year we have visited Sepang circuit in Malaysia. And every time we were there, we said that the following year, we will walk the pit but never did. In my son’s first grand prix and our very first European one, here we are, walking behind the pit walls, where the riders and their crew hang out. We are truly blessed.
At various security points, we flashed our Ducati passes and walked across many tents and huge trucks. We didn’t know what to expect but followed the Italian gentleman. And we arrived at the Ducati hospitality center. WOW! This is reserved for a very select few and is for people invited only by the company and the team. And to me, this was a once in a lifetime moment. More than what was happening inside, for me, it was that moment when you realize how lucky you are.
With our fancy passes, we managed to walk across to some stands and get a closer look at the qualifying action. The crowd cheered loudly for Valentino Rossi and of course, the Ducati riders. We couldn’t see the timings or the leadership pole and then, we heard a huge roar when Jorge Lorenzo#99 snapped pole. And then, Andrea Dovizioso came second. It was a 1-2 Ducati on the front row. Lorenzo put an Italian bike front in an Italian GP!!!! Perfect timing.
The crowd went crazy and the atmosphere was simply superb. Filled with so much of positivity as an ocean of red waves were all over. And to be in the center of it all, is a moment that everyone should experience.
And as we walked back to the Ducati hospitality center to hand over our passes, we managed to see many other riders at an arm’s distance. For those brief moments, we were one amongst them. It seemed as if we belonged there. And this wouldn’t have been possible without the kind gesture of Mr. Claudio Domenicali Thank you sir for making our trip very memorable and you are truly a wonderful person.
Jorge Lorenzowon the race on Sunday. Tides changed for Ducati. Our respect for their CEO has only grown.
PS: My son has been pushing me to get a Ducati Panigale. And I know that someday we (if not me, my son) might buy a Ducati because the trip and the gesture helped us connect with the brand, the machine and the men there.
Pick your today: Buy Now.