Ski Stories #13 – SuperbikePlanet
All the time I knew him, Ski’s body was in a state of repair
Dave sacrificed his body for racing success. By the time he was a semi-fast 250 racer, he had already had many giant crashes that severely damaged his body. After a big start on a 600, he arrived on the grid without feeling his feet. He actually asked his then mechanic, as they sat on the Armco barrier by the grid, if his feet were on the ground because when he sat down, after the accident, he had lost all sensation in his feet. They always worked, he just couldn’t feel them every once in a while.
When he transitioned to Supersport and Superbike racing, Ski’s “Death Before Dishonor” approach to racing remained the same as in 250; it’s just that it no longer crashes and throws a small, light Grand Prix bike. He was now trying to want GSX-R750 and 1100 sized bikes, not light bikes at all, to do his bidding. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Ski’s back was a constant problem, which only got worse with time. The origin of his back problems is truly part of paddock legend. Only it’s true. Unfortunately, painfully, it’s true.
On the warm-up lap of a now-forgotten Superbike race at Road America – see, “Ski at Elkhart” could be a book – Ski’s GSX-R750 battery either died or wasn’t grounded during the warm-up lap. Dave had qualified on pole and was full of motivation to win, so when the local workers pushed his bike behind a fence and locked the door, Dave raised his mood to the temperature of an out of control nuclear reactor. The warm-up lap at Road America is long so Ski still had a few minutes to fix his bike. After that, he asked the local workers to let him back onto the track so he could do the grid.
I have long said that you will never make an American happier than the day you give them a whistle and the ability to say no; and that’s exactly what the local workers told Dave – no. In their defense, rules are rules and procedure is procedure.
Frustrated, angry and full of Sadowski-level (volcanic) angst, no more adrenaline, Ski looked around and saw that what was keeping him from racing was just a fence at chest height made of wire and wood. And all it took was for his Superbike to be on the other side of said fence.
Skiing was very strong. He refused to let the machines win. I literally ate donuts and drank coffee once while we waited for Ski to destroy a hotel elliptical he thought he could defeat, before we could hit the track one morning. He yelled and pounded the trainer, set on the hardest setting, refusing to let him win. Small children on their way to the hotel pool stopped and watched in awe as Ski battled the trainer, seeing him with the honesty of children’s eyes. I’m sure they thought they were witnessing a crazy redhead fight with exercise equipment, which they were, let’s face it.
Those of us who knew Ski were in no way alarmed and furthermore knew that telling Ski that the elliptical was just an inanimate object designed for exercise and not someone who had taken an oath to blood against his family, thus “beat him” as he had really planned. didn’t matter, we knew telling Dave was a complete waste of oxygen. Soon one of the arms stripped and now that the machine was subdued we could go to the racetrack. Just another morning with Skiing.
Return to Elkhart. Dave picked up the bike and started lifting a 400 pound Superbike over the fence. He managed to get him halfway through by picking him up from the front and throwing him over the fence. When he lifted the rear, some fans tried to help him, but Ski grabbed onto the rear of the bike and hoisted him over the fence, mostly solo. Honestly, I don’t remember if he took the start, because my overwhelming memory of that incident is that Ski’s back was never the same. He eventually learned that he had crushed three discs and caused other major spinal damage while lifting the bike over the fence in Elkhart.
For the rest of his life, Ski’s damaged and patched back was a factor in almost everything he did. Dave’s first course of treatment on his back was a chiropractor. After three sessions of about twenty minutes, Dave was styling. Which means he had Ski Brain. He sucked the chiropractor into telling him just enough for Dave to think he was a chiropractor and could fix his own back or the backs of countless other people in the paddock. What he did.
When the self-surgery stopped helping, Dave finally saw a surgeon. Surgeon nearly gasped when he saw Ski’s first back x-ray – he said he’s seen patients who survived their parachute not opening and had less damage to the back back that Ski had done to his simply by being Ski. The surgeon opened Dave’s back and performed a full repair, removing the discs and fusing Dave’s lower back. He also asked Dave when he broke his neck – Ski said he remembered hurting his neck in a crash on a 500 Interceptor at Laguna Seca once, and being hit with a incapacitated for a few days because of it. In this case, Ski’s incapacitation meant that Ski lay in the back of the van as he left the track and could not get up for days.
The van stopped at a party on the way home and people brought ski beers as he lay in the van.
The surgeon recommended that Dave’s racing days are better behind him. However, the only limiting factor Ski saw in his new “fixed” back was that it was difficult to enter a full stroke behind the windshield. He rode for Yoshimura Suzuki that year in Superbikes. It wasn’t a good year and by the end of the season Yoshimura had had his fill of Dave and Dave had his fill of Yoshimura as well. The following season, Dave was walking by the Yosh truck and noticed his old mechanic from the previous season looking at the new Yosh Superbike in bewilderment. Dave talked to him about the bike for a moment, then pumped the forks up and down. “It’s too hard,” he said, walking away.
Because he let Ski touch one of their bikes, the mechanic was fired on the spot. Like I said, Yosh got his fill of Ski. But it was a good year of rehabilitation for Ski.
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