We’ve all seen the film or had the dream where the star sportsperson is struck down by injury, leaving the coach no choice but to pick a plucky fan from the crowd to take his or her place. The film inevitably sees the lead character score the winning goal, get the girl and head towards a sequel. The dream ends with you waking up, unable to remember if you won or just fell over a lot. Of course, this only happens in the land of make-believe or Hollywood, often much of the same thing.
It has, however, occurred – sort of – in that two-wheeled racing Nirvana known as Philip Island. Davide Giugliano, Ducati’s Italian stallion, did his chance of a strong start to the World Superbike season no good when he launched himself from his red ‘Duke’ and fractured a few vertebrae. The lucky ‘boy’ picked out of the crowd to replace him at this weekend’s World Superbike curtain raiser just happens to be 45 year-old Troy Bayliss.
Now, if you were in the crowd during the recent WSBK test down under and were waving your hand in the air wildly as they looked for a replacement for Giugliano, then you may be a bit miffed at the snub. Bayliss however, happens to be a former three-time world champion and so Ducati’s snubbing of other volunteers is understandable, maybe even forgivable. Maybe.
Bayliss hasn’t raced in WSBK since walking away from the sport as champion in 2008, making his return somewhat of a surprise, but someone of Bayliss’ calibre will be guaranteed to make headlines for Ducati if not gain the results they had hoped for from the season’s opening weekend.
I was fortunate enough to meet Troy some years ago, at a surprisingly dull motorbike show in Birmingham. It seems motorbikes standing on a rotating platform don’t thrill me anywhere near as much as when they are tearing up a race-track. The boredom was alleviated when the main stage welcomed Bayliss to talk to the growing crowd.
He was typically charming and charismatic, and lo-and-behold, it was me who happened to be stood at the foot of the stairs as he exited stage right. I remember it vividly; he was wearing denim jeans and a red leather jacket over a plain white t-shirt.
He walked straight towards me, making eye-contact as he reached the last step. I looked back at him, mouth probably hanging open in astonishment. I fired my right hand out in front of me to shake his…and was immediately swiped aside by an over-excited, over-weight, leather-clad autograph hunter!
More of them gathered around Troy, like sharks around a wounded…whatever sharks eat. I was furious, my chance to shake the hand of a racing hero had passed.
Troy signed every single autograph and smiled for photographs before politely excusing himself; another appointment awaited. And so the sea of leather, tattoos and beards parted to allow Troy through. I was stood on the sidelines, getting increasingly grumpy as yet another ‘bike rotated behind me.
Then my mood changed dramatically; free of the autograph hunters, Troy made a B-line for me. He grabbed my hand and shook it far more manly than I could have managed and with a wink of his eye he tussled my hair and left.
I gave a smug grin to the chap who previously and so rudely pushed me aside and the same grin stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I’ve been a Bayliss fan ever since.
At time of reminiscing, Bayliss has qualified 14th, having had few laps in which to test the Ducati. He has also survived unscathed a huge high-side crash; the races tomorrow will be all the more exciting for his presence.