The Cult of the Good Doctor

When you think of the greats of motorcycle racing, you more than likely think about people that are still riding. Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, and the Doctor himself, Valentino Rossi. Fast in anything with an engine, the Italian is a living legend and more than likely the greatest motorcycle rider to have ever existed. But that’s not the end of it.
Instead of being hated like Vettel, or possessing the presence of Schumacher, he has the most dedicated fanbase in the world. He comes down to earth as a real personality, not some untouchable god of racing. That cult of personality is fascinating, and I never really saw it to its extreme until now.
The first time I saw Rossi this weekend it was more than appropriately with him going through the paddock on a Vespa, with someone trusting their life in his hands holding on. The crowd parted like the red sea, and the screams of the fans deafened me. When a woman kneeled in front of the scooter, trying to get him to stop to give an autograph, he reacted with grace, avoiding her and driving off into the sunset. The woman seemed happy that he even had to avoid her, like that tiny amount of interaction was still enough for her to justify the trip. And access to the paddock isn’t cheap, these Rossi fans are spending almost three hundred dollars on tickets alone for the glimmer of hope that they might meet their hero.
It’s not like I haven’t met my heroes before, but the amount of struggle these Rossi fans go through to try to get a few seconds with their man is insane. It’s a fanaticism rarely seen outside of religious zealotry. It’s both admirable and mystifying. I ask people why they love the Doctor, and they look confused, wondering how I can not see the light of Rossi. The most successful rider of all time, who can dance with the best on track, with some of the most amazing wheel to wheel skills in the world. But as a deity? The man has his moments of weakness, like the kick last year, where he took Marc Marquez out in a dangerous fashion.

I never know how I feel about Rossi. Or at least I didn’t until yesterday. As I sat in the hot Yamaha hospitality tent I considered what the man had done in his life. Many championships, team changes, the loss of a dear friend, and even testing a Ferrari F1 car with rumors of a full time drive. The man is fast, charming, but still not the infallible god that his fans see. Someone I was speaking to told me that if DORNA, the company responsible for MotoGP, could have their way, they would find a way to keep him racing forever. Rossi is MotoGP to many people, and even with younger talent coming through, the VR46 fans keep coming out all over the world. And as he moved through the crowd of adoring fans to get into his spot for the media debrief, things all started to come together.
When we talk about someone who is the greatest of all time, what qualities are we looking for? Speed? Consistency? Passion? Valentino surely has all of that, but on top of talent, he also has the drive to understand everything that he and his competitors are doing. When he talked about what following certain bikes is like, I felt like I understood it. I felt how warm he welcomed tough questions about tires, grip, and electronics. He was gracious to his rivals, failing to gossip about his teammate, and charming to the last moment. It was then I began to fall under the spell of the good Doctor, and after sealing the day with a warm handshake and a quick exchange, I walked out of the Yamaha tent into a wall of his screaming fans, and I got it.
I got the cult of the Doctor.

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  1. Tanshanomi Avatar

    “…more than likely the greatest motorcycle rider to have ever existed.”

    1. The Real Number_Six Avatar
      The Real Number_Six

      Until Vale races at the Isle of Man he will be second to Ago. But that’s not to take away from his tremendous abilities and achievements. Agostini raced in less-structured, less-restrictive times.

  2. countersteer Avatar

    Why? Because he’s hilarious !!!

  3. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
    dead_elvis, inc.

    Huh. Saw the headline & figured, must be talking about Dr. John. No, not that one – the dentist.
    If it had been our own Dr. Harrell, I wouldn’t have been displeased (not that I am now, either). Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show would also have been acceptable, as would Dr. Leon Berman, the Proctologist of Rock & Roll .

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      You oscillate on the proper frequency, my friend.

      1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
        dead_elvis, inc.

        …shakes in the kneebones
        tremors in the back bone
        Shakin’ all over…

    2. Vairship Avatar

      I saw the headline and the picture of a long line in front of what looked to me like a vending machine, and figured I’d be reading about Dr. Pepper…

      1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
        dead_elvis, inc.

        Dr. Pepper? Ewwww. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone with tastebuds.