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The deafening roar of engines silenced the arena. All eyes were on the on the starting line, and heartbeats stretched into infinity. Without warning, chills rolled down my spine, and a gust of wind encircled me as the motorists sped past.
This was one of many similar experiences of the past weekend, as I enjoyed the hospitality of Team Race Bikes trackside at the Championnat Superbike (that’s French for Superbike Championship) in Le Mans, France. It may have been my first time on a race course, but I felt more than at home with the mechanics and team hands that know the sport well.
With a fine team of celebrated engineers and talented drivers, Team Race Bikes has recently entered into the great pool that comprises motorcycle racing. The team boasts four seasoned drivers who dominate their fields, competing in Top Twin and Superbike fields alike. Superbike, for which the championship is named, is the monster of its kind, dominating the track, with Top Twin its formidable brother.
For those not acquainted with the sport, Superbike racing is a class of motorcycle racing that features modified, or “super”, road bikes. Essentially, the manufacturer produces a specific number of roadgoing machines, which can then be tailored into two-wheeled beasts. Modified elements can include brakes, suspension, and wheel size and diameter. Four cyclinder superbikes have 750 to 1000 cc machines, while their Top Twin counterparts have 850 to 1200 cc engines. Take note, however, that Superbikes are not MotoGP’s, prototype machines that do not have to follow the strict guidelines that keep Superbikes so similar to street safe vehicles. For car lovers, this comparison reflects the difference between touring cars and Formula One racing. International and national competitions can be commonly found in countries like the United States, Canada, and Japan, where the sport is quite popular.
To put things in perspective, a comparison of the sport as it is held in France and the parallel competition in the United States is truly one of two cultures, and a biased one at that. Hailing from the United States but having lived in Paris for some time now, I have had the opportunity of experiencing the many elements that compose these differences. For one, the French feel as though sports should be entirely separate from, and thus not interfering with, the academic sphere. Sports should be treated as they are: merely an extracurricular activity that cannot be considered an excuse to miss class or turn in homework late. Not to say the French do not enjoy sports immensely; rather, it is not a priority. In great contrast, Americans pump money by the bucket load into sports and afterschool programs in order to create “well-rounded leaders”, a common saying in public schools.
These differences have resounding effects. The French have a far more closed and anti-social society. This is to be taken lightly, as the French are indeed personable and love talking in cafes for hours on end. They do, however, inhabit a far more conservative and therefore guarded society. Americans, on the other hand, are known for being amiable, albeit in a shallow manner. Many foreigners have remarked to me how welcome they feel in the United States, which I suppose can be considered American’s best marketing capability.
Additionally, this mannerism puts a heavy weight on sports teams themselves. Because of the lack of confidence in sports and the unwillingness to expand the activity, sports teams often find themselves greatly lacking the funds they need to succeed. This lands kids (and adults) with the most money into sports teams. This may be a common practice in the United States as well, and any other country for the matter, but at least the American public education system gives all students a chance.
One great example brings me back to Team Race Bikes, the French motoracing team I referenced earlier on. This company is an entrepreneurial wonder, doing its best to break into a tough field during an even tougher cycle of the economy. After talking with the Team’s head of communications, Ann Gire, it became clear that even the French do not believe in their country’s acceptance of sports. She said, “I don’t look for sponsors in France. We’re too new; they don’t believe in us.” Rather, she seeks sponsors globally, like the Spanish helmet company LS2.
As Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, once said, “All sports for all people.” Sports have a way of unifying the globe, nowhere of which was more obvious than the 2010 South African world cup. Without the glorious aid of sponsors, none of that would be possible, and we can only hope to look forward to a future where good leadership, peace, and sports rule.