In the early 1970s, the Trans-Atlantic Match Races presented American racers like Cal Rayborn, Gary Nixon, Dave Aldana, and Kenny Roberts to European audiences for the first time.
As the story goes, American and British executives from BSA and Triumph were sitting in a bar in Daytona, after the ’71 running of the Daytona 200, arguing whether the Yanks were as good, when it came to road racing, as the Brits. (After all, the Americans were mostly flat trackers who occasionally raced on asphalt, while the Brits were full-on GP boys.)
To settle the matter, they arranged a series of three races on three tracks, over the Easter long-weekend in the UK. The first series was a big hit, and the Trans-Atlantic Match Races were held intermittently until well into the 1980s. As a result, many old-school American racers still have devoted fans over in England.
Nowadays, English fans don’t pay much attention to Daytona. Even English motorcycle racers hardly register the event. Dean Court, a young road racer from Lancashire, told me, “I wouldn’t even normally watch it,” but he did happen to catch some coverage of the 2012 races, when Elena Myers won there.
Two or three years later, Dean started seeing her profile show up in that Facebook ‘People You May Know’ feature, and he sent her a friend request. She’s young, pretty and a bit of a celebrity, so you might imagine Dean was one of many.
“I normally don’t accept friend requests from people I don’t know,” Elena said, picking up the story, “but we had a mutual friend, Maria Costello.” (Costello’s another female racer, and was until recently the fastest woman ‘round the Isle of Man TT course.)
Towards the end of last year, Dean and Elena started trading comments on social media, then messaging each other. Before long they were spending hours a day on Facetime. That made for some late nights for Dean, since there’s a five-hour time difference between Atlanta, where Elena lives, and England.
As they got to know each other, Elena learned that Dean had grown up racing motocross, and dropped out of bikes for a while until he went to see the Isle of Man TT in 2011. He went straight home and got a road bike license, and started racing various classes in the Thundersport series, which has the same status in the UK that WERA has here.
Dean had a new goal, which was to race in the TT. After racking up enough points on British “short circuits”, the next step was racing in the Manx Grand Prix — the ‘amateur’ version of the TT, held on the same 37.73-mile Mountain Course in late summer.
When he got a ride with the PRF team, on 600 Supersport machinery, things suddenly got real. Elena agreed to fly over to England and travel to the Island with him. She planned to stay there through the practice week and to leave after his first race. Dean, for his part, agreed to fly to the U.S. and watch Elena’s final MotoAmerica Superbike races at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
I interviewed them together for the first time while she was on the Island. It was ten o’clock at night there, they were squeezed together in some little room at a home-stay, Skyping through her laptop. They told me a love story for the digital age.
The practice week weather was ghastly; I don’t think Dean had ridden a single dry lap when I talked to them. I wondered whether Elena might want a go on the TT course herself some day — I know the organizers would jump at the chance to put her on a bike — so one of my first questions was, “What’s your impression of the course?” Looking back on it, I realize that she measured her words very carefully when she said, “Well, I’ve always been very aware of the safety issues, at the tracks I’ve raced on back home…”
The weather caused cancellations and delays, with the result that Elena had to fly out before Dean ever raced. Elena kissed him goodbye, reminded him to enjoy it, and left without ever telling him she was almost sick with fear.
So, Elena was in an airplane over the middle of the Atlantic when Dean felt the starter’s hand on his shoulder on Glencrutchery Road, and he launched the RPF Suzuki GSX-R600.
I interviewed the two of them again just after Elena’s season finale in New Jersey. “They had wifi on the plane,” she told me, “but I couldn’t get a connection. I think I had a few breakdowns in mid-air.”
As it happened, Dean emerged from the Manx Grand Prix fine. Better than fine, really, with a top-10 finish in that first race, he put in the kind of fast, steady ride that sponsors want to see from a Newcomer on the Isle of Man. But when the MGP was over, both Elena and Dean’s dad (who had also be on the Island supporting him) told him their true feelings about an even that (again) killed a couple of racers in 2015.
Meanwhile, Elena had a clear goal for her own 2015 MotoAmerica Superbike season: to finish in the top-5 on season points, and to put her insurance sponsor, McGraw, ahead of the Geico bike of Chris Ulrich.
As the points battle shook out, that basically just meant that she had to finish the second race last Sunday. But as Dean watched from the pit wall, Elena crashed hard in the first turn. Dean could see that she was up and moving, but he stepped down off the wall and turned around, gutted. It was a hard fall and he couldn’t imagine the bike was rideable.
Meanwhile, Elena picked up her bike and did a quick assessment, bent handlebar and broken footpeg, but it would still run. She got it going again.
“It would still turn to the right OK, but it was really hard to turn it to the left,” she told me. “Luckily, there’s only about three left turns on the whole track.” [It’s good she wasn’t on the TT course, where there’s about 70 — MG]
As soon as he realized she was back in it, Dean got back up on wall with her pit board. “I wasn’t giving her lap times or anything,” he told me. “Just laps remaining. When she finished the race, that was as good as a win for me.”
In the end, both Dean and Elena set reasonable goals for their seasons, and achieved them.
I admit that I wondered how they’d be together when I interviewed them after Elena’s New Jersey races. After spending a two or three weeks together in the span of a month or so, they seemed to get along better than ever. It seemed to me that the next step would be for one of them to decamp to the other side of the Atlantic, and when I put that idea to them, Dean pointed to himself.
Right now, the hope is that he can spend the 2016 MotoAmerica season supporting Elena.
I can tell that she’d love that. Her 2015 season was “a bit of a cluster” as she herself admits. She found herself without a team just weeks from the start of the season, and had to put together her own program on short notice. It was a big job for a 21-year-old.
I wondered if Dean saw himself racing in MotoAmerica, but he was modest about the prospect. “I’d love to have a bike over here,” he told me. “Maybe do a few WERA races to see how I stack up against American racers, and see if I have what it takes to race a 600 in MotoAmerica.”
Last but not least, I asked whether he had plans to continue his own “real roads” career. Would he return to the MGP, or the TT? He didn’t say “never” exactly. It’s impossible to deny the pull of real roads racing for those who are drawn to it. But it was pretty clear that if Elena disapproves, Dean’s probably not gonna’ do it.
“I had a great time riding on the Isle of Man,” he told me. “If I never do it again, I’ll always have that memory.”
And that, girl, is how you know he loves you.
Elena Myers finished fifth overall, and was the first privateer, in the inaugural MotoAmerica Superbike Championship standings. She’s going to take a couple of weeks off, to introduce Dean to her family in California. She hopes to finalize equipment and sponsorship deals a heck of a lot sooner next year than she did this year.