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Inman Column: I'm a Loser, baby

I had forgotten to post any of the columns I write for Cafe Racer magazine, France, for a while. Alastair Kinroy reminded me of one I wrote earlier this year, before my race season started, so here it is. GI

I’m a loser, baby. I grew up the son of a bus driver, in an economically-depressed city during an economically-depressed time, though I never did without much and can’t ever remember being unhappy. My school was a dump. I had a no-name BMX that weighed a ton. The football team I supported were second rate. And that’s just how I wanted it. As a teenager I had an influential brother (who died in his 40s. A loser, baby) and a friend a few years older, who owned a record shop. These two introduced me to the books of the Beats, New Journalism and Gonzo. Paperbacks from Kerouac, Hunter S Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Lester Bangs and PJ O’Rourke. I read of the American Dream (and much about the dying of the concept). I read it, but, as a teenager from West Yorkshire, I didn’t understand it. Only years later did I learn that the American Dream describes the belief that anyone, from any background, can make it in America. You could be born into squalor and deprivation and with only hard work and good ideas, you can rise to the very top. Perhaps I didn’t understand what I was reading when the American Dream was referenced, because it was an alien concept. I knew my place. Lower middle class. I didn’t crave the opportunity to fraternise with lords, or to work in the stock exchange so I could buy a Guards Red Porsche 911 Turbo for cash. Or even hope to stay in school after I turned 16, certainly not to go to university. Only one kid from my school did. Ambitions were not limited, just realistic. I didn’t want to be rich or famous and didn’t know anyone else who had those desires.

Instead, I cut a comfortable groove for myself, and at 50 years of age I look back with regrets, but not many. This view dovetails seamlessly with my attitude to motorcycle racing. I started without even the most modest of expectations. I never thought I was going to win, I just wanted to be involved. It is only at this time of year, just before the season starts, that my outlook deviates from a flat line of mediocrity to a very modest peak of ‘Maybe…’ It is now, with the most recent race I competed in, and its realities, a faded memory that I even allow myself the hope for a successful season. In two weekends’ time, the first race done and dusted, I will, no doubt, have slotted effortlessly back into the middle of the pack. And I’m here to say that’s OK. Better than OK, that’s great. Because I’m a loser, baby, and I love my fellow losers. We are the most loyal racers. The friendliest. The most helpful. The most cheerful. Sure, I have my moments of glove-throwing frustration, that make me look like a stupid man-baby, because sometimes even my inner chimp can overpower my pathological loser’s resignation.

If you’re a loser and you still turn up year after year, as enthusiastic for the next race as you were the third or fourth you competed in, then, in my opinion, you have a great attitude to life. I say third of fourth, because, in a loser’s experience, the first two races are too nerve-racking to be looked forward to. You don’t need the trophies (what are you going to with them? Put them on your mantelpiece?), the empty applause. Win a few amateur championships and someone might lend you a bike to race. It’s not yours and there are always strings attached.

The loser turns up to ride a motorcycle they maintain and rebuild themselves. They call the shots. The loser looks forward to racing with friends, not vanquishing all in front of them. There are rivalries, of course, some friendlier than others, but losers don’t sit in their vans, getting in the zone, honing an expression that says, ‘Look, this is me getting ‘in the zone’’. Really, what’s the point of going racing if all you’re bothered about is winning? The losers race for the love of it, not because they are driven by hate. I hear soundbites from pro racers who despise losing more than they love winning and I roll my eyes. I get it. They’re a different breed, but they’ll never be happy while they’re married to that attitude, because, in the end, everyone loses. And, if you hadn’t guessed already, I’m well-prepared for that, because I’m a loser, baby.

Photo: Braking Point Images

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