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If you need to know the time, just ask. You’ve probably never heard of Roland Sands, either, but he is a fellow who was a motorcycle road-racer, and even won the AMA 250 cc. Grand Prix championship back in 1998. He also designed motorcycle parts, of all kinds, and used his artistic touch to make racing bikes better, even after he found it more lucrative, and safer, than riding himself.
Before we get on with that story, let’s consider that we don’t know when this crazy coronavirus and its stifling effect on sports and everything else we enjoy will last, but it gives me added appreciation for all the sacks and boxes of notebooks I’ve hoarded over the years. There are no limits to the reminiscences I can summon up to replace a good springtime ballgame or hockey playoff.
One, of course, is to reiterate that I have written a book, Miracle in Lake Placid, by SkyHorse Publishing in New York, which has one more week to run as Amazon’s promotion of the month — you can get the e-book version via Amazon.com for a mere $2.99 through the month of April.
That is a real, live example of the benefits of saving my notes over the years. Forty of them, to be precise. My notes encompass hockey at all levels since the 1960s, and also auto racing, and automotives of all sorts, plus other sports in that time, such as a few Twins games that can lead to great stories. For another time, perhaps.
One roundabout tale is that while my current run of test-drives of the newest autos has stalled a bit, I am now road-testing a new wristwatch, and it means I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, and on my wrist.
It starts out with my love of auto racing, of all sorts actually, but Indy cars, road racing, drag-racing, you name it. After several years of that, the 3-mile road-racing track first called Donnybrooke Speedway near Brainerd contracted to hold a series of motorcycle road races. And over several years, Donnybrooke — named by owner George Montgomery in memory of Donny Skogmo and Brooke Kinnard — worked out a deal to hold the U.S. event on the World Superbike Championship tour.
Like Formula 1, the top motorcycles offered only one race per country, so it was a big deal for Donnybrooke to get the race, over the likes of Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake, Laguna Seca, and others. It was captivating, with the riders of the top factory bikes running through the 10 turns, and the riders who competed were heroes of the highest sports magnitude, even though they seemed to be doing it out of sheer passion.
The road of those Ducatis is impeded in my memory forevermore. Along about 1989, the University of Minnesota hockey team was embarking on a trip to Europe to play in a series of regional tournaments in Germany and Switzerland. I was covering the Gophers at the time, and since my wife, Joan, and I had never been to Europe, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had vacation time coming, and I was sure the Minneapolis Tribune would pick up the expenses. Silly me.
The more I arranged for the trip, the more attractions we discovered. I had gotten to be close friend with a fellow who was public relations chief for Porsche, and he set me up with some memorable sessions inside Porsche’s tech center when driver Tee Fabi was trying to get a Porsche powered car up to speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
My friend said that, since I also was writing about cars, that if I ever went to Germany, to call him and he would arrange for me to get a Porsche to drive while there. We timed it to get to Germany for the first Gopher hockey tournament, then we’d have time to tour a little, and get back for another exhibition game, then we could drive north to Frankfurt, where we had credentials for press days at the legendary Frankfurt Auto Show.
After that, we could head south, for Lugano, Switzerland, up into and over the Alps, and down to Milan, which was only a short hop from Monza, where we had credentials for the Italian Grand Prix. That left time to return through the Alps to the small town in Switzerland where the Gophers had one last tournament. When I called my friend, however, he said the only time he couldn’t get me a Porsche was when all the cars would be needed at the Frankfurt show. We were wiped out, but I happened to have a contact from Audi, and the Audi official jumped at the opportunity to get an Audi Coupe quattro for me to test drive. All he asked in exchange was that we tour the Audi factory at Ingolstadt, Germany, on our way to the auto show.
We flew to Zurich, took the train to Munich, then were picked up and whisked to Ingolstadt the next morning. We walked the assembly line and interviewed a couple of executives, then were presented with a new Audi 80 Coupe quattro, and sent on our way. It was the greatest and most event-filled two weeks imaginable.
We stayed one night in a small motel in Nurburg, where the legendary Nurburgring race track lies. And after attending the totally captivating Frankfurt Auto Show, we drove south on the autobahn, cruising at about 120 miles per hour and feeling totally safe. It started to rain, and it rained very hard, as we came by a sign for Hockenheim Ring, another German road-racing track.
We pulled in, and incredibly, it was the weekend of the German World Superbike Race. I managed to wrangle a couple of press credentials, and we walked into the pits, rain-soaked for sure, but found a coupe of riders who recognized me from Brainerd. The Alps, and Ayrton Senna dominating before a last-lap mechanical failure knocked him and his McLaren-Honda out of action at the Italian Grand Prix, were highlights.
Driving back into Switzerland, we took the high road, literally, so we could stay overnight at Davos, where Herb Brooks had coached in 1981, after the Olympic feat. The hotel operator was thrilled that a friend of Herbie’s came to visit.
At the end of the trip, we returned the Audi to a predetermined site at the Zurich airport, climbed aboard a big jet, and were whisked home. Thirty years later, I was contacted by a public relations woman who regaled me with the design work of Roland Sands to make the ICON Signature Series watch to celebrate his history as a motorcycle racer and designer of parts and accessories. She said they had a small number of samples for journalistic reviews.
I described my history of covering motorcycle races “from Brainerd to Hockenheim,” and the next thing I knew, a package arrived with my “test drive” inside.
The watch has a simple, classic look, and the leather band has raised ridges that are remindful of the leather racing jackets Sands has designed. Right now, it’s 5:25 p.m. on Tuesday, and the watch — while tastefully short of the overdone Rolexes — is straightforward and simple. But I’ve only tested it a few days, and it will take much more to give it the total scrutiny it deserves.
If you’re interested, check it out at “time concepts.net” and you’ll find it in assorted colors of face and band, for $225.
I’m still trying to find out if Roland Sands ever raced at Brainerd, but if he did, I’ll bet he was on time.