Of Handshakes And Champagne Showers

A simple handshake at the podium between Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias. Don’t you just long for moments like these? Photo by Brian J. Nelson

On the way to the racetrack about 15 years ago, I had a conversation with my then-10-year-old son in preparation for his very first visit to an AMA road racing paddock. While seated in the passenger seat of my truck, he clutched a small, spiral-bound notebook—which would become his keepsake for the riders’ autographs—and he attentively listened to my pontifications.

“Now, let’s review the plan. When I introduce you to a rider, what do you do?” I inquired. In a slightly sing-song delivery that indicated his annoyance with my question, my son responded, “I say, ‘Hello, my name is Samuel.’ Then, I extend my right hand, look the rider in the eye, and give a firm handshake, while asking, ‘May I please have your autograph?’”

A few weeks ago, while I was flying home from the MotoAmerica Official Dunlop Preseason Test and pondering the global situation that was then just unfolding and is now all-too-familiar to all of us, I recalled that I handed out more than 50 handshakes while at Barber Motorsports Park—all accompanied by a firm grip and the appropriate amount of eye contact, just like I had taught my son.

A handshake is an ages-old tradition, a gesture thought to have originated with prehistoric man as a communication and an offering of peace. It’s a tangible way for two people to let each other know that they are not only friendly but also unarmed.

Who would have ever thought that one of mankind’s oldest greetings would, in 2020, become weaponized instead of being an indicator that no weapon exists?

Even during the Preseason Test at Barber, which now seems like a lifetime ago, many of my handshakes were met with hesitation. At the time, I remember feeling bad that I put so many people on the spot, how many times I proclaimed that I have impeccable hygiene, and how it never occurred to me at the time that the people to whom I was offering my handshake could have been trying to protect me as much as I only thought they were trying to protect themselves.

Handshakes, fist bumps, high fives, hugs, and even kisses are all part of the MotoAmerica paddock, and they are as prevalent during podium celebrations as champagne showers, shouts of joy, and copious rounds of energetic applause.

We remain optimistic about the 2020 MotoAmerica season. And, as the saying goes, “This too shall pass.” The curve will flatten, the pandemic will subside, and the beloved sport of motorcycle road racing will return.

I also think the handshakes, fist bumps, high fives, hugs, and even kisses will return…in time. And, if my son were still 10 years old instead of 25, I’d certainly have to amend what I told him a decade and a half ago.

Extend your right hand, look the rider in the eye, and give a firm handshake, while asking, ‘May I please have your autograph?’”

I look forward to the return to normalcy, in the MotoAmerica paddock, as well as everywhere else. I’m sure you do, too.

Even if it’s a new kind of normalcy.

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