Trackside Tuesday: The Face of a Champion

10/09/2012 @ 2:26 pm, by Scott Jones13 COMMENTS

Even before I met Max Biaggi in 2011, I had the sense that here was someone who takes himself and his racing pretty seriously. From the immaculately trimmed facial hair, to his manner in the pit box, to his long career as a motorcycle racer, if there is anything he takes lightly, it is certainly not racing.

Some riders are approachable, quick to smile, who naturally put others at ease even on race weekends. Biaggi is not among this group. But I didn’t appreciate just how intense he is when he’s at work until, as one of my contributions to benefit Riders for Health, I decided to ask him to sign a print I was donating at last year’s Miller WSBK round.

I had brought a matted print of Biaggi from 2010 with me, and as I approached the track on Saturday morning I considered that it would likely fetch a higher price, and thus a greater donation to Riders for Health, if it bore Max’s signature. So I set about getting that done with no idea how easy or difficult it might be.

First I approached the Aprilia media officer, a pleasant fellow who worked with me, half in Italian and half in English, to come up with a plan to approach his star rider. He suggested we talk to someone in the pit box, someone who knew Max better than he did in his recently acquired role with the team.

We descended into the Aprilia garage and found someone whose exact role I never understood, but who also liked the idea of doing something for Riders for Health. He did not, however, care to be the one to bring it directly to Max. The three of us considered the situation and appealed to one of the senior mechanics, who gave us a sympathetic look and said in gestures instead of words that he wanted no part of the business.

We stood to the side of the box, waiting for inspiration, and I wondered if the plan were doomed. Max spoke to mechanics as if discussing matters of life and death. Team members approached him respectfully, presented their concerns for his comment, and left him alone. In some garages the guys joke and there is music in the business of racing motorbikes. In Max’s garage, it’s more like a war room, its business deadly serious.

Someone new appeared and my colleagues brightened. It was a friend of Max’s, someone we could approach for counsel. A sotto voce discussion in Italian followed with wise nods and tentative smiles, then a group decision to proceed. Max would probably say ok. By now I was the least important player in the drama, merely the fellow holding the thing that wanted signing.

Biaggi was about to grant a TV interview, and we, safety in numbers, waited patiently until the camera crew left. Finally we could wait no longer, and we mentally pushed the friend out into the unknown. He approached Max and leaned in to explain the situation. Behind large sunglasses Max was inscrutable as he listened. What would happen? It seemed to take much longer to explain than it should have, but perhaps time was passing slowly because of the suspense.

Eventually Max uttered a few words, then gave a short nod and the friend, relived, smiled and returned to us. He explained that Max was willing, as long as I promised this was for Riders and not going to appear on eBay. I promised and was invited over, where  I produced my work for his inspection as I held out a new Sharpie. Oddly, the moment changed dramatically, because as I was standing next to Max Biaggi, he was suddenly different from the character we’d observed and been intimidated by.

Saying Max was ‘friendly’ would be not quite right, but face to face he was no longer the remote, uber-professional I’ve watched for so many years. He seemed to relax, signed his name, smiled and then disappeared, but not before putting on the stone face again as he left the box.

I thanked my new pals, delivered the signed print to the Riders booth in the paddock and was left to consider the experience. I don’t think I could’ve asked for it to have gone any better, and I appreciated Max’s willingness to trust me and to do something to benefit Riders for Health, even though it had not been arranged ahead of time. The adventure left me more sympathetic toward Max Biaggi than I might previously have been, because since then he’s been something more than the deadly serious professional racer.

But certainly he remains that at his core. After winning his sixth world title, Biaggi said: “The 2012 season was tight to say the least: we started off well, winning at Phillip Island after completely revamping my team, but we also had some difficult moments. We definitely worked for the title and maybe that’s why it’s an even sweeter victory.”

Based on my personal experience with how he operates at work, I expect we can only guess at what winning a championship truly means to someone who takes himself and what he does so very seriously.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • Jake F.

    Well done, Scott. Thanks for this little glimpse into Biaggi’s world and for supporting Riders for Health.

  • MikeD

    LOL. I can relate to the guy…somehow.

    People say i look and should conduct myself like a total A-Hole but then find out im ok-ish, if i do say so myself. ROTFLMAO.

    I think he should ligthen up and take out that brum stick stuck up his Ying-Yang. No need for the ugly face/attitude/treatment towards others.

  • Gutterslob

    Biaggi’s definitely different nowadays. Wouldn’t exactly say he’s mellowed, but definitely a bit more easy-going.

    In the old days whenever I watched a TV interview, he’d be looking into the lens, like he was in a POV porn movie or something. Nowadays he at least bothers to face the reporter/journalist, and even cracks a joke or two.

  • Peter Geran


    He signed a photo for me at Phillip Isand in 1998..

    I had taken the photo at Suzuka in 1997.. He was riding a Marlboro Yamaha #3 in those days.

    He signed it #1

  • robin

    he’s surprisingly friendly with laverty, with lorenzo because they both have a thing for rossi lolol

  • David

    Gotta love Max, super serious all the time.

  • TexusTim

    Remeber the classic…..” I slapa yo face offa” ?

  • Knowing Max off the track he’s one of the nicest guys your going to meet but he does take his job very serious… He actually visited one of my close friends at the hospitol after his accident and emails him to this date to check on his progress… Congrats Max on the #1 plate 2012 was a real treat, awesome bike and congrats to Sykes amazing year for him and team green!!

  • Biaggi was one of those riders that I wanted — strongly — to dislike. Except that when I heard him talking about his races in the post-race interviews, I wound up identifying with him very strongly. Anybody that passionate about riding/racing is a-okay in my books. He’s always been a cerebral, intelligent and go-for-it racer, in all the right ratios for a given race situation. A+.

  • gsp75

    If anyone has a oppertunity to see him at the Dainese store in Ca. during the Miller round you’ll see how easy going and friendly he really is . After the Q&A he must’ve signed every and anything u gave him !!!
    He signrd a helmet, boot ,poster and magazine all with the Biggest of smiles .
    A true CHAMP !!!

  • JacksonH

    I actually bid on the print earlier this year, and was unfortunate not to win it, as I was told, mine was the highest bid. Sadly one of the Riders for Health staff accepted a lower bid, without knowing of my bid, and some lucky guy benefited and now owns something very scarce.
    Hopefully another signed Max Biaggi will come my way in the future to add to my collection of MotoGP prints.
    I have always thought that Max is a brilliant smooth rider, and was delighted to see him win the 2012 WSB championship.

  • pooch

    Hand it to Max. There’s nothing wrong with taking your job seriously and at Max’s age, I’m sure he’s had a lifetime of requests for portions of his time when he’s trying to concentrate on the job. Like Stoner, Biaggi does not court publicity and desire the public worship like the Rossi’s and Lorenzo’s of bike racing, Max is just there to race his bike as fast as he can and keep distractions at a minimum. It’s obvious.

    After Biaggi’s win, seeing his very long and extended embrace with his wife, talking in her ear for a long time, it was very nice to see. Also like Stoner, a lot of people haven’t warmed to this champion over the years because he isn’t the happy clown Rossi, or the desperate imitator Lorenzo. In fact he’s even downright ornery at times, the slapping Melandri incident, the punchup with Rossi way back when. But let’s face it, Melandri if anyone deserves a slap, and Rossi deserves a lifetime of slaps for the multitude of mind games he plays on and off the track with riders. You will never see Max jumping around and wearing an idiot grin stricking his mug up against the camera lens like #46, doing elaborate post-race pantomimes like #99 or #46, Biaggi, like Stoner, is pure racer. And I like that breed of racer better.

  • tonestar

    really happy for max that he won the title this year, one for the old boys (like me!)

    but ” brilliant smooth” ? that’s my man checa! no, watching biaggi is like trying to predict the path of a hand grenade. don’t remember what race, but i do recall seeing him pass 2 guys this year on the outside of a sharp lefthander- on the back wheel !!