Rider’s Library: Racing the Gods – A Ducati Superbike Racer’s Autobiography
“Never judge a book by its cover,” says an old adage. In the case of Paul Ritter’s, “Racing the Gods – a Ducati Superbike Racer’s Autobiography,” it is sound advice indeed.
If you judge the book by its cover, which features Ritter aboard his AMA National Superbike race winning Ducati, you’d assume it tells the story of a successful racing career. The book does tell this, but there is so much more to it.
Ritter had a stellar, if brief, run as one of the top Superbike competitors in the early days of the AMA Superbike class in the 1970s. Indeed, he won two AMA Nationals in the Superbike class, including the very first race he ever contested in the class in 1977 at Sears Point (now Infineon Raceway) where he won both the five-lap heat race on Saturday and the 16-lap final on Sunday.
Sitting on the grid at the start of that very first heat race Ritter tells of looking around and realizing he was in a field that included the likes of Reg Pridmore, Cook Nielson, Ron Pierce, Steve McLaughlin and other top riders of the day. This is when Ritter realized he would be racing the Gods, and he wondered what he was doing there. Before the weekend was over, he proved it was where he belonged.
That was the second season of AMA Superbike competition, and Ritter contested only the three California-based events in the seven race season. After the victory at Sears Point, Ritter finished fourth at Laguna Seca and on the podium in third in the last event of the season at Riverside. In his first season competing at the professional level in Superbike, Ritter scored 44 points, good enough to place him seventh overall in national championship points, even though he competed in fewer than half the races of the season.
For the race-fan reader, Ritter provides great insight into how he prepared for each race and studied the course and the competition to learn the fastest way around. Aboard the Dale Newton Ducati 900 SS Superbike, Ritter’s analytical skills combined with his riding skills to enable him to confront the toughest competitors in the class – but that is only part of his story. Life threw Ritter a curve tougher than the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.
After retiring from racing in 1980 without ever having suffered a serious injury in club racing or in Superbike competition, Ritter decided to give vintage bike racing a go and entered an American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) event at Colorado Springs in 1998. On the second lap, he was caught up in a multi-bike crash that resulted in Ritter being struck by another bike, suffering an immediately life-threatening torn aorta and a spinal cord injury (SCI), leaving him permanently paralyzed from the chest down.
Ritter’s survival of the torn aorta, an injury that is fatal in about 90 percent of cases, was nothing less than a miracle. He wrote of the med-flight that took him from Colorado Springs to the hospital in Denver, “I was truly racing the Gods during this plane ride.”
Ritter’s clear, conversational writing style takes us along on his remarkable journey from the pain and despair of the immediate aftermath of the injury to rehabilitation, adaptation and his ultimate triumph in achieving a life re-imagined where his paraplegia is merely a fact of life like the weather—but not a limiting factor in his life. He even rides a motorcycle again and gets his Level One Scuba diving certification!
Ritter shares not only the medical aspects of his life after SCI, but goes into some depth on a personal level where we are reminded that life’s tough problems and losses can pile on a person, giving no quarter to a person who also has to cope with being wheelchair-bound. Through it all, he pushes forward, adapts, innovates and overcomes.
As an added bonus, Ritter shares his insights on some of the great personalities and events surrounding Superbike racing, with brief profiles of Cook Neilson, Phil Schilling, Wes Cooley, Dale Newton, John Bettencourt, Erik Buell, Harry Klinzmann, Dave Emde and others. The book features a foreword by Cook Neilson.
Whether you are inspired by a great racing story or a great story of determination and personal strength, or you just enjoy a thoroughly engaging read, Paul Ritter has a story for you in Racing the Gods – a Ducati Superbike Racer’s Autobiography.
- Title: Racing the Gods – a Ducati Superbike Racer’s Autobiography
- Author: Paul Ritter
- Published: 2015 hardcover, 253 pages, 55 black & white images.
- Publisher: Octane Press, www.octanepress.com
- ISBN: 1937747603 MSRP: U.S. $29.95 U.K. £22.00