October 11th 2016
For the last year, Ghaith Riberio was almost perfect. He won every open canopy race that he participated in, except for one which ended in a controversial finish that some of his fans still dispute. Among fans and fellow racers, he was known for his uncanny ability to execute precise yet aggressive turns. Many marveled that despite his bold racing style, the cherry red gloss on his personally modified 2942 Drake Dragonfly never seemed to have a scratch.
The racer’s knack for showmanship extended off the circuit too. Riberio’s hard partying lifestyle was frequent fodder for scandal rags. The attention only expanded his notoriety. Serious sponsors came calling and the Open Canopy Racing League (OCRL) did everything it could to brandish Riberio’s bad boy image. Then, just as everything seemed to be going right, Ghaith Riberio stopped racing.
After Riberio missed his first race, Darryl Misko, the President of the Open Canopy Racing League, expressed his organization’s disappointment. “We are all stunned by this turn of events. Ghaith Riberio has failed to honor his commitment to this league, his sponsors and, most importantly, the fans of the OCRL.”
Shortly after, Riberio formally announced his retirement in a brief vid. Riberio claimed his decision to stop racing was due to “ridiculous new rules and regulations implemented by the OCRL.” The accusation lit the open canopy racing world on fire, and drew attention to a series of rule changes that had previously garnered little to no attention.
Prior to February’s race in Nemo, the first one Riberio missed, the OCRL updated a number of rules and regulations, which they claimed were meant to make the sport safer. These changes included new limits on the overclocking of components, a ban of certain ultra-lightweight alloys in hulls, and much more. At the time, Misko insisted these changes were crucial. “There’s no denying that open canopy racing comes with certain risks, but that doesn’t mean our racers’ safety should be compromised. We believe the new rules will provide a thrilling experience for our fans and an even safer environment for our racers. That’s a win-win.”
Some racers within the OCRL were not happy with the changes, including Ghaith Riberio and Meredith Aguilar. Aguilar is the only person to have defeated Riberio since he joined the circuit. “Riby and I talked about the changes a lot,” said Aguilar. “We felt many of these new rules were extremely arbitrary. He was convinced the entire thing was nothing more than a dog and pony show to make the league more appealing to potential buyers.”
Over the past year, there have been rumblings that the Eldora Equity Partners were putting together a bid on the OCRL. Darryl Misko, whose family has owned the league for the past 43 years, would be in for a substantial payday if the deal went through.
When asked, Misko quickly brushed aside the criticism of the new rules, claiming they were all in the interest of the racers. “The league came to an agreement on these new policies after years of research and investigation into on-track accidents. This league is about celebrating the best racer, not the last one standing.”
Misko and the OCRL engaged in a spirited defense of the new rules and even launched a new ad campaign touting the improvements made to racer safety. Meanwhile, Riberio, after his initial retirement announcement, refused all requests for interviews. People wanted to know more about what had driven the sport’s most promising young star away, yet he remained silent. That is, until now.
While researching this story, I received a message from someone claiming to represent Ghaith Riberio. The message invited me to interview him under one condition — that his current location remain a secret.
After hiring a security detail to ensure my safety, I proceeded to the predetermined meeting location. While sharing a bottle of Sky in a quiet bar, I asked him the question everyone wants to know, why the secrecy after his retirement?
Riberio took a deep breath and laughed, “Honestly, it was all becoming too much. All I’ve ever wanted to do was race, but going pro, dealing with sponsors and fans and paparazzi, it was all just one big distraction. Going to the track stopped being fun, so I stopped going.”
Over the next few hours, Riberio went into great detail about his love for open canopy racing. The rush he gets when executing a perfect turn. The feeling of power that overwhelms him when his Dragonfly’s engine purrs to life. The pride he and his team take in fine tuning components. His passion for racing is undeniable, as is his disappointment in the league’s new rules and regulations.
“Trust me, I know how much I can tweak my power plant better than some knob in an office who’s setting an artificial limit so the league can save a few tenths of a percent on their insurance. After a bunch of these stupid regulations, it started to feel like more castration instead of racing for me.”
After I shared Ghaith Riberio’s comments with Darryl Misko, he just shook his head, despondent. “We have protocols in place so our racers can approach us with issues like this. I wish he would have used the right channels to express his concerns. Maybe we could have worked something out.”
When asked if he would consider reinstating Riberio into the league, Misko sighed heavily. “Let’s just say that would be extremely difficult. He violated a number of contracts with sponsors and the league. It would take a lot of work on his side to make this right.”
For his part, Riberio seems content in his current situation. He still races, though the tracks he now frequents are far from legal, let alone official. According to Riberio, underground racing is more popular than ever, as racers flock to these tracks to truly push themselves to the limit. He claims the pay is comparable and the lack of regulations liberating. He even races under an alias and finds the anonymity freeing, after being under the media’s microscope for most of last year.
Not that everything is perfect though. When asked if Riberio misses anything about being on the professional circuit, he answers immediately, “I miss my bike’s cherry red paint job. Didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, so I repainted it.” When asked what color it now is, Riberio smiles, “I’ll be happy to tell you … off the record.”
For now, that’s exactly where Ghaith Riberio seems content to live his life. Out of the spotlight and in the shadows of dimly lit underground racetracks.