May 8, 2023
Mention Tavullia, Italy to just about anyone in Europe, and you will likely get a two-word response:
Either “Il Dottore” (“The Doctor”), or “Valentino Rossi”.
Rossi, for those Americans who may not follow motorsport like Europeans do, is the nine time World Champion MotoGP racer. His fans are, well, fanatical, and so loyal that even though he retired from racing three years ago, and MotoGP retired his career-long Number 46, there is still a huge section at each race wearing all yellow, and likely waving yellow flags with a large, black “46” on them. Rossi has done more for the sport than any other racer in modern history, and is one of the most loved Italian athletes, due not only to his skill on the motorcycle, but his fun-loving style and his ability to captivate an audience.
Rossi grew up in the tiny village of Tavullia, near Pesaro, and just a few miles inland from the Adriatic Sea. Over the past twenty-something years, the town has become synonymous with Valentino. Everywhere you look are buildings painted in his color of yellow, flags with his number 46 on them, murals of his face and him on the bike. A small children’s park has a concrete path through it in the shape of a race track, and where other parks might have small cast or plastic horses on a large spring for the kids to sit and play on, this one has small roadrace motorbikes. Since his retirement in 2021, there are large signs and banners saying “Grazie Vale!” as a tribute to all he has done, not just for Tavullia but for Italy as a whole.
Rossi is so popular in Europe (and worldwide), that his VR46 brand of clothing and other gear still outsells that of current riders. In his later years, he formed the VR46 Riders Academy in order to bring talented younger riders up through the ranks of Moto3 and Moto2, including riders like current World MotoGP Champion Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia, Marco Bezzecchi, Franco Morbidelli, and Rossi’s half-brother Luca Marini, among many others. VR46 Racing now also has its own MotoGP race team, backed by Ducati.
Thanks to a former colleague at Yamaha, we had been invited for a tour of Rossi’s company headquarters in Tavullia.
VR46 HQ houses the Riders Academy, the Moto2 and Moto3 race team shop, and the apparel company.
Since The Doctor wasn’t in, I parked in his space.
Several of Rossi’s toys are on display in the lobby.
Bodywork from one of the Moto2 Kalexes during Rossi’s retirement.
Similar to the wall at Yamaha USA, VR46 has a Wall of Fame, listing their Academy riders that have won championships and major events. They’re going to need a bigger wall.
A small selection of the VR46 trophies.
The Doctor’s actual office. The bike on the left inside his office is the bike he won his last MotoGP championship on.
We used to race YSR50s and modified 80cc bikes on kart tracks and small roadrace circuits like the Streets of Willow at Willow Springs Raceway in California. Unlike those bikes, these small race bikes are purpose-built and a serious component of bringing youth into roadracing. It takes not just talent, but a serious commitment of time, effort, and money on the part of the parents before a rider can be accepted into the VR46 Riders Academy.
I built a couple of YZ80- and YZ85-based roadracers back in 1996, and had a blast racing them in my 30s. These are used to help train younger riders as well.
Rossi’s image is everywhere in Tavullia.
VR46 has a store in Tavullia selling their merchandise.
There are also several nice displays of Rossi’s history in the store.
We didn’t get to visit Rossi Motor Ranch or the private collection of his career artifacts, but nonetheless we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent at VR46 HQ, and we hope to meet up with Giorgia and Gianluca again in the future, either in Tavullia or at a MotoGP race.
And with that, it was time to head south and catch a ferry to a new country.