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At life’s crossroads, a Merokean finds adventure

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Inside the garage of Ron Rabinovich’s home on Florence Street are all the makings of a body shop: bright red utility cabinets, tools and a rack full of racing gear. Two motorcycles — a Suzuki and a Ducati — stand in the center.

“My granddaughter knows the difference between the bikes,” Rabinovich, of Merrick, said. “She’s a genius.”

For the past 10 years Rabinovich, 63, has raced motorcycles for sport with other amateur riders at racetracks along the east coast. The hobby joins Rabinovich’s list of other adventures he has explored since coming to America 30 years ago (he is originally from Israel). He’s a licensed aerobatic pilot, and has also dabbled in barrel racing.

“I guess I’m an adrenaline junkie,” he said with a toothy smile. “And I’m very competitive. Whatever I do, I want to get to the top.”

While being interviewed by the Herald Life, Rabinovich referred to a recording of a MotoGP race he had queued on his DVR (MotoGP is a premier class of motorcycle racing events sanctioned by the International Motorcycling Federation). He displayed a few clips of the circuit, one of which showed a rider losing control and tumbling off his bike, but then rising from the sidelines unharmed. This is what Rabinovich calls a “spectacular crash.”

He first became interested in motorcycle racing during a routine visit to the dentist. A picture hanging in the office showed his dentist, Andy Goldberg, riding a motorcycle with his “knee down” — the term refers to when a bike is taken to its maximum lean angle on a corner so it can go faster. This causes the rider to hang over the bike, with his knee touching the ground.

“He told me that picture was taken on a track in New Jersey,” Rabinovich said, “and I told him, ‘I’m coming next time.’”

After his first visit to New Jersey Motorsports Park, Rabinovich said he was “hooked.” “He fell in love with it when I took him,” said Goldberg, of Bellmore. “I was more than happy to help him — it takes time to get proficient with it.”

Rabinovich competed in his first race two years later. “I started last and I finished last and I was happy,” he said with a soft chuckle. Though a competitor at heart, Rabinovich said the beauty of the sport rests in the relationships that are formed off the track. “Everybody loves to help, without exception,” he said, “and now, with my experience, I help the newcomers.”

Although he’s one of the older riders in his group, Rabinovich said, “You’re covered from head to toe with leather and helmets and gloves. You don’t know if under the helmet there is a 20-year-old or a 50-year-old. It’s all the same.”

Rabinovich has raced in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, North Carolina and Georgia. He also competed at Lime Rock Park, in Lakeville, Conn., where actor Paul Newman was an avid racer, and at Pocono Raceway, which is often used as a training facility by NASCAR.

Engaging in heart-pumping hobbies comes with its challenges, Rabinovich said, but it’s also how one eventually learns to improve. “You don’t learn much when you ride a motorcycle on the street, but when you take it to the track and get involved with more professional riders, you learn a lot about the bike, yourself and the combination [of the two],” he said. “There’s always another element that you have to understand.”

Rabinovich said he also understands that in a sport like motorcycle racing, accidents are inevitable. He first crashed on the track in New Jersey about seven or eight years ago, when the front wheel of his bike slid out from under him as he quickly reared a corner. “I tumbled, I checked myself, and I was OK,” he said, “and I rode back to the paddock with a huge smile on my face.”

Goldberg said Rabinovich’s enthusiasm for the sport has been evident since the start, and refuses to yield. “We still talk about the last track day he did, discuss what motorcycle he’s riding, mechanical improvements he can make,” he said. “It’s nice to see he’s still doing it.”

Rabinovich acknowledged the continued support he receives from his wife, Einat. “She’s supportive of all my craziness,” he said. Einat said her husband’s hobby is “an amazing thing,” adding that, “It’s never too late to start anything.”

Rabinovich is now passing on his love of racing to his grandchildren. Next to his adult-sized Suzuki bike in the garage is a pint-sized pedal car he refurbished for his two-year-old granddaughter, Orly. It looks exactly like his.

And he continues to race, despite being a grandfather. “It won’t change,” he said as a smile spread across his face, “‘Cuz I have good life insurance.”