Once moving it is almost possible to forget about the godawful heat. There are many other things to occupy the mind, namely keeping it on two wheels while sussing out the quickest way around the racetrack. This is not as easy at it sounds, as most of the roadcourses we run have anywhere from 10 to 17 turns, both left and right hand, with elevation and camber changes, blind corners and a million other idiosyncrasies. It's like having multiple lovers in different towns and knowing by heart the way each one wants to be touched for fear of having your eyes scratched out. Mid-Ohio is no different, 15 corners and over two miles. All of these details must be committed to memory, available for reference at short notice, a good lap time and even your safety, depend on it. It is impossible to ride fast without knowledge gleaned from the constant river of data assaulting you as you circulate the course. This river is fed by four main streams that the rider must be intimately in tune with at all times.
The first: What is the racetrack doing? Not only does the track turn certain ways you must remember, but it will act differently as conditions change. This is crucial to understand, as many a hero became a zero by trying to go hard on cold pavement in morning practice. Rain, fog, sunlight, Oil-Dri spread to clean up leaking fluids all change the way a track must be ridden. Be caught unawares and you may be riding back with a wadded bike in the crash truck, or in the ambulance.
The second: What is the motorcycle doing? How is the motor running? How does the bike feel in the corners? Brakes? Tires? Shifting? Front suspension? Rear suspension? Anything and everything relating to the machine's performance must be cataloged in the brain for analysis upon returning to the pits. This is, however, not the time to be wondering if you tightened the axle nut properly or if your JB Weld repair to the cases will hold.
The third: What are the other riders doing? Where are they on the track? Are they faster or slower than me? How are they reacting to track conditions/weather? Can I pass them safely?
The fourth, and most important: What am I doing? Am I reacting properly to the data acquired from the other three streams or am I overwhelmed by it? Am I in a relaxed mental state or agitated? Are my inputs to the motorcycle having an adverse affect on handling? All of these questions and many more must be answered before the big one: How can I go faster?
That simple question consists of so many small parts it becomes infinitely complex. Lap by lap, corner by corner you have to take it apart, examine each component, then put it back together in the way that works best for you. Master it, then disassemble it and find an even better way. It becomes a difficult psychological endeavour that can have you chasing your tail. It is also very personal, because as you progress you discover walls of perception, individual impediments to speed that must be overcome before improvement occurs. A rider gets stuck in a rut and begins to think he cannot go any faster. Therein lies the rub, because you can always go faster. It is a given for most of us that we will NEVER put in a perfect lap, riding that edge the whole time, unable to push any harder not because of mental barriers, but because of the laws of physics.
Imagine having to face your fear that adding speed in a certain corner will cause you to crash and then making yourself go faster, because you know it can be done. The mental effort required is enormous because it has to overcome the self-preservation instinct. The trick is being able to push that little bit harder without disastrous consequences. And then be willing to push it even harder the next time. Unlike car racing where getting it wrong usually means a spin-out and some crunched quarter panels, the penalty for error is much higher with motorcycles. It can take quite a bit to move a man past the "protect my own ass" state into the "fuck it" mindset. Once past the inhibitions of fear a man can truly excel, but what does it take to get there?
Sometimes something has to set a man on fire. I was soon to ignite.