Thursday, December 31, 2015

Better Sweat Than Blood

The older I get, the more protective gear I wear when riding.  Call it wisdom, fear, old age, whatever you want, but the truth of the matter is, the stuff works.  Today's motorcycle safety equipment is ergonomically designed, stylish for those who care about that sort of thing and can really save your ass if you get into a bad spot.  Sure it's not exactly cheap, but missing work for a week or three costs a hell of a lot more.  Don't even bitch about it being hot, I'd rather sweat than bleed any day.

This isn't going to be a harangue, rant, polemic or diatribe about why you are a piece of human garbage if you don't wear your gear, we've all heard those time and time again.  The safety nazis haven't been able to legislate total bubble wrap protection for anyone venturing out of the house yet, so you still have enough freedom to make your own decision.  For now.  Instead it's just a little blurb about the latest addition to my off-road gear bag:  a pair of Thor Force XP knee guards.

An ounce of prevention....well, in this case about three pounds.

I had been using soft knee armor in a pair of Bohn Adventure pants, but a 15 mph tangle with a tree earlier this summer convinced me that was not enough.  It was a stupid crash that was entirely due to operator error.  I was looking for a trail while moving along at a fairly rapid pace for the terrain.  I saw the entrance I wanted just as I was passing it, grabbed a handful of front brake, locked the front wheel, which slid and then started to tuck, sending the whole stupid mess hurtling towards the ground.  I let off the brake and somehow managed to keep the bike upright, and pointed towards a tree about as big around as my leg.  Instead of looking where I wanted to go, I continued staring at the tree, and target fixated myself into a nice leafy wreck, the area right below my patella taking the brunt of the impact.  For those not familiar with trees, they don't move much, despite tossing yourself into them with great exuberance.  And they are hard, even the little ones!

At the time of the crash I was by myself, and had not come upon any other riders.  I spent about twenty minutes assessing the damage and using the ice water bag in my hydration pack to reduce the swelling before riding back out of the woods.  It was not a major injury, but it certainly did not feel good and it made moving around painful for the next couple of weeks, with a nasty tendency to swell incredibly everytime I stood up.  And all of it entirely preventable with a $99 pair of knee guards.  Beforehand that Benjamin seems like a lot to spend, but afterwards it seems really cheap to avoid this type of thing.

After riding in the knee guards for about 30 minutes, I forgot they were there, but it's reassuring to know they are.  Lessons learned....

How come you have two kneecaps Kris?  Gee, I dunno.

I didn't even hit or twist my ankle, but the bruising and swelling made it's way down there too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Young and Dumb, Old and Stupid

Short one today, non-motorcycle related, just an observation really:

Middle-age is funny.  Everybody younger than you thinks you're an idiot.  And everybody older than you thinks exactly the same thing.  Anyone your own age is too nice or doesn't care enough to let you know one way or the other.  Like I said, funny.

Who is this old creepy guy/young whippersnapper and what is he doing?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Change in the Wind

I find myself severely lacking enthusiasm for roadracing in 2016.  Maybe it's the holidays or the lousy weather or the thought of endless hours driving deeper south for racing due to the death of the Mid-Atlantic region.  Whatever it is, there seems to be a change in the wind.

I came to racing because riding on the street did not satisfy the need.  The biggest issue with roadracing is the lack of track time.  Even on the best days you will usually not get much more than an hour to 1.5 hours actually riding.  Over a three day weekend this adds up to less than five hours, and most race weekends are only two days.  Coupled with the fact that my drive times to the track start with the lowest at 7 hours and go up from there, you end up with a very high per lap cost, and not only financially.  It becomes a grind and a rut.  A job.  And I've already got one of those that isn't a whole lot of fun.

The desire for two-wheeled warfare is still there, as is the constant need to improve and test oneself, but perhaps the method of delivery will change.  The more time I spend riding in the woods, the more time I want to spend there.  At the end of a day off-road I feel as if I've run ten road race weekends, but in a good way.  I am exhausted to the point of elation, have been mentally and physically challenged, tested limits and honed skills and experienced the thrill of speed (20 mph dodging trees feels fast as fuck!).

Perhaps the time is ripe for a change, at the very least a breather from roadracing to help make it feel fresh and enjoyable again.  Lest familiarity breed contempt.

I could never leave this entirely, but a respite to recharge and reinvigorate was surely in the cards 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Primum Non Nocere

Primum Non Nocere.  "First, do no harm."

This is the fundamental guiding principle of medicine.  It should be the same for anyone that would lay a wrench on a motorcycle as well.

The two-wheel community is awash with "builders" and "customizers" churning out choppers, cafe racers, brat bikes, bobbers, rat bikes, scramblers, streetfighters and their even more hybridized offspring, brat scramblers, rat bobbers, cafe fighters, rat brats and scrambled chopper racers.  Every bobo with a shed and a hacksaw is trying to create his or her "dream ride" and ending up more often than not with Frankenstein.

Don't get me wrong, I fly the DIY flag more proudly than rednecks in a jacked-up truck do the Stars 'N Bars, but I've also come to accept that there are certain things the motorcycle factories and all their engineers with fancy degrees know better than I.  In my limited wisdom, I have become loathe to mess with these things.

If we accept the premise that a motorcycle is a vehicle first, then there are a few tasks it must be able to perform and in a better fashion than say, a 1987 Yugo with 200K.  First it must go.  Second it must stop.  Third it must turn.

Any modifications in either of the three areas should only seek to improve upon the foundation laid by the factory.  Many times this is not possible, so maybe it's better to leave it alone (do no harm)?

In the "See Me, Hear Me" mentality possessed by so many motorcycle enthusiasts what would seem to be common sense is thrown out the window.  It's a case of function fucked over by a warped sense of form.  Go ahead and stretch the front or rear of that bike until it's nothing more than a John Holmes sized penis extension.  Take perfectly good working suspension and make it rigid so it pounds you into hemorrhoids, impotence and herniated discs.  Remove half of your front brake system so that people get a better look at your super shiny chrome rims.  Cut, hack, grind, chop, bolt on, take off, do whatever it takes to make us feel like individuals.  Idiots, but individuals!

Obviously it's your bike and you're still free enough to do what you want to do with it, but before we pick up that wrench, torch or hacksaw, maybe we should ask ourselves, "Why?".

So you take a motorcycle with nearly 200 horsepower, capable of 200 miles per hour, install a floppy extended swingarm so it needs a runway to turn around and remove one of the front rotors so it now has half the stopping power?  Seems like a good idea to me. 
Seriously? I can bend those fork tubes with just the power of my mind.  One pothole and you are headed to the hospital.  The front brake provides 75% of the stopping power of a motorcycle, so let's not install one.  Brilliant.

So you took off technologically advanced shock absorbers and replaced them with solid struts, then, it was so uncomfortable you had to add a shock absorber to your seat?  It's that kind of forward thinking that got America to where it is today.
No fenders to keep water and rocks from spraying you front and back and nothing to keep your testicles from dragging on the rear tire if god forbid you slide back off the Karen Carpenter thin seat.  Rock on man!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I have been a little lax on posting lately.  Writer's block would be a convenient excuse, if only it were true, but it's mostly just being lazy.  Oh, and projects.

I always find myself getting wrapped up in these motorcycle projects.  Occasionally they turn out ok, but mostly they just cost money and time and at the end of it all you are left with a big pile of neither.

Thinking back, this propensity for projects must have started in my adolescence.  Inevitably some beat to shit two-wheeled conveyance well beyond its last legs would breathe a final gasp while falling into my grubby little paws, and like a well-smitten john with his favorite lady of night, I would set about to "saving" the machine.  As in the story of the hooker and the trick, it never ends well, Pretty Woman is a lie.

There exists a long, shameful list of vehicles that I have thrown good money after bad at and ended up selling at a huge loss just to get out from underneath.

  • The 1978 Kawasaki Invader snowmobile that ate up at least $1,700 of my college money when I was 17: sold for $275 to my lowballing friend.  
  • The $2500 1979 Honda CB750F that I spent another $1,800 on turning into a cafe racer: sold on Ebay for the princely sum of $1,300. 
  • The Suzuki T500 road racer with special chassis, forks, wheels and engine, at least $20,000: parted out for only $5,000, because no one would buy it whole for $3,000.  
  • The 1982 Yamaha RD350LC "money pit" with a running tally of nearly $15,000: I still have it and they are going to bury me with it so I can get my money's worth out of the damn thing.
Some men spend money on booze and women, I spend it on motorcycles. That RD, however, purchased about 8 years ago was my breaking point.  I vowed never to get that deep into something again.  I had matured at least enough to recognize a bad relationship when I saw it, and I knew that some things are better abandoned than seen through to the bitter end.

And yet I can't resist the urge to tinker with things, or "make them better".  As I stare at the pile of parts on the garage floor that have to be finessed, massaged and then finally probably hammered and cajoled into place, I realize this is the start of another project.  Dammit. 

A small sampling of my various projects over the last 25 or so years

Friday, December 11, 2015

Grow Up II

It really irks me when people toss things out the window of their car.  Cigarette butts, fast food containers, beer cans, diapers, I've seen it all.  Maybe it's because as a motorcyclist I am more exposed to the elements and more aware of my surroundings, or maybe it was that Burger King cup full of piss that hit me in the face shield while travelling through Louisiana, thrown by a couple pillars of the community on their way to church.

Whatever the reason, those actions smack of total disregard for other people.  I don't care if you smoke.  Hell, I don't even care if you smoke in public.  Light up until your lungs collapse. But use an ashtray like a civilized human being.  Eat Big Macs until your arteries are full of sludge and your heart explodes, but I'll be damned if I'm going to dodge another white bag festooned with the golden arches haphazardly tossed by some ADHD dipshit playing Angry Birds on his phone running red lights and taking his half of the road out of the middle.  Use a garbage can.

In short, grow the hell up.  We all have to live and drive here, start acting like it.

Baby, it is so hot when your perfectly manicured nails flick that still hot butt at my helmet.  I want you so bad... 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grow Up

I am giggling in my helmet when a strange idea pops into my head:  I simply do not feel like an adult.  Sure I've got most of the trappings of adulthood now, grey on the head, ear hair, I make that grunt sound when I bend over, pay lots of bills and taxes and work 40+ hours a week to do so, but it really feels like somebody else.  Not me.

What feels like me are my solo, early morning off-road rides (read about them here: My Church).  The thought occurred as I was practicing an enduro technique called a "log pivot turn".  Basically you approach a log from the side, compress the suspension, then, as it rebounds you loft the front end slightly by applying throttle and releasing the clutch and sort of bounce it over the log, landing on the other side at a 90 degree angle to the obstacle.  I had been trying to get this move down, but it was a struggle.  After what seemed like 1000 attempts, several of which ended with me sprawled on top of the log wondering what went wrong, I finally nailed it perfectly, hence the giggling.  I rode away, got a little excited and popped a celebratory wheelie that almost went too far, still chuckling to myself.

I get an obscene amount of enjoyment from these rides, so much so that sometimes I look over my shoulder to see if someone is going to tell me to stop.  I hope not.  On rare occasions I wonder if maybe I've missed out on something as a failed adult.  But then I go do a few more log jumps and realize it's probably somebody else who is missing out.  

Disclaimer: This is not me, however I assure you I look just as cool and stylish as Chris Birch does here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Where From Here?

"How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?" -Dr. Seuss

The logical thing, at least in the tortile logic of the racer, would be to begin mounting a defense of hard won championships.  Who vacates the castle after sacking it and driving forth the infidels?  Now is the time to fortify the defenses, increase military spending and rout out any remaining resistance before they have time to regroup.  Scorched Earth baby!

I almost went this route, and I still may, should the fancy strike me.  But there are realities.  Keeping two racebikes shod in slick tires over a season is monetarily daunting, even with Bridgestone contingency money (thank you Bridgestone!!).  The WERA Mid-Atlantic region is dead for my classes, which means a minimum 7 hour drive to Roebling Road Raceway near Savannah to defend #1 plates.  I drove so many miles chasing this thing that it took something out of me.  My body loathes sitting in one position for that many hours, cramping and aching, and the van isn't getting any younger either.  I went for broke this season, and I very nearly got there.

Crazy ideas of famous/infamous races I want to run are rolling around in my adolescent brain (Classic TT, Dakar, etc.), but until I become independently wealthy those will remain in fantasyland.  I suppose one shouldn't get too greedy when it comes to competition, I've been lucky enough to line up on the grid at some of the best racetracks in the United States.  But that's the problem with racing, it's never enough, there is always something to chase, some loftier goal with an even deeper chasm on the other side should you lose your toehold.  On the untrodden precipice of which new abyss would I choose to practice my fouett├ęs?  Stay tuned.

I don't think this is how it's done.  Twelve years later and my neck still hurts.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gather No Moss

Physical fitness is a crucial component to riding a motorcycle quickly.  I've found this applies not only in roadracing, but even more so off road.  That 30 pound spare tire from too much Bob's Big Boy is like an anchor on the racetrack.  Sure there are fat guys that can go fast, but why put yourself at a disadvantage?

Over the last five years I've lost some weight.  I won't go into specific numbers, but let's just say it's a fairly significant amount.  Now before you start patting me on the back and telling me what a wonderful achievement it is, you can put your accolades back in your pocket.  I have never looked at this like an accomplishment, but more as the righting of a wrong I committed against myself, the fixing of something that was broken, nothing more.  I took responsibility for my actions instead of rationalizing, making excuses and denying my reality.  I chose to live, as opposed to being crushed to death under the weight of my own weakness.

In the end it was a simple choice.  I wanted to ride a motorcycle as fast as my skill would let me, and that wasn't going to happen carrying around what amounted to a small person all the time.

Getting fit is like building speed on the racetrack.  You do it slowly, or you crash and burn.  Make a change, evaluate.  Practice.  Keep at it.  Commit intelligently, fortune hates half and dumb asses.  It's funny how the lessons that racing teaches are applicable in every facet of life.  As long as you're moving, the race is still on.

The author, turning laps of a different sort.  All in the quest for speed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Crash

No, not that kind of crash.  The post race season crash.  The "after all the awards are handed out, sponsors thanked, victory speeches given and you are left alone with $3 worth of plastic signifying your accomplishments that no one outside of maybe three other people on earth give a shit about" crash.

The days are shorter, moving so quickly into darkness and it's wall to wall holiday mayhem consumerism everywhere you turn with the only apparent message that if you truly love someone, you better go into debt to get them something shiny they don't need.  Soon we will mark the passing of another year and those trophies and #1 plates will mean even less, because the idiots will be lining up to take them from you, and if your head isn't in it, if your heart isn't in it, you are going to get beat.  Or hurt.  Or dead.

So you soul search on those restlessly damp nights that make all the old injuries ache, an ever present reminder of dues paid, each scar a vivid receipt.  And you wonder how much you might have left to pay, because no one gets a free ride, ever.  And you wonder if it is still in you.  And you pray for some sort of cattle prod in the arse to shock you out of the funk, because race season is a long way off and you sure as shit aren't getting any younger. Ho ho ho.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Full Circle

It's amazing the things we took for granted as kids.  Just outside my door lay hundreds of miles of trail in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains begging to be ridden.  And ride we did.  Three seasons of the year our ramshackle dirtbikes rolled and tumbled through the forests of upstate New York, (that is when they weren't upside down in mud holes or waiting for parts that the local dealer may or may not have ordered).  During winter, the fourth, and seemingly longest season of the year, with the wind off the east end of Lake Ontario howling and bringing with it cold white foot upon foot, we rode our equally ramshackle snowmobiles.  It's just what we did.  We never questioned it or had reason to think things would be any different.  Does anyone, ever?

What we never bargained for was that we would change and grow and abandon the forests that were once our playground.  Soon the silent standing wooden soldiers seemed to be encircling the perimeter of my prison.  The never-sleeping city called, with buildings that scarred the sky and hard concrete to pound your feet.  It certainly seemed crawling with life at the time, where everything was happening.  And maybe, for me, for a while, it was and I wanted to be immersed in it.

Two decades later now find me drawn to a few hundred acre plot of woods a ten minute drive from my home.  I find myself wanting to be immersed in this place, crawling with a different kind of life, always desiring to go deeper.  The wooden soldiers still mark the boundaries of my prison, only now my servitude begins when I leave their lovely, dark confines.   I long now not for the false halcyon days of youth, when I could barely change a spark plug let alone adjust a chain, but for the wilderness and the time to ride it.  Now.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Without the following sponsors my 2015 championship wins would not have been possible:

Offering Race Tech parts, Fox shock rebuilds and a wide variety of other suspension services.

Sportbike Track Gear, for all your riding gear, tires, helmets and accessories.  Top notch customer service and competitive pricing.

Bridgestone race tires available from Stickboy.

I promote these retailers not just for the support they give back to me and the sport, but because I believe in them and the people behind them.  They are the real deal, with a passion for racing that rivals my own, and it shows in the work that they do.  Kudos to them.

Special thanks also goes to: Phil Lee for continued inspiration, Mom and Dad, Taryn Young, Thor Lawson, Sean, Evelyne, Emily and all the WERA staff and officials who slave to make sure infantile egomaniacs like myself can get out on the racetrack, TCX Boots covering my little piggies on and off road, Bill Martovich, the grumpiest old man to ever tune an EX500, Kurt Kesler and Eric Crews for keeping it entertaining on and off the track, Joe Ball for never giving me an inch, Allan Doneth and Dalton Fuller at STG, Lee Fields for all the great photos and anyone who is working to bring roadracing to the Philistines here in the US.  Thank you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Run Like Hell

"If I stop to catch my breath, I might catch a piece of death." -Fugazi

My employment at a continuing care retirement community offers an almost too close for comfort view of the inevitable future we all face, for those fate deems should be allowed to grow old anyways.  On a daily basis I bear witness to the inexorable cognitive and physical decline that will claim all if given the chance.

Each of us deals with this intransigent, harsh mortality in different ways.  Some deny and hide while others stand fast with dignity and grace.  I've often been accused of rushing headlong into death because of my fondness for operating motorcycles at a rapid rate, but this is wrong.  My wish is not to die, but to stay one step ahead of Death for as long as I can, or at the very least to run beside it making obscene hand gestures, knowing full well I can't win.  Gravity will see to that.

And when my flesh finally fails and Death seizes its worn out prize, I can take satisfaction in the fact that I ran.  The whole way.  Like Hell.

There is always something coming for you.  In this case, it's just Joe.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Touch of Obsession

"I think you think too much." -soon to be ex-girlfriend 1997

The point is not thinking too much, but thinking too much about the wrong things.  I know now what is capable through focus, by thinking about the right things.  It's amazing how fear melts away when you know what is truly possible.  I set out to accomplish something few ever will.  Granted I understand it's not like I cured cancer or brought about world peace, but I did achieve something outside the cookie-cutter, socially acceptable mainstream, and I did it mostly my own way.  I followed the rules that I had to, broke the others I didn't and made up the rest.  And you know what?  It worked.

So now, how about a big fuck you to all the nay-saying, shit-talking, ineffectual little turds that never took a chance on anything, the internet tough guys running off at their keyboards and hiding behind avatars and screen names, the ones who "care not to come up any higher, but rather get you down in the hole that they're in".  I'll tell you, those Number 1 plates feel pretty good in my hands.

But the joy is short lived and I fear now I understand the curse of those who would undertake a thing and succeed at it: there is always more to be done.  Laurel resting is for the ones whose stories have ended, seeking tropical vacations and a comfortable chair.  I look back upon this season not to remember fondly or to congratulate myself, but as a reminder of how far I have come.  And as the starting point for how much further I have to go.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ton Of Bricks

Friday, October 23, 2015 4:18 PM

This being the final installment of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

"It's only once in the whole night that it shows.  He's given the orders and all the Mutants and S.O.B.s and everybody is gone for a minute.  He just sags in his saddle like an old man.  Then he straightens up and grins at me like it's funny.  He can't die...." Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns

I exit the Barber Motorsports Park racetrack for the last time and my 2015 race season comes to an end.  Ten weekends, ten thousand miles and ten thousand dollars later (or more, I haven't totalled it up) and all I feel is a sense of relief that it is over.  I'm too tired for elation at this point.  There is no grand celebration, just a small awards ceremony with 50 or so people in attendance.  Suspiciously absent are the men who finished second place to me, Kurt in V5 and Scott McKee in V6.  That's all right, I don't need anyone to pat me on the back, never have.  I knew going in that if I should achieve these goals, they would be personal and not particularly public or profitable.  There would be no lucrative sponsorship deals, beautiful women would not be hurling themselves at my feet and I certainly wouldn't be signing any autographs or appearing on Good Morning America to talk about my accomplishments.

That's ok, because somehow that makes it more pure.  To put your heart and soul into a thing for only the sake of achieving it, not for notoriety or compensation is a good thing, I think.  Don't get me wrong, if anybody out there wants to send me a bonus check drop me an email and I'll give you the address.

I wasn't thinking about any of these things as the sun sunk into an Alabama October evening and I loaded the two machines that had performed so admirably over the last seven months.  My mind was on the 700 mile drive ahead of me.  One last, ten hour gasp before home and rest and maybe just a little satisfaction in having done what I set out to do.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Quoth the Hawk: "Ye Shall Be Four"

Friday, October 23, 2015, 3:53 PM

This being part XV of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Cannonball Cobb soon finds his way by me.  I love the look and sound of the bike he is riding: Joe Pomeroy's Banshee/RZ engine hybrid in an Aprilia chassis.  The thing flat out works, obviously well developed, a real race bike.  I've often wondered what it would be like to own and race such a piece, something that is the class of it's field.  Built not out of budget, but for the utmost in performance.  Racing is never an easy job, but when you have the right tools....  (If I spent more time focusing on a career and making some money when I was in my twenties, instead of "finding myself", I might be in a better financial position to afford a machine like that.)  Hindsight.

Joe Pomeroy's hybrid

I watch as Cobb and the red rocket slingshot past me making that sweet, unadulterated two stroke song.  They are gone and I am left to my own devices in 3rd place.  Just as it starts to get lonely,  I hear what sounds like the faint throb of a v-twin engine.  My mind scrolls through the V6LW entries and I realize I have been caught in the talons of a hawk.  A Honda 650 Hawk that is.  It's Wade Parish, and he is all over me, all of a sudden.  It certainly feels like I have been swooped upon by some thundering bird of prey.  And he wants third.  Bad.

I know I can beat him if I pull the plug out, but there is much trepidation on my part about getting into a kerfuffle.  I have nothing to prove here by dicing and everything to lose.  The old axiom 'To finish first, you first must finish' has never been truer than this moment.  But my pride won't let me just roll over for this guy.  We go back and forth for a few laps.  Apparently from the stands it looked like quite a battle, but deep down I am holding back, afraid to crash.  This gives Wade and the Hawk all the impetus required and he makes the pass stick. My initial instinct is to chase down this raptor and tear it apart.  For once, maturity comes out on top and I let it go.  I finish the race in fourth. Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war.  Quoth the Hawk: "Ye shall be four.".

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Heavy Hitters In Lightweight

Friday October 23, 2015, 3:39 PM

This being part XIV of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Two hours prior I nailed down the first half of my goal: the WERA V5 national championship on my Kawasaki EX500.  With the Alabama afternoon waning and my strength flagging, I must attempt to secure the second half: the WERA V6 Lightweight national championship on my Yamaha FZR400.

My hope is that this will prove an easier task than V5.  I have a substantial points lead over the rest of the field, any finish in the top five will wrap it up for me.  There are two motorcycles/riders that I am going to be very hard pressed to keep up with, let alone beat out there.  The first is Scott McKee on his FZR, a very fast combination that I have yet to best in competition.  The second is someone I have not met that others in the paddock are calling a "ringer", by the name of Ted "Cannonball" Cobb, reputedly an instructor for the Schwantz Racing School.  He will be riding Joe Pomeroy's hybrid, some sort of hot-rod Banshee/RZ motor in an Aprilia RS250 chassis (I think).  I do not expect to beat him.  I refuse to crash trying to keep up with either of them when I am so close to completing the "Spencer" (read about "Speculating the Spencer" here).  It feels a lot like now or never.

The problem with racing two different motorcycles, at least for me, is that it splits your attention.  The EX500 stops making power at 9k RPMs, the FZR does not start making power until 10K.  The brake set-up on the EX provides much more feel, but less stopping power than the FZR.  The FZR top speed is near 140 mph, whereas the EX might hit 120 with a good tailwind at Road Atlanta.  The Yamaha is generally four seconds or more faster a lap depending on the track.  I drag toes, knees and footpegs on the FZR, but other than my knee puck slightly skimming the pavement, nothing touches down with the EX.  All of these seemingly insignificant nuances cost time on the track as you adjust from one machine to the the other.  I've said it before, but it's a lot like having two girlfriends and trying to remember which way each one likes to be touched, get it wrong and she just might scratch your eyes out.

The start of the race proves interesting.  The clutch decides to play grabby and I get a huge wheelie that has me shitting my pants wondering if I will throw the championship away by looping it on the line.  I fan the lever and the front wheel drops, then comes back up again.  This time I ride it out, right into the lead.  I'm sure McKee will get his usual slow start and then come charging up, with Cannonball either in front or chasing him.  McKee gets by on the exit of Charlotte's Web and I decide to hang with him for a bit.  It's not easy, that FZR pulls so much harder than mine, despite both of them having the 489 hybrid motor.  And I know Cobb is back there as well.  I'm not worried about him, if he is as experienced as they say, he will be able to make short, safe work of passing me and I will be left alone cruising around in third by myself.  Then all I have to do is relax and not do anything stupid for eight laps and I can be #1 for the second time today.  At least that's what I hoped would happen......

Leading the V6 race, but not for long.

Me, leading McKee and Kurt into Charlotte's Web

Anyone who thinks that vintage racing isn't close and exciting needs their head examined!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Other Fish Fried

Friday, October 23, 2015 1:34 PM

This being part XIII of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

The moment finally arrives.  I am on the V5 grid at the WERA Grand National Finals, with the EX500 race bike barking and shaking between my legs like an epileptic junkyard dog, my stomach churning like a washing machine full of rocks, waiting on the goddamn green flag.  I see the flagman's elbow twitch and I'm off.  My head clears, I know what I need to do and I have six plans to help me do it.

I get the holeshot briefly, but Joe Ball is up on me as well as Kurt.  Kurt attempts an outside move coming down the hill into the left-hander that is turn one.  He gets his front wheel about half-way by my machine when I decide I am not going to let him pass me.  I refuse to let him have the line, I will not back down.  My corner speed pushes the bike to the outside at the exit of turn one, forcing Kurt to back off or make contact with me.  I wager some swapped paint and possibly hurt feelings that he will back off before I do.  He does.  This proves the decisive move of my race.

Joe gets by me and takes the lead somewhere around turn 5 or 6 and I throw Plan #1 out the window.  I am now working Plan #2, which is to let him tow me around the track and away from Kurt.  There is no plan to battle Joe unless Kurt starts hounding me, in which case I will have to get by Joe and use him as a buffer between me and Kurt.  Joe starts pounding out fast laps right away, but I am all over him.  There are one or two spots where I could attempt a pass, one of which is Charlotte's Web (turn 5) where I crashed passing him last season.  I can't risk the championship for a race win, so I shadow instead and we begin our 8 lap dance.  Let him set the pace, and breathe.  And wonder where the hell Kurt might be.

At the start of lap 3 I have to know and risk a glance back.  He hasn't shown a wheel at all, and I wonder if he is stalking us, waiting.  There is no chance of hearing the FZ600 against the raucous din of two barely muffled EX500s at full chat, and I would hate to find myself suddenly pounced upon by a stealthy Yamaha 4-cylinder.  I initially see nothing immediately behind us, so I look a little farther back and just catch a glimpse of a red bike and white leathers, Kurt.  I estimate him to be about four seconds back.  I relax just a bit, knowing Kurt can't make up that kind of time if Joe and I continue our current, fervent pace.  As long as I don't crash.

I start thinking how sweet it would be to completely redeem myself after last year's disaster by beating Joe, winning the race and the championship all in one fell swoop.  I remind myself of the last sentence in Plan #5 "Do not attempt to beat Joe unless it can be done easily.".  Our bikes are so evenly matched that there is no way to outpower him.  We are riding in almost perfect synch, opening the throttles at the same time, braking, shifting, seemingly breathing at the same moment.  If I needed the race win, I could force the issue, start running up the inside and try to get him to make a mistake, but I don't need to.  I prowl and stalk and look for weaknesses, figuring he will make at least one mistake sooner or later, but he doesn't and neither do I.  I follow him so intently the checkered flag waves without me even having noticed the halfway flags or the white flag.  It takes a few seconds for the realization to set in.  I just clinched the WERA V5 national championship.  I did it.  My eyes tear up briefly, but then the serious voice inside my head tells me, "Don't crash on the cool down lap stupid, now you've got the V6 race with the FZR.".  My work is not done.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Six Plans

Friday, October 23, 2015 12:30 AM

This being part XII of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

I turned in early, expecting another restless night.  At least tomorrow it will be over one way or the other.  I can't recall the last time I poured myself so entirely into an endeavor and then teetered so closely on the precipice of success.  The entire foundation I spent the last year building (the last 3 or 4 years really) now hung from a single, gossamer thread.  It's a nauseating, free feeling like the fall off a cliff to know that you have now stacked your training, experience, preparation and all the other mortally flawed, doomed to die hominine machinations up against whatever esoteric schemes fate may have hidden up her sleeves or down her garters.  You might as well be playing blackjack with the house hiding all its cards.  

Whatever tomorrow's outcome, I know that life will go on.  I also assume, that unless I am killed in a freak racing incident, my existence is going to continue as well.  If not, than better a life lived in pursuit of something other than safety.  I've handled defeat and failure before countless times, I can do it again if necessary, but not without a fight.  And a plan.  Six of them to be precise.

I wrote them all down, these six plans.  I revised some and scrapped others as available intelligence changed.  I took into account every probable scenario for the V5 race that did not involve me crashing or having a mechanical problem.  I studied the lap times, watched videos, followed competitors in practice.  I took notes upon notes for over two months.  These six plans were burned into my grey matter.  And while each was significantly disparate (not desperate!), they all shared the same outcome: finishing ahead of Kurt.  Any of these plans could be modified on the fly, or swapped for another in an instant.

Would six be enough?

This is Plan #1, in the lead and pulling away.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Engine Runnin' Hotter Than a Boiling Kettle

Thursday, October 22, 2015, 12:30 PM

This being part XII of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Lunch break.  One session in on the FZR and one on the EX.  Both are running well, it seems to be the rider struggling to get up to speed.  The temperature has nearly doubled since this morning, hovering around the 80 degree mark now, just starting to feel a bit hot.

On an interesting note Kurt told me he had his FZ600 (the bike I have to beat in V5) on the dyno last week because they changed the type of fuel to get more horsepower.  He and Huey from Marrieta Motorsports have been messing with the jetting all morning, running up and down the paddock.  I can sense a little urgency in Kurt's voice.  From experience I know that you cannot tell shit about carburetion running up and down in the pits, you've got to get the thing out on the track to see what it does.  I wonder if Kurt has made a final mistake that will cost him the V5 championship, before even lining up on the grid. This is going to go one of two ways, either he will continue to struggle and have to race with less than ideal jetting, or he and Huey will find the magic combination and the bike will run circles around the EX.  If I had to lay money, I would put it on the former.  Without proper time and testing, it is the devil you know that proves better almost every time.  I know this from hard earned experience.

Either way, when that green flag flies, you have to ride the goddamn thing and you have to ride the shit out of it.  My EX does not have the power, the handling or the brakes of Kurt's FZ, but it is lighter, has more tractable power and a very hungry pilot behind the bars.    

Kurt coming for me on the newly jetted FZ.  Would it be enough?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Foot On The Pedal, Never Ever False Metal

Thursday, October 22, 2015, 5:37 AM

This being part XI of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Finally I can lie in bed no longer.  I head to the showers, praying for hot water and solitude, which at least gives my brain a little something to chew on.  I get neither hot water nor solitude and come out of the shower frustrated and hypothermic.  I am cleaner, but freezing and I am pretty sure there is still some soap in my ear due to rushing out of the frigid water.

The ambient temperatures are in the mid 40s, which would normally not be an issue for my Yankee blood, but a few years in the south have acclimated me in the exact opposite direction.  I used to shovel snow in a t-shirt and shorts, here I am in a winter hat and coat feeling like a pussy.  At least racing in full leathers at 100 degrees F is no longer a problem.

The electric heater is positioned strategically under the FZR, which has been draped overnight with a gargantuan cover.  Ahh the foibles of racing vintage machinery!  I still struggle to call both of my 1990s race bikes "vintage", but I also have a hard time believing I have achieved the seasoned age of 41, so maybe it's just denial.

The process now is to get both the EX and FZR started and warmed up and through technical inspection.  This proves to be more difficult than I imagined when the EX refuses to start.  I normally never have issues with the Kawasaki so it is rather disconcerting when I get nothing more than a random fire on one cylinder while spinning it up on the rollers.  This bike needs to run today as I plan on focusing most of the practice day riding it.   I am not prepared to fiddle fuck around with this thing right now, so I wheel it off the starter swearing and mumbling under my breath.  I'll try the goddamn FZR, the heater has been underneath it for nearly an hour.

The FZR is a bit reluctant, but eventually fires.  After the obligatory warm-up ride through the paddock I take it to tech, knowing I have a whole other can of opened worms to deal with.

After a quick inspection two issues reveal themselves on the EX.  First, it is flooded.  Second, the Keihin carburetors have somehow managed to pop out of the carb boot on one side.  I must not have got it fully seated before tightening the clamps.  I take care of that, install new plugs and the old girl fires easily.

There will be between four and six practice sessions throughout the day today and I plan to get down to business in all of them on the EX, burning up the old slicks before mounting new ones at the end of the day.

My mood is not a social or jovial one.  I am in a very serious state of mind.  I came with a job to do, and hell or highwater I aim to.

Attack mode in practice before the GNF.  No screwing around.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

No Sleep Til....

Thursday, October 22, 2015, 3:18 AM

This being Part X of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

It never ends, as far as racing is concerned.  After arriving last night there was still the matter of unloading and setting up, a task that takes an hour all alone.  Technical inspection was also open, but I found myself simply too spent to bother wheeling the bikes down there in the dark.  I cooked a quick dinner on the camp stove, crawled into the van and went to sleep, forgetting to brush my teeth.

I am awakened from strange dreams with bad breath and a frozen right foot that somehow found it's way out from under the blankets.  The night had turned cold and there was a heavy dew.  My first thought is that the FZR is going to be a bitch to start later.  This is a motorcycle that absolutely hates any weather below 60 degrees F.  I dragged my electric heater all the way here to Alabama to assist, but that is about four hours off.  I attempt to make my way back to some of the more pleasant dreams after brushing my teeth and thawing out my purple foot, but the inky, bruise-colored restlessness that is my usual sleep has all but evaporated from the chilly van.  I close the windows I left open, put on the winter hat I bought at Tractor Supply with the baling wire and decide the electric heater is too far away to go crawling around for it now.  I lay back, staring at the headliner I re-did myself, noticing all the places where I fucked it up and then fail entirely to stop thinking.

Much like our human opponents, the mental ones also seek any crack or crevice to gain a finger-hold.  In these dark, cold moments of sleeplessness self-doubt tries to rust away the soul, leaving cancerous little rents in the fabric until nothing remains but a moth-eaten shell.  All the voices of indecision, conformity and self-loathing grow into an obstreperous clamor.  Defeat and failure loom out of shadows, more frightening than any childhood spectres.  I chuckle softly at their attempts to sway me and their power vanishes.  I have more important things to think about.    


Monday, November 9, 2015

Smooth Sailing Into Shit Talking

Wednesday, October 21, 5:48 PM

This being Part IX of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Aside from two mild heart attacks, one that occurred as a result of a clunking in the front end (turned out the hood wasn't fully latched) and the other resulting from the apparent loss of my only credit card (found between the seats on the floor of the van), the remainder of my trip to Barber is a quiet one, marked only by the humming of the tires on the tarmac.

As usual, the Barber Motorsports Park staff is friendly and helpful, corralling late arrivals such as myself at the entrance to allow those who came earlier to enter in a fair and ordered fashion.  This new practice breaks the tradition of the "WERA Stampede", read more about that here: STAMPEDE!

Eventually the expensive motorhomes, toy haulers, trailers and sprinter vans file by me and I am allowed to follow.  Standing in line to sign the waiver and purchase the wristband that will allow me access to the track, I hear a voice shouting my name.  It's Kurt, my would-be arch nemesis, the man I have to beat in order to win the V5 championship.  The friendly banter begins, then our eyes meet and I can tell the game is afoot.  I sense him searching for any sort of a finger or toe-hold on the smooth appearing granite face that is my exterior, looking for any crack in the veneer that could bring the whole thing tumbling down.

I decide to give him one and tell all about my mechanical troubles en route to the track.  He appears sympathetic and says, "Man, you look tired."

Tired of head games maybe, I think.  The truth of the matter is he wants a repeat championship and I have no intention of letting him have it, under any circumstances.  Obviously we like and respect each other, you could even say we have become friends over the last year, but that all stops as soon as the tires hit the race surface.  I expect him to come at me with everything he's got and I sure as shit won't pull any punches out there either.  Short of making physical contact or taking each other out, anything goes, and I am not above a little rub here or there if necessary.

The points chase is about as close as it can be.  I have 65 points to Kurt's 69.  The Grand National Finals races pay out double points, if I finish ahead of Kurt, we tie.  The tie is then decided by finishing order at the Finals, so I win.  Tooth and nail, hammer and tongs, it promises to be interesting.      

This is exactly where I need to be on Friday, ahead of Kurt and pulling away.  This pic is at Road Atlanta September 2015.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Self-Reliance 2

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 2:42 PM

This being Part VIII of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

My close proximity to the Tattooed Twosome gives me a three-ring-side seat to their automotive woes.  Mr. Ironic is clueless, he returns from the parts store with the only slightly less clueless employee.

Mr. Ironic: "We're travelling and the car just started smoking.  I think maybe it's the battery?"  (two points awarded for knowing what a battery is and that a car has one)

Mr. Employee: "Yeah, you're gonna need a battery."

Mr. Ironic: "You think I should just buy one?"

Mr. Employee: "Ummm....yeah?"

Mr. Ironic: "Can you put it in? I don't know how to do that."

Mr. Employee: "Sure can, come on back inside and we will get you fixed right up."

Miss Ironic: "Can the dog come in too?"

I do my best, but fail utterly at holding back a derisive snort from my position under the front of the van.  It's the dumb leading the blind out here.

Ultimately, I finish the job and arrive at the moment of truth as the sulfuric Saturn and its motley crew drive out of the parking lot with the most expensive battery Advance sells, while acid from the split battery is still dripping out and covering the undercarriage, wiring, brake lines etc..  Oh well.  I start the van and immediately the voltmeter jumps to 14.5 volts.  I shut it off, look under the hood for good measure, checking the belt, connections and keeping an eye out for tools or debris left behind that could come back to haunt me.  Five by five.  Time to roll.

I can't help but feel like I've accomplished something.  Twice unforeseen obstacles have appeared in my path, and twice I've handled them.  I'm sure there are quite a few people who could swap an alternator in a parking lot, but I would be willing to bet nowadays, in the world we live in, there are quite a few more who couldn't.  Two of them just wheeled down the road in a Saturn that stunk of rotten eggs.

I think about the race season so far, and realize it has been nothing more than obstacles that needed to be overcome as well.  I know what I have to do and after today I feel a calm and surety that I will do it.  Momentum is on my side.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Annoying, Ironically

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 2:18 PM

This being Part VII of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

"Making payments or repairs, either way the man's got you by the balls." -My Brother

The kaput alternator is finally wrested free from the confines of the engine compartment without permanent damage to the vehicle or my body.  Now to install the new one.  Somebody once told me to budget 3x as much time to re-assemble something as it required you to take it apart.  Great, that means I should only be here until about 6pm, with a 5 hour drive ahead of me.  It's better than the alternative.

As I am playing grease monkey, a teal colored two-door Saturn coupe of roughly the same vintage as my van (mid 90s) wheels into the parking lot near me.  An acrid smoke is rolling from under the hood, and something is leaking all over the tarmac.  I recognize the smell instantly as sulfuric acid.  Somebody's battery has a major issue.  It's burning my nose hairs and making an already unenjoyable situation less pleasant.  It gets worse.  Both doors open and a tattooed, pierced hipster wanna-be trying desperately to grow his ironic blonde peach fuzz beard, with that silly shaved on the sides, long and greasy on the top haircut that they all have nowadays exits the driver's seat.  His equally tattooed, pierced and ironic girlfriend gets out of the passenger side.

Now I could have ignored all this frippery with nothing more than quiet stereotyping and judgmentalism on my part, but for what happened next.  The lithe, illustrated young woman, who has at least another 10 socially acceptable poor decision making years ahead of her before finally settling down and becoming a career woman, wife and mother, leans the front passenger seat forward and releases the largest canine I have ever seen, which immediately bounds toward me.  I drop the socket that I had just finagled into place for the 19th time, free myself from the engine compartment, wielding a 12" ratchet in my defense.

While not a dog hater, I take a very dim view of any animal that would approach me at such a rapid rate.  I am fully prepared to clout this beast directly on the nose with China's finest pot-metal if it becomes necessary.   Thankfully it does not.  Illustrated young woman regains control over the ravenous creature just as I upgrade status to DEFCON 1.  She shoots me a dirty look, as if to say it's my fault her dog is ill-behaved.  Yup, she'll make a great mom someday.

To belabour the point, she continuously walks the Hound of the Baskervilles back and forth in front of the van while I am trying to get the goddamn serpentine belt lined up properly.  It's the last part of this job, I am sweaty, bloody, tired, covered in grease and parking lot grime, late, on just about my last nerve and this poison dart frog looking bimbette parades Cujo within just inches of my toes while I am trying very carefully to get it right? Seriously?

Some men find these things cute.  I consider them a nuisance species. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015


Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 1:37 PM

This being part VI of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Swapping an alternator should be a routinely simply task, it's only held in by three bolts.  My gut tells me it is not going to be that easy.  The very design of a van leaves little room to work in the front, and there is no accessing it from inside the cab.  The second issue will be relieving the tension on the serpentine belt.  This is a job for a fairly decent sized breaker bar, the problem is that you can't fit one in the compartment and clear the hood.  This means only a short ratchet, no leverage and a copious amount of swearing and definitely some busted knuckles.

I detach the alternator in fairly short order, being careful not to damage the serpentine belt in doing so.  However, it is not so willing to be removed from the engine compartment.  There seems to be no way of twisting or turning that will free this piece of shit from the tangled hoses and sharp-edged brackets that impede its outward progress.  It's like playing Operation but instead of a gentle buzzer the klaxon horns are bleating incessantly inside my head as sweat runs down stinging into my eyes.  My arms are scratched and bloody from wrestling around in this confined space.

I am forced to stop and regroup to quell the urge to smash things in this feverish frustration.  I remind myself how far I am from home, not to mention my intended destination (350 miles either direction) and my anger gives way to the cold, dank fear that if I fuck something up here for whatever reason, vexation, ineptitude, impatience etc., I will be in a world of shit.  This cannot be allowed.

If there is one thing that riding alone in the woods has taught me, it's that you better be ready to get yourself out no matter what happens.  This is no different.  I need to get myself back on the road, by hook or by crook, by myself.  Sure there is help out there, for a fee I could be towed to a clean, air-conditioned waiting room with cable TV, back issues of Field & Stream, tepid coffee and possibly even a cruller, while guys I stereotyped in high school earn a hardwon living by skill of hand and sweat of brow.  But I have already eaten into the race tire money I earmarked for the EX500 by having to purchase an alternator, baling wire and exhaust brackets.  To call in assistance at this point will run into the hundreds of dollars.  Unacceptable and impossible if I wish to have the funds for continuing onwards to Alabama.  I am on my own, and while in the heat of that particular moment I would never admit it, I think somewhere deep inside, a part of me likes it that way.

The engineers who design these things with no room to work should have to take them apart and put them back together 50 times before going into production.  Bastards who never swung a wrench or even know what one looks like.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Patience Discharged

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 12:09 PM

This being Part V of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

I pull into the Advance Auto parking lot and shut the van off, knowing this is the best place to be if it won't restart.  I attempt, and it won't.  Battery dead.  I breathe a sigh of relief that I made it this far, as opposed to the alternative, lifeless on the side of I-81 with tractor trailers thundering by shaking the van and it's contents, threatening horrible, screeching, metal rending death.

The staff is friendly and helpful when I explain my charging issue and soon one of them is outside trying to diagnose which ill the van is currently afflicted with.  The employee struggles repeatedly to attach the cables to the battery, resulting in a spectacular shower of sparks as he attempts to weld the clamps to my chassis.  At one point I have to wrest the cables from him to stop his display of unintentional arc welding.  I know he means well, but for fuck's sake I don't need more problems than I limped in here with.

The diagnosis reveals what I already knew, the goddamn battery is dead, with only 315 cranking amps according to Advance's Speak 'N Spell battery tester, but the question remains, why?  At this point the employee's mechanical diagnostic skills are exhausted, as is my patience.  I ask if I can bring the battery in for charging and load testing.  He offers to remove it and I politely decline, telling him that I have the tools and will bring the battery in shortly.

Forty-five minutes of quick charging and one load test later reveal what I already suspected, the battery is good.  Time for an alternator.  At least I confirmed they had one on the shelf prior to removing the battery.  I remind myself to breathe.  Not for the last time.