Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deflowered and Debauched...Divine

The end of the first practice session leaves me in a clammy sweat with my brain cramping. For some stupid reason I came to Road Atlanta expecting to do very well, possibly even win a race or two. After six laps around the track I decide if I manage to NOT fall on my ass this weekend that will be a success. My dwindling intellect seems unable to comprehend the actions necessary to put in anything but a horribly slow, mistake filled lap. Self doubt oozes out my pores with the perspiration as I await the second, and final practice session.

The key is not to overthink, and yet not underthink what you are doing. At this point I am probably doing both, thinking too much about things that simply do not matter and not enough about the ones that do. Maybe it's the heat, maybe the lack of sleep. Maybe there are lots of excuses. Maybe it's just time to put on the big boy pants and do what I came here to do.

I roll out in the second practice session confident that I at least know which way the racetrack goes, for the most part. I catch a group of riders and let them tow me around for a few laps. As my mind adapts, prepares and predicts, I find these riders holding me up. I start to pick them off, one by one and I enter a realm where the rider, bike and track mesh into that exquisite, elusive experience. My mind is working, making decisions, causing things to happen, but I am not aware of it. I am only cognizant of a few things during these moments:

1. I am going fast.
2. I cannot die.
3. I am going to go faster.

The checkered flag signifies the end of the session. It's a manic transformation from my mood earlier in the morning, but hey, if you want peaks, you gotta accept the valleys....

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Over The Hill To Oblivion

I don the bovine carcass that is to become my personal sweat lodge for the next three days, a helmet that feels like a pressure cooker and prepare to sprint in the heat to start the bike. I remind myself of the eight pounds the bike lost by going this route and try not to think about the thirty or so heart attacks I've had since then trying to get the bike started....

I am about the middle of the pack waiting to go out on track. This is an entirely new track to me, and one thing I've learned is that Youtube videos offer no sense of scale or elevation changes, or just how fast things really happen. It's no different here at Road Atlanta. The first group heads out and as I follow a corner worker stops me and holds the group back. This is generally done to spread the riders out in practice. A great idea for safety, but now I am at the head of the line, with no clue where I am going. It can't be that bad, right?

Up the hill through turn one and then......where the hell am I? I lose all frame of reference and memory and I cannot see where to go next and momentarily panic, expecting to be rear-ended any second by someone with a clue. When I finally get some visual information the track appears to go in at least two different directions. I have no idea which one to choose and my indecision lands me square in the middle of both directions, i.e. off track into the dirt. Slowing to a crawl and struggling to keep the bike upright, a few other riders pass and now the path becomes painfully obvious. Would have been nice if the other alternative had been marked off with cones. Oh well, back on the pavement and hope the dirt and rocks stuck to the tires come off before the next corner, with nothing but a bruised ego and severely diminished confidence.

The first few laps of Road Atlanta are daunting. The track feels big, fast, undulating and gyrating like a seasoned stripper and me a freshman with only a few dollars housing stipend left and 12 oz. courage wearing off. A lot of fun, if only you know what the hell you are doing....

Ummm....which way do I go?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Go Out There and Kill Yourself

Some other ding-a-ling pulls into the pit just after I get settled in bed and decides that the 6 foot space between me and the large camper trailer is a good spot for his SUV and open bike trailer. He also pulls out one of those really goddamn loud cheapo generators and I can't believe my luck. I lie back down knowing that I am in for a noisy weekend, but my faith in humanity and common decency tell me there is no way in hell he is going to start that fucking thing right now at 3:30am. I was wrong. I listened to that son of a bitch rattle and squeal until the sun rose red like my anger. Good morning Road Atlanta.

I hit the pavement running and head to registration at 7am, then over to tech inspection immediately afterwards. The WERA staff is friendly as always, but the tech inspector tells me my chain is too loose. I sit on the bike and put my weight on it and ask what he thinks now. Without looking he says to me, "Whatever man, I do this for a living, I know what I am talking about. I don't give a shit if you go out there and kill yourself." Wow, I wonder if he had to sleep in that little booth with the fat guy from last night. I pass tech anyways and leave the chain right where it is, a smilin' chain is a happy one...

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Hypnotized by eight hours rhythmic see-sawing of the van's steering wheel to maintain a reasonably straight path down I-85 (I promise to replace those ball joints!), I arrived at Road Atlanta at 2:30 am. In less than seven hours I would be on the racetrack.

A bearded fat man in a t-shirt three sizes too small sitting in a tiny, dimly lit booth utterly fails to welcome me to the track. I ask for directions and he replies in a series of coughs and grunts that sound like he is choking on a powdered donut, then makes a few flabby hand signals that convey no particular direction at all. So much for southern hospitality. Maybe he had been cooped up in that little booth too long....

After 3 laps around the perimeter of the pits I finally give up and insert the van between two large trailers and start unloading. There won't be time to set up tomorrow with registration and practice. The size of the race rigs, semi-trailers and toy-haulers bigger than my house, is daunting. Here I sit in a 20 year old van with my home-built bike, close-out leathers and general odor of blue collar failure. I am not envious, but there is a certain amount of trepidation, like being the poor kid on the playground in the $5 K-mart Chuck Taylor rip-offs that never look quite right and church basement 2nd hand Tuff-skins about to get his ass kicked by a bunch of Levis wearing douchebags with popped Izod collars. I know there are other paupers peppered throughout the paddock, but I can't see them for the skyscraper motorhomes or hear them over the sound of bazillion watt generators powering all the creature comforts.

Oh yeah, and it's hot. Welcome to Sweatlanta.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The season had started reasonably well, despite a poor showing with 4th place in V5 at Summit Point. I purchased a proper matching rear rain tire so as not to get caught out again. The next event would be Road Atlanta three weeks later, in, you guessed it, Atlanta, GA. This was a new to me track and a fairly long 8 hour drive from Virginia, but also one of the biggest events on the 2014 Schedule. V5 and V6LW were scheduled for the Friday and Clubman and D-Superbike on Saturday.

I changed the oil, checked the valve clearances and cylinder head torque and went over every inch of the motorcycle during the downtime. You would be amazed at the little things you find looking it over in the garage. Little things that can become really big problems at the track. I have seen so much stupid shit go on during races that could have been prevented by simply checking and re-checking everything whenever you have the time. Exhausts falling off, banjo bolts falling out of oil lines, fairing lowers coming loose and dropping to the ground. Under combat conditions, anything not 100% can and will fail. Yes, there is tech inspection, but in the end, it is the rider's responsibility, not a race track official, to be sure the bike is sound.

I made a habit to do something that would further my racing every day. Whether working on the bike, or studying the next track, preparing the van, it became a daily ritual to ensure that I was at least one step closer. I think that is how championships are won, in the preparation, the attention to detail and the willingness to commit to and never lose sight of the goal. As opposed to waiting between races, I decided to always be getting ready for the next one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Eternity Found and Lost

Sunday's races go much smoother, with dry, sunny weather. I get two novice class second places, one in D-Superbike and the other in Clubman. I am beat both times by a KTM 690 single. The bike is nearly 25 years newer than my EX, is lighter and puts out a considerable amount of horsepower for a single. The rider can't help but get the holeshot every race. I keep him in my sights for a lap or two but cannot catch him.

Finally he is gone and I am left to my own devices, with the other racers well behind me. This is a lonely place to be. My instinct is to fight, push as hard as possible in the hopes the leader might make a mistake, but I know it is unlikely. It's almost eerie passing the flagman each lap, solo rider and machine. I know somewhere there is a race going on, but it certainly does not seem to be here. No carrot on a stick, no battle and a thousand chances to make a mistake. I hate settling, but sometimes there is no other choice.

I came to Summit Point in search of six seconds, an eternity. The lap times do not lie. I found my six seconds, a monumental improvement accomplished my first weekend of the season. The combination of rider, suspension, tires, chassis and motor work I did in the off season had paid off in spades. I accomplished my goal, I should have been ecstatic. I was not. The fast experts had picked up another two seconds on top of what I gained. I was still behind...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Frugal Tears Fall Like Acid Rain

The rain comes in heavy with the V5 race coming up. I know what this means. Rain tires. I scramble to get the wheels changed, but I am struggling. For some reason the front axle won't go in properly. Luckily someone from BlarneyQuick Racing comes to my aid. He and I both struggle, but finally get the wheels changed right before second call. Close.

I make my way to the grid, never having run on rain tires before. The bike is now shod with a Bridgestone Full Wet front tire and an Avon Azaro Extreme Rain tire rear. I cheaped out on the rear tire, having found it on closeout. I will regret that decision every corner, every lap for the entirety of of the race.

The start is fine, not raining terribly hard, just enough to create vision problems with spray. Turn 1 is a fucking nightmare, as the front tire sticks and goes exactly where I want, but the rear is skating all over the place. Every turn on the track is like that. The front is planted and feels almost as good as a slick in the dry, but there is absolutely no grip whatsoever from that lousy Avon. Just when I think I have got the hang of it, smooth and slow, the rear steps out. I very nearly crash at least ten times, at one point coming into Turn 4, I have both feet down on the pavement trying to make the bike get around the corner. I still don't know how I didn't crash. It rains harder and the track gets even worse. I am trying to decide whether to pull in and keep everything in one piece, because it seems I cannot go slow enough that the crappy rear tire will hook up at all. Any time I open the gas, the rear spins up. I make the decision to get off the racetrack as soon as possible, slowing down even more.

Racers behind start catching up, some of them pass/try to race me, I let them by. I am literally just trying to stay alive and make it to pit-in. I want to exit this damn track before I am sliding on my ass over it. I don't give a shit about points, championships or anything in those terrifying moments except getting off the motorcycle and yanking that Avon Azaro and tossing it in the nearest river. I curse my thriftiness for allowing me to put my safety at risk. Never again.

Suddenly the two bikes that passed me crash, bodies and machines lying in the track. I come to an almost dead stop, weave my way through the debris very slowly, knowing that the red flag is coming. I am only two corners from pit-in and my salvation from this horrible experience. Finally the red flag comes, race ended for safety reasons. I am able to collect 4th place points, instead of the DNF had I pulled off the track prior to the red flag. It was a close one, and only the bad luck of the other riders allowed me to get some points. I would find out later no one was seriously hurt.

On a more positive note, I have a very, very lightly used Avon Azaro rain tire for me if interested.

(If you watch the video you can see me pussyfooting around trying to stay upright. I am the bike in front of the camera after the start for most of the race, until the 8:55 mark when he passes me.)


I get a good start in the V6 race, second into turn one. A racer on an FZR400/600 hybrid passes me going into turn 2. His bike pulls away from the anemic EX so quickly I wonder if I've missed a gear. I don't even try to keep up with him. The Kawasaki H2 750 two-stroke triple in front of me is another matter. I am determined not to let him get away so easily. The pilot is a seasoned, aggressive rider who has been racing this well developed machine for many years. The facts are that I do not have the motor for him on the straights, but I can keep him in sight through the tighter sections, namely turns 5-9. We are both running slicks and have similar suspension, but he also weighs at least 30 pounds more than me, I do some rudimentary math and figure that his weight penalty negates any acceleration advantage, which leaves me no excuse not to keep up with him. I push it. Hard.

As the eight lap race progresses I seem to be catching up. I make a very bold inside move on him at Turn 6, dragging my knee the whole way around the corner. I damn near shit myself, because I don't normally drag a knee here. The pass puts me in the wrong spot for Turn 7, but the right spot for Turn 8, thus giving me the drive up the hill out of Turn 9. I make the pass stick until the front straight, where he motors by me. The wail of that triple sends shivers down my spine. I would be intimidated if I wasn't so busy trying to keep up.

I catch him on the brakes in Turn 1, but he walks all over me up the hill into 2,3 and down the hill into 4, the fastest turn on the track. I brake way late into Turn 5, as in the front tire is howling its disapproval and I think for a second this is the end. I careen through the corner with the frame tied in knots, right on the back of the Kawasaki H2. I make another pass on him in the same exact spot as last time and we are at full lean side by side and somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice says, 'What the hell are you doing?'. I ignore it, knowing that since I am on the inside, the other rider will have to back down or crash us both. I am willing to bet he won't do that. He doesn't, and I am in front of him again. I hit a hole on the outside of the track I did not know was there and I wonder if it was his front wheel hitting me.

I wait for him to come by on the front straight, but nothing. I can't resist a look back and I can see him about 15 bike lengths behind. He has obviously slowed down for some reason. As I bring my gaze back to the front, I see what has him backing off. Rain droplets on my visor. He noticed it before I did. I just never slowed down off my dry pace, being so intent on beating him.

I am elated at my second place finish, even more so because I defeated what I felt was a closely matched opponent. This elation becomes deflation when someone asks me why I was fighting so hard against a guy who wasn't even in my race. What? Formula 2-stroke is run concurrently with V6LW, he wasn't even in my class. I am a dumbass.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Maybe riding a motorcycle as fast as possible comes easy for those blessed with talent, they certainly make it look that way. I have always found it a mentally challenging endeavour (did I just say I was mentally challenged?). I guess if it was easy, it might get boring.

I am running to the bushes to piss every five minutes while waiting to be called for the V6 lightweight race. Any racer who tells you he doesn't get butterflies beforehand is full of shit. The difference is in how we handle it. I knew a racer that would go inside his van with earplugs on, lie down and nap until just before first call. Some guys want to get up in your face and play head games: "how is your bike running? I thought I saw it puff some smoke when I was behind you in practice." "How is your shoulder feeling after the last round? Man that was a nasty crash!" Others get so high strung that they will lash out at anyone and anything for any ridiculous perceived injustice, making them very hard to be around. I think most just try to remain calm. I don't even try. I simply accept the fact that the worst part of the day is the waiting until the green flag drops. I let the nervousness and butterflies have their time in the sun before the race. Instead of forcing the anxiety down, I let it wash over me. I run to the restroom ten thousand times, fidget, check the bike again and again.

On a good day, I can formulate a plan for the race, a plan for each corner, a plan for situations I might encounter. It's easier to have this done in advance than to try and make one up on the fly. On a bad day I simply sit there nauseous drinking as much water as possible until it's time to go pee again. It never gets any easier.

Racin' is hard! The author after too many laps at PIRC

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Demand Better

Race season finally began in May, cold and damp, at Summit Point in West Virginia. There was no warm welcome for me as I set up, apparently my choice of parking spot was not sitting well with a hot-headed racer who was mouthing off just out of earshot. I made up my mind that I had come too far, worked too hard and spent too much money to be treated poorly by any of my peers. When confronted he calmed down and then spent the rest of the weekend playing nice, so maybe he was just having a bad day. Still, it's not exactly how you want to begin your race weekend, dealing with pissy bitches.

Setting up can be an arduous task, unloading bike and equipment, but generally the excitement of being at the track outweighs the work. After that a dinner of veggie burgers cooked on the Coleman propane stove. Hey, nobody said this was the Ritz. A small electric heater kept the van toasty warm, while the limo tinted windows provided plenty of privacy. I popped The Hobbit into my laptop and settled in for an evening of Peter Jackson's somewhat overdone rendition of JRR Tolkien's classic. Not a bad way to spend a pre-race evening.

Practice went fine in the morning, getting the hang of using tire warmers and feeling fairly confident about the upcoming races. I was entered in two for the day, first class is V6 lightweight and then V5 two races later, it was going to be hectic. The skies darkened ominous as clouds massed, turning noticeably cooler with the wind picking up. Our race was supposed to be second after lunch, but got bumped to the first race, which increases anxiety slightly. I am counting on a dry race, as I have slick tires and the last thing I feel like doing is trying to change them out for rain tires. I have rains mounted on spare wheels, but this ain't no Nascar quick change type set-up and I won't be able to do it at the last minute.

Going over the track in my mind and remembering where I left it last year, which was about six seconds off the leader's pace per lap. That is a lifetime in the racing world, almost slow enough to be a joke. I asked my brother the stock-car racer if he thinks the modifications made over the winter will offset this deficit. His answer, "That's a lot of time." Tell me about it. For mere mortals it's the bitter-sweet pill that is racing, as good as you get, there is almost always someone faster. Somebody with more money, more track time, more experience, better machinery, just a plain better rider. The excuses are myriad, but at the end of the day, 99 times out of 100, the only person you can blame is yourself. In a world where they want to hand out hugs and participation ribbons to every loser, the brutal honesty of it is refreshing. Like a slap in the face followed by ice water dumped in your shorts. Lots of us skate through life on the greasy mayonnaise of mediocrity, racing demands better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Man With Van

The van progressed nicely. I stripped everything out of the interior except the driver's and front passenger seat. The bare floor had some minor rust and pin-holes which were addressed. The nice thing about doing this to a passenger van instead of a cargo is that there is already insulation/carpeting and interior trim pieces, so it's just a matter of removing what you do not need.

I used outdoor carpet and a weatherproof insulation on the floor and headliner. The first headliner install failed miserably, with wrinkled carpet and sagging insulation that eventually fell off. I found some very thin wood paneling at the local big box rip-off home improvement warehouse and glued the carpet and insulation to that, which worked out much better.

I cut down one of the bench seats to build a bed with hinged section for storage underneath. At six feet tall I would have just enough room to stretch out fully widthwise across the van, which would leave more room in the back. I am not a carpenter by any means, but managed to use the circular saw without removing any of my digits, although I did cut through the cord. Twice.

The next issue would be fumes from the motorcycle and fuel cans. I needed a partition and a roof vent with a fan. I got a good deal on the vent at a local trailer supply store. There is an old adage : "Measure twice, cut once.". As I sat on the perfectly good, hole-free roof of my new van, ready to drill the pilot holes for the jig-saw, I decided I would measure again. Twice.

An old wheel chock I inherited ten years ago from a crazy drunken hermit who lived in his garage would help keep the bike in situ. I found a fuel resistant garage mat to put down in the back. Windows were tinted by a local professional who had very good reviews. I sprayed black truck bed liner on the rocker panels to break up the massive amount of white paint on the exterior and also added a bit of paint to the center of the wheel covers, because I was not going to spend $800 on cool wheels, that's two sets of race tires! I stopped often during this process to admire my handiwork. Much more than twice.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Master of None

The issue of where I would sleep on race weekends remained. Hotels were prohibitively expensive and meant even more time driving back and forth from the racetrack. My light duty pick-up truck was barely adequate to haul the gear required for a single track day, let alone multiple days spent at tracks far from home. A trailer meant having a vehicle capable of towing, as well as an area to safely store it. I had neither. Surely there had to be a solution? Some vehicle capable of not only carrying motorcycles and gear, but suitable living quarters as well? Something that could be driven not only long distances but also to get groceries? I found my answer, as so many times before, on Craigslist:

A defunct daycare was selling this gem with only 80k original miles on the clock. It was not pretty or clean, with a funky musty smell and sagging headliner, but the motor, transmission and body were all in good condition. I purchased it for $1,500. The plan was to convert it from munchkin mobile to motorcycle mover with sleeping accommodations and gear storage.

While not a big fan of projects, I always seem to find myself in the midst of one and now with the addition of this creepy van I would be wrapped up in two. There are days when I wonder what it might be like to just pay someone else to do this stuff for me, the building, maintenance, painting, modification, nothing for me to do but enjoy the finished product. No more busted knuckles, swollen hands and late nights on the garage floor swearing and throwing things. I am not wealthy enough to entertain such notions though and I guess somehow it offends a part of me, allowing others to do things I am perfectly capable of learning, at least in a half-ass almost acceptable sort of manner.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Function First

I found a set of very used tire warmers on the WERA classified board for $100 shipped. They worked, sort of, but the rear one was hit or miss. I finally cut into it and found a broken wire. This repaired they worked fine.

The CBR forks were leaking, so I knew they would need a rebuild. The brake calipers also had seized pistons, which also meant a rebuild. The master cylinder was questionable, so a suitable replacement had to be found. The dollar signs started to add up.

The motor needed freshening as well. I had a low mileage bottom end that did not require attention, but had to send out the cylinder for boring and the head for new valve seats. Luckily I found a retired EX500 racer known as FOG (Fast Old Guy) who was a machinist with very intimate knowledge of how to make an EX go fast. He also had very reasonable hourly rates and plenty of earthy wisdom ("All you have to do is get the idea into your brain that you can dive into the worst corner in your life with no hands on the bars with blind faith that the bike will turn and not fly off the road into the bushes. Get past that and you've got it licked. Oh yeah it'll feel the same but you'll be going much faster.") -FOG

It was a very busy winter putting this all together and making it work. The problem with building a hybrid type race bike such as this is that not only does everything have to fit together properly, but it also has to work well at maximum speeds/lean angles safely. That is the difference between putting together a race bike and some Orange County Chopper crap. Fluffy, candy painted, chromed penis extensions that require a runway to turn 180 degrees, nothing more than status symbols completely lacking in function would never cut it on the race track, they don't even work well going around the block.

A race motorcycle has to go, stop and turn. Well. That's it. There is a beauty in that sparseness and the resulting lack of ornamentation that leaves no room for 300mm wide tires, LED lights and stormtrooper helmets with plastic mohawks. Even the paint schemes on competition machinery serves a purpose: to represent the sponsors that make the racing possible. In a cream puff costumed world of frippery and frivolity, it is refreshing to see bare bones machines with a singular intent: To win.