Thursday, February 26, 2015

Completely Off Topic

People might think that someone who writes about things outside the societal norm such as motorcycles and racing them wouldn't give a rat's ass about spelling or grammar. You would be mistaken, at least in this case. My heart dies a little every day as I watch and listen to the only language I know die a painful death of misuse, disuse, abbreviation and sheer ignorance.

A few examples heard/read just today:

"I seen that." (that just makes me fucking cringe)

"Their not going to say anything."

"That's redicalous."

"You won't be effected by the power outage."

I also love it when people try to make up big words:

"I listened intentively to what you said." (heard today)

How have grade-school English teachers failed so badly that it has come to this? I understand that we live in a text-a-second society that apparently has no place for spelling, punctuation or grammar, but all I can say is WTF?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Too Many, Not Enough

The next event on my race schedule is by far the longest, the American Motorcycle Association's Vintage Motorcycle Days at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Complex. It starts with racing Saturday July 12 and Sunday July 13, but I will stick around to race the WERA event immediately following on the 14th and 15th. That is four days of practice, racing and sleeping in a van in Lexington Ohio, a place that generally feels like the armpit of the earth in July. This goes without mentioning the 20 hours round trip drive time....

Vintage Motorcycle Days is exactly that, three days with every kind of vintage motorcycle you could imagine. Road-racing, motocross, trials and flattrack, 50,000 spectators and a 40 acre swap meet with more junk and rusty parts than you can shake a Bultaco at. It's been 8 years since I last attended/participated and I am looking forward to it. The plan is to drive all night on Thursday and have Friday to relax and travel the swap meet.

In order to save walking the 40 acres repeatedly in the Ohio Valley heat, I have turned once again to my Craigslist addiction to find suitable transportation. As per usual Craigslist does not disappoint, with the perfect find located in Fredericksburg: a 1987 Yamaha QT50 scooter, complete with headlight, cup holder, front and rear rack and clear title. After terrorizing a suburban cul-de-sac with the scream of the 50cc two stroke, I spend an hour haggling the hipster owner down from $500 to a more reasonable $375. What's one more motorcycle....right?


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can't Relate

On a rare occasion I am tempted to pick up a motorcycle magazine while over-paying for groceries. Contained within these pornographically slick and glossy periodicals are predominantly ads telling me precisely which type of motorcycle I need to purchase and then all the wonderful and pricey accessories I need to outfit my new ride.

Along with that are various sorts of gear I need to complete my biker costume, depending on which type of motorcyclist I wish to become: A chrome storm trooper helmeted thug terrorizing tourists? A Sons of Anarchy gang member? A wheelie poppin' stuntah? A Ton-up boy straight from the Ace? A snooty Ducati-phile who bleeds red and understands arcane valve-train designs? The possibilities are as endless as your bankroll is large.

I never saw a motorcycle as something you needed to take out a loan for, an appliance waiting for you to turn it on like your LCD TV except that it has to be taken to some dealership for an oil change. They were desires your skrimped and saved to buy from someone else, sold off other possessions in order to have, wheeled and dealed. And sometimes, when the dream was finally realized and you had the machine, it did not live up to your expectations. It broke down, handled poorly, didn't look as nice as you originally thought. So you fixed it, made it handle and look as good as you could, and you did it yourself, because you sure couldn't afford to pay some dealership to do it. Every scratch in the paint had a story and a corresponding scar on your body to go with it, leather became distressed from wearing it and tassels and rhinestones were for horse saddles. We were too busy riding and wrenching and working to pay for our passions to be concerned with the image we presented to those who didn't matter.

I am not interested in articles about motorcycles I can't afford and will never ride. Who can pay $1,500 for an exhaust system? $800 for a helmet? Most of my bikes didn't cost $800. I have no desire to read the musings of semi-literate magazine hot-shoes waxing poetic about the increased edge grip at maximum lean angle of the new Black&Round SuperStick tires or the 1 HP gain at 20k rpms from the $hinyLoud brand exhaust pipe. That's why I avoid motorcycle publications like the plague. Maybe I'm just getting older. Get off my damn lawn you kids.

Choose your fanta$$y

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Deep Thoughts

During the downtime before the next event, I discover the identity of the ratty green motorcycle that beat me in the V6LW race at Road Atlanta. It is a Yamaha FZR400. And it is for sale.

The machinations hum in my mind. I have been beaten twice by FZRs already this season. I know without a doubt that the best ridden EX500 does not stand a chance against a built FZR, and here is one begging me to own it. For about half of what it cost me to build my EX.

I languished on uncompetitive machinery during my early racing career, and spent tons of money trying to turn the proverbial sow's ear into a silk purse. I am as much an advocate of doing things your own way as anyone, but racing will only tolerate so much creativity and individualism within its narrow confines, markedly less so if you really want to win. Occasionally, the road more travelled is the correct one.

And on and on my mind went, justifying, rationalizing, bargaining, pushing me. I am not an addict....I am not an addict....I am not an addict....

Green with envy, or dollar bills?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Real Life and The Razor's Edge

After racing is ended, the long drive over, body weary and sore, real life begins again. It feels much like turning a corner into an alternate dimension where things happen frustratingly, teeth-grindingly slowly and common sense is an uncommon virtue. I try to view it as a brief interlude to help refill depleted coffers.

It is an interesting conundrum, spending inordinate amounts of time doing something you don't particularly enjoy in order to be able to spend tiny bits of time doing something you do. The alternative, I guess, is to make your living doing something you love. That, however is to walk the razor's edge and risk loathing the thing that once added meaning to your life. The lucky few, maybe, can pull it off. The rest of us have to work. And it ain't happy fun-time.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Point of the Whirlwind

Saturday promises to be even hotter than Friday. I have two races left this weekend and the long drive home that I am trying not to think about. The race weekends fly by so fast it's hard to enjoy them and if one takes too much time to consider the work, dollar output and risk involved...well, I guess that's the point of the whirlwind. To keep us moving so quickly that our feet can't get rooted in doubt.

I plan to contend the Clubman and D Superbike classes today if I don't melt.

Both races are nearly a carbon copy of one another. I get a decent start, about third into the first turn, pass those in front of me for the lead and never see another racer again. The wins are exhilarating, of course, but surreal. It is hard to accept the days when it actually comes easy, they are so few and far between. You can actually start looking up for the other shoe to drop, for the universe to balance itself out again...if not for the whirlwind.

There are trophies to be collected, gear stowed, bikes loaded, miles driven, and the next race at Mid-Ohio in a few short weeks. Ride the whirlwind. And don't look back.

Kris Larrivee

                                                      Contemplating the whirlwind

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mr. Second Place

There are a dozen bikes on the grid for the V5 race, four of which are EX500s like mine. Two of these machines have 540cc big bore displacement kits. My bike does not have a big CC kit, which technically puts me at a disadvantage, however I do have a trick or two up my sleeve technically speaking. This will be quite the test of my work on the bike over the winter. With the long back straight at Road Atlanta these EXs will be wrung out for all they are worth, maybe 125 mph with the right gearing. My primary goal is to win the race, my secondary goal is to make sure none of these other goddamn EXs beat me.

I drop the hammer the second the flagman twitches. Second into Turn 1 and feeling good, I chase a Yamaha 550 four cylinder machine up the hill. I am very close to him the first lap, but he starts turning some wicked fast laps and heads off in the distance. This leaves me with the one EX540 I cannot seem to shake, he finally passes me. The rider is young and taking some really crazy chances, over-riding the bike in nearly every corner, but getting away with it. He has just a tiny bit of motor on me when we hit the back straight. I tuck into his draft and wait. As we approach turn 10A I outbrake him and make an inside pass. He does not want to give up the position and I believe he would crash us both in a stupid attempt to keep it. I don't trust him. He makes another aggressive move and gets back in front of me. I am getting pissed.

I decide to follow him and see where he is weak. He knows I am there and is literally sliding through every corner with the bike out of shape. He obviously has something to prove, and he has probably never been seriously hurt on a bike, because anyone watching can tell you won't get away with pushing that hard all the time without getting bitten. There are two laps remaining. On the penultimate lap I make the same move in 10A and get ahead of him. The son of a bitch won't give up the spot and makes a really shitty move leaving neither of us anywhere to go. This forces me to slam on the brakes in order to keep from taking us both out. Now I am really mad. Obviously nothing illegal about his move, just very dangerous and the mark of an inexperienced racer riding way over his head. I don't want to get taken out by some over-hormonal twenty something, so I ride right on his ass and wait for the inevitable.

For the last lap, every corner I show him a wheel with no intention of passing. I am so close to his tail on the back straight I can see the little hairs on the back of his neck. It requires every ounce of restraint I have to not stuff him into 10A and this time force him way off line, but I don't want to take the chance hurting either of us. He very clearly does not have the same concerns. He is still so out of control I know if I can push him just a little bit harder he will make a mistake.

We race down the hill towards the last corner with the checkered flag flying. I run up on the inside of him and he finally screws up, pushing too hard and running wide onto the rumble strips. He loses his drive for a split second and I pounce, winding the throttle to the stops, head down screaming into my helmet knowing this little bastard is coming hard with a few more horsepower and nothing to fucking lose.

The start/finish line is close to the exit of the final turn which works out in my favor. Unable to stretch the legs on his larger displacement machine he cannot catch me and I cross the line in a very hard earned second place. I am happy enough, but also displeased that he was anywhere near to me in the first place. It is one thing to race hard and close with guys you know and trust, but everything I saw from this youngster tells me he is in for some crashes in his future (I would find out a few weeks later he went down at his next race).

After all that work the V6 race is almost anti-climactic. I get the holeshot at the start and my heart flutters as I wonder if I can win this race. Heading into turn two some ratty looking green bike comes by me. The bike looks like it was pulled from a dumpster and I assume I will beat the machine handily. I am wrong. We hit the back straight and that thing is gone. I mean like 15 mph faster gone. I do not see him for the rest of the race. Nor do I see any other racers. I finish second, still wondering what the hell that greasy looking machine was that just stomped my ass.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Purity of Intention By Degree of Madness

It's good when you can enjoy yourself at the racetrack. But it can feel like a job a lot of the time, especially when things go wrong. Those moments, the ones that will have you questioning your very participation in a clearly mad activity, separate the slightly off kilter from the truly insane.

Most of the racers I know personally do not have any lucrative sponsorships, and there is very little, if any, prize money waiting for them after the checkered flag. They have "real" jobs, responsibilities, somewhere else they have to be five or more days a week to make it to the track on the weekends.

That's why it is easy to forgive one of us "weekend warriors" when we throw in the towel and pack it up for home as the shit starts hitting the fan. Who wants to spend all weekend patching up a wadded motorcycle or trying to suss out a mechanical problem that has you baffled? Or get back on the motorcycle you just crashed, leaving you battered and bruised and see if you can do it again? It is much easier to retreat to relative safety to lick wounds and catch the end of the football game than see it through. Nothing wrong with that.

What of those that do stay until the end, be it bitter or sweet, the ones who came do to a thing and hell or high water, do it? I've witnessed it with my own eyes, unknown, underdog racers slaving in the pits into the wee hours of the night to repair a smashed motorcycle for the next morning's skirmish, no hope of glory or carrot of riches. Injured nobodies sporting pain and broken bones as their only trophies, yet they will not lie down, will not concede.

They must be fucking crazy. No sane, rational person would continue under those circumstances, not when a warm bed and 148 inches of high definition narcotizing await. As a culture we might accept our television heroes doing this, some multi-million dollar golden-boy athlete playing with a boo-boo at the big game because he can't let the throngs of adoring fans down or the injury clause in his contract kick in. But we cannot understand when Mr. Relative Obscurity does such a thing. At the end of the day, he will not be remembered, receive no honorable mention, be financially poorer and possibly physically damaged. Neighbors, co-workers and the general lemmings will look upon him with disdain.

Animals understand risk versus reward, by instinct and genetic programming they look for the easiest meal, receptive mate and most comfortable circumstances. So do we, as animals, for the most part. But not always. We are the only creatures with the ability make decisions based on some elusive higher calling, to buck genetics, conditioning and herd mentality, to willingly choose pain and discomfort when other options lie in our path. To do a thing with no hope of tangible reward and the odds forever tipping in the house's favor might call our ability to stand trial into question. When a "normal" person does abnormal things like these we call it crazy. Maybe so, but it may also be the only thing that separates us from the beasts.