Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bouncing Back

The long day ends and I am thankful for body and bikes being in one piece.  The FZR issue turns out to be nothing more than a faulty switch, and while it is running again, I don't trust it yet.

I have bigger problems, namely my brain.  Yogi Berra said, "Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical."  The same holds true for racing, but add another half: financial.  And while money is always an issue, it is not my first immediate concern.  There is one race left for me tomorrow before the long trip home and somehow I have to get my mind right before then.  I will be riding the EX, because the FZR does not qualify for the class and truth be told I wouldn't have ridden it anyway, it is loaded in the dark confines of the van, a project for later times.

I won't be racing Joe or Kurt today either, but more than likely a gaggle of testosterone addled teenagers on 250 Ninjas and whatever else ends up in Clubman Novice.  Generally I rely on my horsepower advantage to get a lead on them and don't look back.  The nature of Barber Motorsports Park, with no long straightaways, makes this more difficult.  Normally I love a track like that, but when you are dealing with horny, hungry adolescents trying to make a name for themselves, I would rather be as far out in front of them as possible.  The last thing I want is a battle with a green-horned, starry eyed high-schooler with delusions of grandeur, as I am still, quite literally, nursing my wounds.

On the flip side, this is my last chance to salvage some results from the Grand National Finals.  I want to go home with more than a quarter sized hole in my elbow and a scratched up motorcycle.  Maybe I have some delusions of grandeur as well...

In good company: Mckee leads, Larrivee second, Kesler third and Ball in fourth.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day of Defeat

With cold tires and bloody arm I head for the grid.  At least the bike bump-starts readily enough, I would not have had the fortitude or patience for running up and down the paddock pushing a reluctant motorcycle.  The V6 Lightweight race is next, meaning Joe and I will have a rematch.  I have every intention of coming out on top this time, as opposed to sliding across the tarmac.

I make the effort to get heat into the tires on the warm-up lap by pushing as hard as I dare.  I get a crappy start and find myself behind Joe on the EX and Scott McKee on his blisteringly fast FZR, third into Turn 1.

McKee will soon clear off leaving us like the turds we are, so this means all I have to do is follow Joe around and look for a place to pass.  In spite of this knowledge I simply cannot keep up with him.  It's as if he has miraculously gotten faster since the last race.  This is patently not the case.  The only thing that has happened is I have gotten slower.  The crash has surely rattled my confidence, and the lap times reflect it, losing 1 to 1.5 seconds a lap to Joe.  My mind starts fucking with me and I know it's over.  I remember seeing brand new tires on Joe's EX right before the V5 race and my thoughts wander back to my own tires, with several weekends on them.  And just like that I defeat myself.  A page is turned, the switch is flipped and somehow I accept defeat at the hands of Joe, again.

This is not how the story is supposed to end, rather a tale of a heroic comeback after a crash, vanquishing the foes and standing triumphant.  This is not one of those stories.

The choice to settle for third place is not an easy one, it goes against my better nature, but somehow I know that it is just not in me to fight anymore today.  And third ain't so bad....

The problem with settling is that you usually end up with less than you bargained for.  After mounting an unsuccessful, half-hearted attack against Joe for the first lap, I dial it back a notch and just bide my time turning laps until the checkers.  The last lap comes and I prepare to take third place.  Fate has another outcome in mind.

As I approach Charlotte's Web for the last time today, I hear the angry hum of a four cylinder engine on my left.  As I begin to head for the apex of the turn, a red motorcycle takes the inside line and passes me.  And just like that Fate, laughing and grinning, smacks me right in the mouth and shows what happens when you stop fighting, even for a second.

This rider had been stalking me, lap after lap, quietly assessing and biding his time, never showing a wheel, knowing I couldn't hear his motor over my noisy twin.

And he beats me, handily shoving yours truly back to the fourth spot, but it feels like 44th.

The day ends for me as ignominiously as it began.  2 DNFs and a lousy 4th place.  It never gets any easier.

Kurt Kesler, stalking me, waiting to take third.

Friday, May 22, 2015


My first instinct is to remount the bike and finish the race.  Third place is so far behind that I know I can salvage second.  A quick look over the machine reveals a bent shift lever and some minor scuffing, otherwise good to go.  I can feel what I believe to be sweat running down my left elbow/arm into my glove, but I shelve that for thought later.  Just as I am about to hop back on the EX, a corner worker runs up to me and stops me from going back out.

The rules clearly state that if you crash, your race is over.  And this makes perfect sense, who wants a possibly damaged, leaking motorcycle circulating a racetrack with a pilot who may not even know he is injured?  Of course in the heat of battle, with less than one lap to go and only a few corners left to salvage some sort of finish, your perspective and interpretation of this rule may change slightly.

The race ends with me on the sidelines, feeling gut-punched.  It's my first racetrack crash in a long time, and while I completely accept the fact that it is going to happen, the timing couldn't have been shittier.  Crashing out while leading at the Grand National Finals?  What a kick in the nuts.

The cornerworker looks over the bike at the end of the race and determines it is safe to ride back to the pits.  I arrive knowing the bike will have to be fixed and then go through tech inspection all over again.

I have to shove the adrenaline, disappointment, anger, frustration and fear down into some dark corner to allow my mind to think clearly and fix the bike.  I replace the shift lever, straighten the clip-on bar and shove the hand grip back into place.  Everything else is fine.  The left side engine cover is a little scuffed up, but thankfully the original bike builder prepared for this contingency by welding aluminum crash pads on the side of the cover (thank you Ken Baer, wherever you are!), and this prevented it from wearing a hole and spilling oil everywhere.  There is precious little time left before the V5 race to get the EX re-inspected and back on the tire warmers.

I bumpstart the EX and ride through the paddock as quickly as I dare to Tech.  I explain to one official I need a re-tech, she directs me to another official who is right in the middle of a conversation.  After about 30 seconds it becomes painfully obvious that this is a personal conversation that the official intends to complete before even looking at my bike.  The two are laughing and joking, while first call for my race draws ever closer.  I finally can wait no longer.

"Excuse me, sorry, but I need a re-tech, my race is coming up next."

"Just a minute, buddy."

I absolutely fucking hate being called buddy.  I shove this feeling down in that dark corner with the rest of them knowing that getting snarky with the officials will not help anything.  They hold all the cards.  Agonizingly slowly the official wraps up his conversation and then turns to me like he has no idea what I need.  He starts to say something about the belly pan needing to be off, I explain that everything is perfectly visible without removing the pan and that every WERA tech inspection has allowed it.  Thankfully he does not argue and I soon have that precious little sticker on my fairing that will re-grant me access to the race track.

There is no time for the tire warmers as we are already at first call.  As I am pulling my gloves on I notice for the first time there is blood on my hand.  That must be what I thought was sweat dripping from my elbow.  I look and can see the crash has worn a hole through the left elbow of the leathers.  I am bleeding, but not too bad.  I hastily duct tape over the hole and then shove a paper towel up against my elbow to stop the blood.  That smarts.

The shenanigans of the last few hours have left me winded and angry, but still working to maintain focus.  I am trying to be Zen, but Hulk mad.

This is as far as Joe got away from me, before the crash.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Spider's Bite

There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.

After a quick ride of shame with Fuzzy in the crash truck, the FZR400 and I arrive at our pit, where the machine is hastily unloaded and thrown on a stand off to one side.  There isn't time to be angry as I have to get the Kawasaki EX500 ready for the V5 race which is coming up in about 15 minutes.  I am now starting to remember the joys of racing more than one motorcycle.  With no pit crew or mechanic to keep track of things, it all falls to me, the glutton for punishment apparently.

I throw a spiteful glance in the FZR's direction as I begin the push start drill for the EX.  It lights easily and it's off to the track.  Following the warm-up lap I find myself gridded next to a familiar adversary, Mr. Ball on his nearly identically prepared EX.  This is gonna be a barn-burner of a deal it is.  I am fuming with anger at the possibility of my newly purchased race bike being blown up already.

The flag waves and I get the hole shot, revving the guts out of that little EX, banging clutchless upshifts and generally letting my aggression take over.  I take a tight line into the downhill Turn 1 when all of a sudden some son of a bitch comes swooping across my bow from the starboard side and brilliantly stuffs me from the OUTSIDE.  Heading up the hill into righthander Turn 2 there is nothing I can do but concede the spot and follow, as this rider now has the inside line.  When the red mist clears a little from my eyes, I realize what I feared all along, the rider that made the move on me is Mr. Ball.  And he came for a fight.  Looking back on it now, I realize this is the same move I pulled on him twice at Mid-Ohio.  Old dog, new tricks, eh?

After clearing off from the rest of the field, we dice for the whole race.  I can pass him on the brakes going into Turn 5 (known as Charlotte's Web because of the giant metal spider sculpture there), but he keeps getting by me later on in Turn 1.  This is truly one of the most epic race battles I have had in a career spanning over a decade.  Equal machines and two riders who want it, bad.  I follow him for a lap, breathing and strategizing, and then I make a move.

I pass on the brakes going into Turn 6 (the Mini-Corkscrew mentioned in an earlier blog), knowing his next chance to make a move stick will be Turn 1.  Sure enough he follows me around and then blitzes me in 1.  For the life of me I will never understand why I suck so bad at the really fast corners, lack of testicular girth I suppose.

It is now the last lap and the only place I know for sure I can make a pass stick is in Charlotte's Web.  He will then be forced to follow me around and since the race will be over before we hit Turn 1 again, I believe the win will be mine.  Joe comes in hot and wide into Charlotte's, practically standing up the rear end on the brakes.  I come in just as hot, but on his inside, knowing he can't make the apex if I am there.  I have to get on the gas sooner than Joe to make this thing work.  I can feel it, I am going to win this race.  I am going to win at the motherfucking WERA GNF my first season back!  I am a racing god!!!!!!

No sooner do these thoughts run through my fevered little brain than I hear a small howl from the front tire.  Next lousy thing I know I am sliding across the pavement on my left elbow and asscheek, off the track and into oblivion, feeling Charlotte's soul deep sting, my failure indelibly etched into the record books with those three obscene letters: DNF



Monday, May 18, 2015

The Harlot's Prerogative

"Power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot through the ages." 
-Rudyard Kipling

The first race of the day is D-Superbike, and I find myself in something of a quandary.  The FZR is eligible, it is faster than the EX, but I have almost zero experience on it.  Part of me wants to race it, part of me knows I should park it.  That's the problem with a Succubus, once you get a taste, you are hooked, your soul forever tainted.  The forgiving and reliable nature of the EX is soon forgotten after sampling the demonspeed FZR.  I feel like a married mid-life crisis having an affair with a well-worn twenty-something stripper called Sierra.  And given the chance to escape suburban cul-de-sac hell for pasties and a g-string...well you can see where this is going.

My silver EX is suspiciously absent from the DSB grid, in its place the green she-beast.  What the hell, let's race!  The bike launches reasonably well and I find myself somewhere in the top 5 in turn one.  I am able to outpower many of the other bikes, which helps to make up for me being slow in the corners.  The knowledge that I would probably be turning better lap times on the EX is incentive to ride this better.  How embarrassing it would be to find I was slower on a faster bike!  I struggle around the track for about five laps, over-revving here, under-revving there and generally making a really bad show of it.  My brain is so wired for the twin-cylinder EX, it struggles with the seemingly exotic 4 cylinder FZR.   I know I am slow,  I know it is my fault and I am at a loss to come up with a plan halfway through the race to improve.

On the fifth lap things go tits up as I enter the downhill right/left/right set of turns they call the "Mini-Corkscrew", (after the turn at Laguna Seca Raceway).  Following my normal downshifts the motor abruptly shuts off.  I whip the clutch in assuming the motor is blown, but let it back out once to see if it will re-fire.  The motor spins but does not light.  I coast down the hill and off the track, my race done.  Son of a bitch.

Forgiving and reliable may be a bit hum-drum, but at least it finishes races.

Friday, May 15, 2015


I get the FZR cleaned and prepped to my satisfaction, attaching the upper and lower fairing a little more solidly.  I confirm it has no oil leaks and everything else, brakes, chain, sprockets, all appear to be in good order.  I feel comfortable that at least nothing on the exterior of the machine will attempt to kill me.  I try not to think about hidden internal horrors.  After passing tech, the decision is made to turn a few laps in practice.

The high-strung she-devil does not disappoint.  Keep the motor on the boil with the revs over 10k and it is a fast and willing accomplice.  Let the revs drop and the thing is boggy and slow.  Very much like a two-stroke, cornering speed will be the key.  There is no mid-range torque available at corner apex to make up for a slow entry.  The chassis proves itself to be remarkably well set-up and even my ham-fisted, herky jerky riding style does not upset it, and despite being about 25 pounds heavier than my EX, it feels lighter.  I enjoy a handful of tentative laps getting to know the bike.  It's like running your hands over a woman's body for the first time, so much to discover, but do it in a gentle way or it might scratch your eyes out.

I exit the track knowing there is much left to learn.  The machine is truly above my current abilities.  I am not wired yet for the type of cornering speeds it is fully capable of.  The bike is so composed in the corners I confuse that for a lack of feedback and slow down as a result.  The problem being, I am not pushing it hard enough to get any feedback, or heat in the tires for that matter.

Where the EX500 screams and protests each corner, twists itself up into knots, slides, shakes and generally lets me know how unhappy it truly is, the FZR begins gently cooing, "Faster, harder.  I want it.  Show me what kind of man you really are."

And maybe someday I will.  When the Viagra kicks in.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Friday at the WERA Grand National Finals is going to be a busy day.  I've signed up for three races, will have two, possibly three practice sessions, have to get the FZR through tech inspection and get my numbers on it.  There are now two race bikes to keep track of, and not enough bike stands or tire warmers to go around.

The easier thing, (and quite possibly the smarter) would be to load the FZR, take care of it over the winter, and focus on riding the EX this weekend.  Somehow being at the racetrack with the bike in a nearly ready to race state means this option does not sit well with me.  I am itching to ride this Yamaha and get some seat time on it.  I know from experience that I am a slow learner when it comes to different bikes, the sooner I start turning laps, the sooner we can mesh.

This thing is proving to be a royal pain in the ass to start (it's push start only) and twice I have to go find the previous owner to help me.  He and his father do a wonderful job of making me feel like a total dumbass because I can't start this finicky little bitch.  At one point the father calls me a "damn Yankee".  I just smile and watch these guys running up and down the pits while the FZR goes 'putt, putt, putt', refusing to run.  Racers and spectators alike turn to watch the Sisyphian task of push starting the cantankerous Yamaha, some snickering in derision.

When the recalcitrant motorcycle finally stumbles to life in a puff of exhaust smoke, first on one cylinder, then two, then three, then all four, each cylinder sounding very angry to be awakened, it is a wonderful cacophony.  At this sound I smile, almost forgetting the near heart attack it took to arrive there.  I want to ride this nasty, dirty little machine.  Sure I might not be able to trust her, and she might take all my money and my soul, but it just might be worth it.....for the ride....


Caveat Emptor

I take delivery of the FZR400 I put down a deposit down on two months ago.  I find it languishing, neglected, strapped down in a well-worn enclosed trailer, waiting.

Buying a bike off the internet is worse than buying a bike in the dark.  Pictures do not tell the story.  To be fair, the owner explained the machine was in desperate need of a cosmetic refurbishment to fix holed and cracked fiberglass bodywork and dented gas tank, etc.., so I was not expecting a looker.  

What was not conveyed in the description is the greasy state in which it was delivered to me.  The upper frame rails are covered in gasoline residue varnish, the wheels are covered in chain lube and grease.  There also appears to be oil seepage coming from somewhere under the motor (later determined to be a missing oil pan gasket).  The fuel petcock is half disassembled and JB Welded and the gas lines themselves appear to be almost as old as the bike itself (1989).  The pleated paper fuel filter looks like it came off an MTD riding mower.  There are hundreds of small dings on every aluminum surface, probably from careless "mechanics" swinging wrenches and ratchets haphazardly.  Gobs of silicone are visible squeezing out of many gasket mating areas.

There are no steering stops to keep the forks from flopping around, the only thing doing that is the steering damper and the fact that the left clip-on hits the tachometer.  Wires hang like multicolored spliced and taped spaghetti, leading into the bowels of the sad machine.  Half the fasteners on the bodywork and subframe are SAE, the remainder metric, which makes working on it a true pain in the ass.  The fairing lower has huge holes in it that will never contain oil (which means it probably won't pass tech inspection).  This thing is in truly a dilapidated state of disrepair.

On the positive side, (yes there is some positive), the suspension front and rear is in good shape, having been serviced recently, there are no signs of major damage to the frame, and the motor is kind of a special deal.  The bottom end and crankshaft are FZR400, the remainder, rods, cylinder, pistons and head are YZF600, bringing the final displacement to 489cc, the max for the lightweight classes I plan to contest.  It also has a set of very expensive Keihin FCR carburetors.  So despite the rough exterior, I believe the heart of the beast to be strong indeed.  We shall see.  The plan is to take it out in at least one practice session, but not before it at least gets wiped down with a rag.  Twenty years ago I wouldn't have thought twice about hammering that dirty thing wide open down some race track, but I am experienced enough now to know that my life depends on this thing holding together, and there remains some question as to whether it will.

Friday, May 8, 2015


The remainder of the drive to Birmingham is uneventful.  For the most part, I don't mind it and after a couple of hours I am able to forget about racing and motorcycles, letting my mind (but not my attention on the road) wander.  I silence my phone and quite often don't listen to any music.  It is the calm before the storm that starts the moment I begin to set up Friday and doesn't quit until the last item is off-loaded back into the garage on Sunday night.

In some remote backwater of my subconscious, the gigantic, prehistoric reel to reel computer is still humming and processing data, but the relative tranquility of the road has reduced it's electronic clatter to a muffled roar.  I would like to say I am solving the mysteries of the universe during these quiet times, but it is a vagabond train of ragged, displaced thoughts meandering on tracks to a swampy nowhere, chugging into smoky obscurity.  I think I can....I think I can....

About the time my lower back and bladder can take no more my 'privateer express' arrives at Barber Motorsports park.  Ten years on it is still a heck of a clean, well groomed racetrack facility.  Impressive.  I guess if ya got the money....

WERA racers arriving early are directed to an unpaved lot until the gates open at 6pm, when the well-heeled Porsche club is done with their track day.  I've got three hours to kill, but I am amazed at the amount of guys here before me.  Some have apparently camped out all night to be first in line just to enter the gate!  Massive motorhomes, diesel trucks towing trailers that cost more than everything I own litter this lot, vying for position closest to the gate.  The sun is beating down and it is getting warm.  I wonder what is going to happen when they turn this bunch loose, it could turn into a Winnebago Demolition Derby.  I talk to a few people during the wait, but for the most part I relax, trying to get back to the place I was in during the drive.  I don't.

Without warning some invisible green flag drops and the RVs and Toyhaulers begin jockeying for position.  Tires spin in the dirt, huge rigs rock back and forth as brakes are slammed on, then gas pedals mashed.  No quarter is given and it truly is a mad stampede of aluminum and fiberglass buffalo driven on by crazy wranglers.  My 1 ton van, which always seems so big in the grocery store parking lot is dwarfed by these behemoths and I am pushed around and receive dirty looks as I maneuver for a spot in the queue.  Tempers flare and a few rough words are exchanged, but luckily evolution seems to keep us from reverting back to a more Neanderthal  response.   I could give two shits about where I end up parking so I fail to understand what all the huff is about.

I soon have bigger fish to fry as it becomes clear to me that I no longer have the saline solution purchased five hours ago, or my contact lens case, both of which were seemingly left in the parking lot of some CVS, city and state now forgotten.  I curse myself for being so stupid and losing them.  I begin canvassing the paddock with an empty plastic cup, begging for a few ounces of saline.  After about 20 minutes my search yields enough solution to last 3 days.  Best laid plans and all that.....

Monday, May 4, 2015

Murphy Is Blind

No sooner do I unload my new to me toy, than I have to start loading up to head to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama, a mere 10 hour drive.  The final round of my 2014 comeback racing season.

These are the WERA Grand National Finals, open to anyone who has raced a particular class that season.  This is a winner take all event for my classes and I plan to be one of those winners, in at least one division.  I am eligible (and have entered) to race the following classes: V6 Lightweight, V5, D-Superbike Novice and Clubman Novice.  This will probably be my last chance to race as a Novice and I intend to make the most of it before I get bumped to Expert, thrown in with the wolves so to speak.

Nearly a decade has passed since I raced at Barber, and that was only once.  I have vague memories of an enjoyable, challenging track with plenty of rights, lefts and elevation changes built on clean, well-manicured grounds with friendly staff, a dream of a racetrack.  But I have to get there first.  I leave at 4:30 am.

Midway into the trip I realize I have forgotten the saline solution for my contact lenses, not a big deal, I will pick some up at the next gas stop.  Of course the gas station I fill up at does not have any, so I drive around some sketchy neighborhood and find a lonely CVS in an otherwise abandoned and boarded up strip mall.  One of the good things about driving a creepy white van with tinted windows is the criminal element usually leaves you alone, assuming you are also of the criminal element.

Tiny bottle of travel saline in hand I decide it is time to put my contact lenses in, which I do in the parking lot using the side mirror of the van.  Closing the passenger door I head to the driver's side door, which is locked.  I reach for my keys only to find they are not there.  I run back to the passenger side, which is also locked.  I look in the window and can see my keys on the seat, locked inside.  Son of a bitch.

Not to worry, I had a contingency plan for just this occasion.  After locking the keys in the van several times and becoming very adept with a clothes hanger, I purchased a magnetic Hide-A-Key and hid it on the vehicle.  Apparently I did a wonderful job of hiding the key, because do you think I can find the goddamn thing?  At this point I am scurrying around under the dirty van like a racoon on amphetamine, cursing and talking to myself while the dregs of society shopping at this derelict CVS give me a wide berth because I am surely insane.

By the time I locate the blasted key twenty minutes later, I am covered in grease, road dirt, rust and my head is bleeding from whacking it on the frame during my frenzied search.  At least I have the key.  I clean myself up and hit the road, slightly aggravated at the loss of time, but impressed at my forward thinking.  So impressed that I fail to notice two small items left on top of the tire as I wheel away back to the interstate.....