Thursday, June 25, 2015

Armed Only With Desire


Everybody wants it, few have it. Can't buy it, can't have it installed surgically, can't learn it.  You got it, or you don't.

That's a tough pill and harsh lesson learned the day you realize that no amount of hard work is going to make you good enough in your chosen endeavour, no river of blood, sweat and tears deep enough to rise above what genetics and luck failed to provide.  All those trite platitudes ring tinny and hollow:

"If you dream it, you can do it!"

"Quitters never win, winners never quit!"

"You can be anything you want if you work hard enough!"

Experience teaches that these things simply aren't true, at least for us mere humans.  Which is not to say that we cannot improve, and reach, say, a fairly proficient level of skill in something.  But without that inborn trait, some hereditary disposition to excel, chances of setting the world on fire are slim.

What then?  Many simply accept reality and move on.  But what of those who can't?  The ones who feel born to do something they are simply not that good at?  It can seem almost tragic to think of someone continuing on in this manner, but I often wonder if that's the case.  Adversity builds character and creates characters, and there is perhaps no greater adversity than a lack of talent.

My favorite heroes, both real and imaginary have always been the underdogs.  The ones who asked no quarter despite mounting insurmountables and certain failure.  The outwitted, outplayed, outmanned, outgunned outsider with nothing but the passion to continue going until the vines of defeat and old age so ensare that all movement ceases, yet with final breaths still whispering defiances.  To paraphrase Barry Switzer, I have no interest in those born on third base, but in those still clawing their way out of the dugout armed only with desire.

Hmm. Maybe passion is a talent?

Maybe talent is over-rated, but it sure comes in handy.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"Vintage Guy"

At least half a dozen times in the last year, racers have come up to me in the pits asking to borrow items, ranging from a battery charger (loaned out to three separate persons on different occasions), radiator clamps, duct tape, bolts, nuts and safety wire.

I am always happy to help someone out, as are most racers and I know most would help me as well.  Recently though, it seems I am doing a lot more loaning than borrowing.  And many of the ones doing the asking are people driving late model diesel pick-ups with million dollar bling wheels towing Toy-haulers filled with several race bikes covered in sponsor stickers.  It strikes me as funny and ironic that these seemingly well-to-do racers with all the fancy gear are coming to the guy with the 20 year old van and 25 year old race bikes to borrow things they can't be bothered to pack.  What's even funnier is what they all say when I pull out the simple little necessity that escaped their packing list:

"I knew a vintage guy would have it."

How is one supposed to respond to this statement?  Is it a testament and compliment to the preparedness of the vintage racer?  Or is there a more backhanded meaning, i.e.: that we need more tools/parts/spares because our machines are more likely to break down, or that we look like a bunch of Okies travelling Jed Clampett style with the kitchen sink strapped to the hood?  Perhaps a little bit of both.

However you choose to look at it, one thing is clear, vintage motorcycles require more involvement from riders than modern counterparts.  Whether it is tracking down parts, doing plug chops and changing carburetor jetting, a vintage racer needs to be a perceptive rider, deft tuner and part-time alchemist.  Modern motorcycles have become appliances in their reliability yet complicated in their technology.  In many ways this is a good thing, allowing a rider to focus entirely on his job: riding the motorcycle.  But it also removes the rider from a certain intimacy with his machine.  Take it to the suspension guy for adjustments.  Have the tire guy mount and balance your tires.  Need your fueling remapped? Take it to another guy.  Time for an engine rebuild? There's another guy for that.  Paintjob? Got a guy for that too.  All that specialization removes an element of artistry and scholarship from the mix.

Not so the "vintage guys".  Many of them build their own engines and do all their own tuning.  They can lace wheels, degree cams, and mount tires as well as ride the damn thing at the very limits of sanity and obsolescence.  Years of knocking about at the racetrack have taught them a thing or two, hence the bins full of what appear to be redundant or useless items.

Remember that when you come up to one and ask to borrow something.  You could learn a lot from a "vintage guy".    

All my shit is old.  So fucking what?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Current Events

Speed of Arrival would like to interrupt the normally scheduled racing drivel on this blog to bring you this news flash:

Larrivee Roadracing will be there on the FZR489 and EX500, proudly representing our new sponsor: Sportbike Track Gear .  Three days of great racing at the world class Road Atlanta roadcourse.  Come check it out!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Counting Chickens

The start of the race is decent, and I soon find myself up with a few of the Expert class stragglers, intending to throw them in the way of the other eager Novices stampeding behind me.  I lead my class and wonder if this might be an easier victory.  Joe is up in front  and I intend to follow, but he is pushing harder than I am willing to at this point and I decide it is better to win the race I am actually competing in than to crash trying to prove a point to him, again.

As has happened often in my racing career I find myself all alone in the middle.  The faster racers in the Expert class are gone, and the slower racers are behind me.  There is no one to chase and from what I can tell, no one chasing.  I circulate, turning in solid, if not speedy laps for about half the race.  If I can manage not to crash, I can take home a win.  I like the sound of that.

Immediately in answer to that thought or perhaps in payment for my momentary inattention, a young lad on a 250 Ninja rails up alongside of me, sporting the yellow plates denoting Novice, looking to make a pass.  Rudely awakened, I stretch the throttle cables a little farther and summon my horsepower advantage.  That is a term not often used when talking about an EX500, unless it is to say, I was beaten by the other bikes because they had a "horsepower advantage".  But in this case, against the 250s, I have the edge.

The adolescent decides not to make it easy for me.  I pass him on every straight, he manages to pass me on some of the faster corners, due to what appears to be a total lack of fear.  I am able to outbrake him in the slower corners, but damn, the fast sweeping stuff seems to be his forte.

Normally I would relish a battle such as this, but not now, so close to season's end.  While his young brain cannot yet comprehend the disaster that can happen in any instant on the track, my aging one knows full well, having watched racers die just as easily the last race of the year as on the first.  We battle lap after lap, passing one another so often it almost becomes predictable.

I'm pissed, I don't want this fight, but I damn sure don't want to let him have the win.  Just when I think I've passed and gained enough distance to break him, he finds a way to make up ground.  White flag, last lap.  The rider executes a slightly hairball pass on the outside of me in turn 12, which he somehow sticks.  I have only a few corners left  to get him back.  It's late afternoon, the sun is in my eyes going from 13 into 14.  This has to happen in 15/16 because 17 might be too late.  I can't make it happen.  He is going to beat me, and I am about to accept it.

Something inside snaps and I chase him into the final corner knowing I am too far away to reasonably catch him.

Or am I?  I tuck all six feet, 175 pounds of me behind the windscreen and under the paint.  I lift my ass just slightly off the seat (because I read somewhere you get better aerodynamics doing this) and look for the kid's draft.  I pick it up about seven bike lengths behind him, I feel the tow.  I am closing.  This is going to be tight.  The flagman is waving the checkered flag.  I have to time this just right and pull out of the draft.

I make my move, pulling ahead and beating him to the stripe by .07 of a second.  I win.  It feels pretty good.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Season Ends

The Clubman Novice Final will be my last race of 2014.  It is generally preferred to go out with a bang as opposed to a whimper, but so far the WERA GNF has proven to be an ass whooping for me.  Two DNFs and a fourth place are my current tally at Barber Motorsports Park on this late October weekend.

The season has taken its toll, physically, emotionally, financially and part of me is ready for it to be over.  Six months, thousands of highway miles and dozens of races where I have acted as rider, mechanic, chauffeur, pit crew and sponsor have my body and spirit ready for a rest.  As I wait to grid up, I am trying to find some grit and motivation, failing miserably.  Somehow giving yourself the "Once more into the breach dear friends" speech, just isn't cutting it.  At third call, motivation or no, it is time to go and in that moment I realize this thing is going to go on, with or without me.  Life is going to go on, with or without me, old age is running up behind, hard and fast.  I can accept defeat at the hands of these glory hungry teenagers on brightly colored plastic wrapped machines or perhaps, perhaps I can stir the dust from the old bones one more time.  And summon a reckoning...