Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Loser #2

After a truly crappy start that had me in about seventh place into Turn 1, I let the rage take over.  I watched as Kurt on his FZ, Fullerton on his Seca, Crews on his EX, somebody on a 500 single Yamaha, Wagner on his EX and Bowie on that stupid fast F1 Ducati all left me in the dust.  I made up my mind to cut a swath through the flotsam and jetsam of motorcycles and riders in front of me, and I refused to take no for an answer.

As we ascended the hill into Turn 2, I picked off the single and then Eric and Wagner on their EXs.  I came flying over the blind rise, looking for my little patch of rumble strip that would let me know I was about to enter the chicane.  I find it, but also a bright red motorcycle with a rider in white leathers.  It's Kurt, points leader and aspiring nemesis to my championship dreams.  I am carrying a considerable amount more speed than he is in this section and for a split second I consider taking to the dirt to pass him (see the photo sequence in the blog from 9/29 if you want to see how close I was).  The rules state that gaining an advantage by taking to the dirt here is grounds for penalty, and I can't afford it.  I will have to wait.

I shadow all the way through the Esses and up the hill into Turn 5 and the short straight before 6.  Getting on the gas earlier I gain ground and plan to make the outside pass as we crest the hill.  Kurt's bike finally comes on the power and I can't make it on the straight, so I decide to do it on the brakes into 6.  As if sensing my plan, Kurt drifts all the way to the edge of the track, nearly pushing me into the grass.  I don't know if he knew I was there, but I don't think anyone sets up that wide for 6!  This forces me to brake early and allows Mark Morrow to zoom by on the inside of both me and Kurt into the turn  (see the video posted on the blog from 9/17).

That really pisses me off and I decide I am done playing footsies with Kurt.  I make the pass coming into 7 and try to keep Mark in my sights, knowing he can pull me up to the front runners, Bowie and Fullerton.  Making my way out of 7 onto the interminably long back straight, I expect Kurt to come wailing by with his 600 FZ, knowing full well he has the top speed advantage on my EX.  He never does and I assume he is stalking me, following.  This is how he got by me on the last lap at the Grand National Finals last year.  Not this time.

I bury my head under the windscreen and look for the draft off Morrow.  I find it a few bike lengths behind and this begins a several lap two bike draft and pass train that pulls us away from Kurt and within two seconds of the leaders.  With two laps left to go I decide that Mark is holding me up and make the pass for good.  I work hard, desperately needing those two extra points that second place will get me.  I work up to within a second of that smoke belching Seca, trying to get the drive out of the final corner as the checkered flag flies.  I come up short and have to take third place, or Loser #2.  Still, I finished ahead of Kurt and kept him from adding more points to his tally, and that is something.

Using Mark for the tow up to the leaders.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

V5, Violence In Moderation

The only race of the September Road Atlanta WERA weekend that really mattered was V5.  I had a substantial championship points lead in V6 with the FZR and had not run enough in DSB or Clubman to be in contention in those classes.

Languishing 8 points off the leader in V5 was not where I wanted to be this late in the season.  To be honest, I was pissed off about it.  A DNF, a DNS and a crappy 5th place due to a silly electrical problem I should have solved immediately instead had me chasing my tail and scrambling for points in a class I should have had a comfortable lead in.  I was better than this, and so was the EX.  As I thought about the emotional, spiritual, physical and financial investment is this racing scheme, frustration bubbled below the surface...

A moderate amount of sustained anger has always helped my riding.  Too much fury and I can get sloppy, but just the right degree allows me to run that fine line between fast and out of control, without the burden of fear.  Cold and calculating can get you to a certain level of speed, but sometimes you have to be pissed to push it.  And I was there.

One way or another I am going to get by.

Just a little poke up the inside.

Just want you to know I'm here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This Is Why I Am Going To Beat You

  • I have prepared and trained my mind, body and machine for this moment.
  • It is the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think about before falling asleep.
  • I have sacrificed more, pushed harder and risked bigger.  I will continue to do so.
  • I have transformed fear, self-doubt and failure into an iron-clad resolve that will not die.
  • I have memorized the blueprint for a champion and labor at making myself into one everyday.
  • My surety will never become overconfidence or laziness.
  • I have studied your weakness and eliminated my own.
  • I forge my own luck from the blast furnace that is my desire.
  • I am wholly committed to the task at hand, my focus is pinpoint.
  • Every move, thought and action inches me closer to my goal, nothing is superfluous.
       I am going to beat you, simply because I want it more and I will not be denied.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Five Thousand Words

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Turn 7 (I think) at Road Atlanta on the FZR 400

Same corner, same rider, same day, different bike (EX500).
Knee down in 10B, on my way to winning the V6LW race.

Someone told me Mark Morrow was my rabbit.  Here I am, hunting the hare.

Chasing a smoky Yamaha Seca 600 down the Road Atlanta esses up into Turn 5.

Endorsed By Mom

I promised to keep the blog ad free, but that doesn't mean I can't tell you about one of Larrivee Road Racing's sponsors for the 2015 racing season:

Sportbike Track Gear at

When STG put out the call looking for racer resumes earlier this year, I knew it would be a good fit.  You see, I was already a loyal customer, having purchased helmets, gloves, oil and tires from them previously because of the great prices and customer service (seriously, check them out).  My mom (who ordered a helmet for me last Christmas), even had this to say, "They are such nice people there, very helpful."   I am proud and thankful to be a part of the STG team for 2015 and into the future.  Let's support those who support the sport!

Be sure to check the Sponsored Riders Page for my bio, which is at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Gaining Ground

With the disaster of the master link averted, I don my helmet, refusing to let thoughts of a failed chain enter my mind.  The clip I installed was a used one and with no idea how many times it has been on and off, there is no way of knowing what kind of condition the thing is actually in.  Some of you are now shaking your heads and thinking 'rivet link' and you would be right.

Finally the damn race begins and I get another one of my usual crappy starts.  At least I am getting better slicing through traffic than I used to be.  I have uploaded a YouTube video (courtesy of RD400 racer Mark Morrow).  He and I actually ran together for nearly the entire race (we are not in the same class, but racing at the same time), before I make a pass in an attempt to chase down Dan Fullerton on his Yamaha Seca 600 for second place in the V5 race.  I am on the silver bike #374, Kurt on the red Yamaha FZ600 #334.

Moments of interest in the video include:

  • The race start to about the 2:00 minute mark where Kurt sets up for a wide entry into turn 6 and nearly pushes me off track, you can see Mark zoom by the both of us.
  • At the 4:20 mark I make a pass on Mark, he chases me on the back straight and then totally outbrakes me going into 10A.
  • Next lap at 6:15 I make the same pass again and again Mark gets me on the brakes into 10A.
  • At 8:35 I decide to take a page from his playbook and make the inside pass into 10A in an effort to gain on Fullerton.
  • Mark backs down a bit after I get by and you see my failed charge to catch the Seca.  Careful observers can see Fullerton's bike puffing smoke on deceleration each time, and as I went up the hill into Turn 2 I knew he was close, because I could smell it.  It is very disconcerting to be chasing a bike that smokes and smells of burnt oil, but they tell me this is the way the race Secas are?  Fullerton gets held up by a lapper in the chicane and for a moment I think I can get him, but unfortunately it doesn't happen.  I have to settle for third place, netting me four more valuable championship points.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dodging Death

After a few hours of the nervous dance, the V5 race approaches.  This is the most important race of my season and possibly my career.  Without a good finish here, Kurt will gain an insurmountable advantage in points and my dream of winning two championships in the same season will be over.  Failure is not an option and if by sheer strength of will I can force the spark to jump both plug gaps on that EX500 for 8 lousy laps, consider it done.

I decide to give the bike a final visual inspection before the race.  As my eyes turn towards the chain, something seems out of place, missing.  Realization like a stab to the guts when I figure out that the goddamn clip that holds the master link in place is gone!  It must have fallen off in practice, despite being safety wired and siliconed in place.

I yell for my brother, who is dozing in a chair, wiped out by the mounting Georgia heat and humidity.  I don't know why I did this, it's not as if he can help, or even knows where a spare master link clip might be.  I jump into the back of the van and start tossing out parts bins.  I catch a small break and locate one in the first bin I open.  It looks serviceable enough, there is no time to find another as the announcer makes first call for my race.

I pause for a moment, force myself to breathe, knowing that the clip must be installed properly with care, lest I lose another one.  I gently press the clip into place as my heart tries to pound its way up my throat.  It's a stark reminder of how small the things are that keep us from disaster....had that master link come apart there is no telling what could have happened.  A small shiver passes through my body despite the heat, as I force the dark thoughts from my mind.

"It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing.  Such a little thing." -Boromir 


Pressure mounts as I draw closer to Road Atlanta.  I know that Friday morning will be a hectic one, got to get through registration, then scrutineering with the FZR, pull the wheels off the EX so Stickboy can mount some new slicks, remount the wheels, then get the EX through tech inspection, locate the guys who are bringing my fuel and have both bikes on the stands with warmers on, ready to roll on the track before 8:30 AM.

My brother has made the trip down from upstate NY for this race with his girlfriend and my parents will also be joining us later this afternoon.  More pressure, especially to not crash.

The plan is to pull the fucking cork out and get some good laps in, but the morning is cool and it rained last night, so the track will be damp in spots.  Many a race weekend has ended ugly in early morning practice.  I will ride the FZR first in Lightweight practice, then a few sessions later the EX in Vintage, giving me two rounds with each bike before racing, which is a good thing and allows for changes that might have to be made.

Stickboy gets the Bridgestone slicks mounted quickly and painlessly (well, except the pain in my wallet!).  These will be the first new tires the EX is getting this year, as I have been using take-offs from the FZR on it.  I am going to be pissed if I end up with brand new tires on a bike with a dead ignition.

Practice goes well with both machines.  The EX needs some tuning on the carburetion end, but the ignition is performing as it should.  I am hopeful that the electrical demons have been exorcised.  After the final practice with the Kawasaki I make a main jet swap.  I have done what I can.  There is nothing to do now but wait.

And think.  And try not to puke.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Dramatic Pause

I manage to get in about 20 minutes of run time on the EX500 before I become wary.  Despite the area being very rural, a few cars had driven by, drivers and passengers leering at the white van, out of state plates and the idiot dressed in full gear on the motorcycle with race numbers as the temperature soared above 90 degrees.  It was only a matter of time before someone called the local constabulary to enforce a cease and desist on my two-wheeled shenanigans.  When I was younger, flouting authority and rules seemed a worthwhile pursuit, but after getting a small sample of the weight the powers that be can bring down on an individual, and given the current attitudes of law enforcement, I have learned to pick and choose my battles and employ the stealth tactics of the guerilla.

So feeling like John Mellencamp before he dropped the Cougar, I load up the Kawasaki, shut the doors on the unmarked white van before anyone is the wiser and head back for the city.  The bike ran reasonably well, with just a small burble mid-throttle that indicated a carburetor adjustment was in order.  While not quite ready to declare the ignition problem solved, this was certainly a hopeful test.

There remained nothing left but to load the van and follow fate to Atlanta.  Things were beginning to culminate, the pieces, as they say, were coming together.  I took command of all the variables I could imagine, hopefully skill and luck would see me through.

I must leave you now, dear reader, as the rest of this story is unwritten.  In a few short days, the outcome.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Own Jungle Road

With the EX re-wired it became glaringly obvious that some pre-race testing was in order.  Better heeled riders than I would now pop off to the dyno, hand over a few $100 bills, take some pulls and know within a few minutes whether the changes made had worked.  Necessity, (or poverty, call it what you like) being the mother of invention and all that, I needed an alternative.  Preferably free.

In the 1950s, when they still raced on the beach at Daytona, FL, there was no practice, no chance to test the bikes until race day, which is often too late.  There are stories of the famed "Jungle Road", a secret test area on a stretch of public highway out of town where riders and tuners would go to sort their machines.

Tommy McDermott (a friend of my mentor Phil Lee) and the factory BSA team tuning at the Jungle Road

I needed my own Jungle Road, somewhere deserted with a relatively straight stretch of asphalt that wasn't completely disintegrating, far from the prying eyes of the law and the sensitive ears of suburban housewives.  What I planned was highly illegal, could result in several hefty fines and, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, would possibly land me in jail for 30 days.

But I had to know.  There is always precious little practice at WERA race events, and absolutely no time to be chasing electrical gremlins.  It was worth the risk, with a championship at stake.  The Kawasaki was loaded in the van with a few tools, some spare ignition parts and the hunt began.  I left the metro area and headed for the rural roads I had explored by streetbike a few months earlier.

After about 35 miles driving, an almost dwelling-free section of road was located in a heavily wooded area, with a small stream running through the bottom of a small, shallow valley.  It was not completely straight, I would have to run the bike down the hill, over the small bridge with no guardrails and up the hill on the other side.  But at nearly 3/4 mile long, no houses,very little traffic, and the clock ticking, it would have to do.

An idyllic scene, at least until I started the engine...

Friday, September 4, 2015

Do Or Die

The EX500 has struggled throughout the season with an intermittent ignition issue that likes to rear its ugly head while I am leading a race or just before the start of one.  Two DNFs and a dangerous 5th place finish while running on one cylinder have proven very frustrating to my dream of winning two championships in the same year on two different bikes.  Instead of leading the V5 class in points, I am in a maddening 2nd position 8 championship points down on the leader.  There remains only one event at Road Atlanta, September 11th before the Grand National Finals at Barber Motorsports Park in October.  We are in the crunch now, it's do or die time.  I may never get this close again.

Ignition problems are always a huge pain in the ass, especially the intermittent type.  Sometimes they appear to be heat or moisture related, other times they happen randomly, as if on a whim.   I have struggled with points systems, magnetos, CDIs, stators, rotors, coils (both primary and secondary), wires broken internally with no tell tale damage to the insulation, sheared flywheel keys, bad fuses that looked good, corroded ground straps, shorted kill switch wires (inside a handlebar no less!), bad batteries that test good, good components that test bad and just about everything in between.

The time for fiddle-fucking around with the EX was over.  I steeled my nerve and tore into the guts of the wiring.  The harness is about as simple as it gets,  just what was needed to supply 12 volts from the battery to the coils and ignitor unit, and a switch to turn it on and off.  There is no electric starter, no charging system, no lighting, barely even a rotor, just enough to trigger the pick-ups.  My goal was to remove anything that didn't need to be there, and search for the root cause of this problem.  Several feet of wire, an aftermarket rev limiter, a solenoid and fused plug were cast out from the soul of the machine.  Re-loomed and re-taped I wheeled the bike to the starter roller and hoped for the best....

"Simplified" wiring harness.  This shouldn't be too difficult to figure out, right?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Speculating The Spencer

The 2015 race season continued in tornadic fashion with multiple race weekends in May, then races every two to three weeks after that.  Three weeks might seem like a long time between events, but when juggling a full time job, having to make improvements and repairs to the bikes and van on off hours there is no rest for the weary.  Most nights it is home from work/the gym at 5 and into the garage for 2-3 hours before dinner and passing out on the couch.  Weekends are much the same, ride the dirt bike Saturday and Sunday mornings after the gym, then wash it and back into the garage.  Occasionally I will do a load of laundry and I promised the neighbors I would mow the lawn.  In November.

Finally Mid-July comes and a six and a half week break from racing.  I must admit to looking forward to it.  I plan to get some things done around the house (lawn, maybe) and not look at the race bikes for a little while.  There will also be some long hours spent riding in the woods.  In the end, though, racing is never far from my thoughts, and soon I am packing for the ten hour drive to Talladega, Alabama.

2015 WERA Results, so far:

In Vintage 6 Lightweight (with the  Yamaha FZR 400)

  • Roebling Road 3/14: 2nd place
  • Summit Point, WV 5/10: 2nd place
  • Roebling Road 5/31: 2nd place
  • WERA Cycle Jam Road Atlanta 6/19: 2nd place
  • Barber Motorsports Park Birmingham AL 7/5: 1st place
  • Talladega Gran Prix Raceway, Al 8/22: 1st place

In Vintage 5 (with the Kawasaki EX500)

  • Roebling 3/14: 4th place
  • Summit 5/10: 2nd place
  • Roebling 5/31: 1st place
  • Road Atlanta 6/19: DNF (mechanical)
  • Barber 7/5: 5th place (mechanical while leading)
  • Talladega 8/22: DNS (mechanical on warm-up lap)

WERA takes the best 4 finishes of the year so that leaves me (as of 8/23/15) leading the points in V6LW and 2nd place in V5.  My desire for 2015 is to win both the V6 and V5 championships. (I call it "The Spencer", after Freddie Spencer, the only rider in history to win World Grand Prix titles in both the 250cc and 500cc class in the same year, 1985).  Obviously winning two club racing championships is not quite as glamorous as Spencer's feat, but even us mere mortals are allowed to dream.  Unfortunately, with the EX continuing to hiccup at the worst possible moments, and only two events left on the calendar, hope was beginning to fade.

"Fast" Freddie Spencer, Brands Hatch 1982

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Vehicle To Solitude

Many people are attracted to motorcycles for the social aspect.  Hanging at bike night with buddies, group rides, showing off on Main Street, etc..  Even a competition driven racer will tell you one of the best things about the racetrack is the people you meet there.

My personal draw is at odds with the above.  I seek the refuge of two wheels not for whom it can take me to, but what it can take me away from.  My interests lie not in the cock-waving stoplight drag-racers with 72 foot swingarms, chrome storm trooper helmets and flashing LED light strips, or the wanna-be Daughters of Matriarchy outlaws with leather vests and patches revving open pipes and rattling windows on their Milwaukee iron.  If that's your bag, then fine, who the hell am I to judge?

My first teenage experience piloting that Yamaha DT250 was terrifying.  Suddenly the sound of motor and wind overcame the voice of the guy yelling instructions at me, and I was alone.  In those moments the only thing controlling my fate was me and the decisions I would make.  No one was shouting anything, telling me what to do or not do, how to be or think.  All the voices were silenced, drowned out by the sweet racket of a piston-slapping two stroke harmony.  I would crash a few moments later, but even that was not enough to deter me.

I have never stopped trying to get back to the feeling, the soul-cleansing aloneness I felt that day.  Beyond fun and enjoyment and entering into the realm of spiritual need, a motorcycle can be a vehicle to many things, for me it is a vehicle to solitude.  Which in this day and age is not a bad thing.  Not bad at all.