Saturday, October 31, 2015


Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 1:37 PM

This being part VI of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

Swapping an alternator should be a routinely simply task, it's only held in by three bolts.  My gut tells me it is not going to be that easy.  The very design of a van leaves little room to work in the front, and there is no accessing it from inside the cab.  The second issue will be relieving the tension on the serpentine belt.  This is a job for a fairly decent sized breaker bar, the problem is that you can't fit one in the compartment and clear the hood.  This means only a short ratchet, no leverage and a copious amount of swearing and definitely some busted knuckles.

I detach the alternator in fairly short order, being careful not to damage the serpentine belt in doing so.  However, it is not so willing to be removed from the engine compartment.  There seems to be no way of twisting or turning that will free this piece of shit from the tangled hoses and sharp-edged brackets that impede its outward progress.  It's like playing Operation but instead of a gentle buzzer the klaxon horns are bleating incessantly inside my head as sweat runs down stinging into my eyes.  My arms are scratched and bloody from wrestling around in this confined space.

I am forced to stop and regroup to quell the urge to smash things in this feverish frustration.  I remind myself how far I am from home, not to mention my intended destination (350 miles either direction) and my anger gives way to the cold, dank fear that if I fuck something up here for whatever reason, vexation, ineptitude, impatience etc., I will be in a world of shit.  This cannot be allowed.

If there is one thing that riding alone in the woods has taught me, it's that you better be ready to get yourself out no matter what happens.  This is no different.  I need to get myself back on the road, by hook or by crook, by myself.  Sure there is help out there, for a fee I could be towed to a clean, air-conditioned waiting room with cable TV, back issues of Field & Stream, tepid coffee and possibly even a cruller, while guys I stereotyped in high school earn a hardwon living by skill of hand and sweat of brow.  But I have already eaten into the race tire money I earmarked for the EX500 by having to purchase an alternator, baling wire and exhaust brackets.  To call in assistance at this point will run into the hundreds of dollars.  Unacceptable and impossible if I wish to have the funds for continuing onwards to Alabama.  I am on my own, and while in the heat of that particular moment I would never admit it, I think somewhere deep inside, a part of me likes it that way.

The engineers who design these things with no room to work should have to take them apart and put them back together 50 times before going into production.  Bastards who never swung a wrench or even know what one looks like.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Patience Discharged

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 12:09 PM

This being Part V of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

I pull into the Advance Auto parking lot and shut the van off, knowing this is the best place to be if it won't restart.  I attempt, and it won't.  Battery dead.  I breathe a sigh of relief that I made it this far, as opposed to the alternative, lifeless on the side of I-81 with tractor trailers thundering by shaking the van and it's contents, threatening horrible, screeching, metal rending death.

The staff is friendly and helpful when I explain my charging issue and soon one of them is outside trying to diagnose which ill the van is currently afflicted with.  The employee struggles repeatedly to attach the cables to the battery, resulting in a spectacular shower of sparks as he attempts to weld the clamps to my chassis.  At one point I have to wrest the cables from him to stop his display of unintentional arc welding.  I know he means well, but for fuck's sake I don't need more problems than I limped in here with.

The diagnosis reveals what I already knew, the goddamn battery is dead, with only 315 cranking amps according to Advance's Speak 'N Spell battery tester, but the question remains, why?  At this point the employee's mechanical diagnostic skills are exhausted, as is my patience.  I ask if I can bring the battery in for charging and load testing.  He offers to remove it and I politely decline, telling him that I have the tools and will bring the battery in shortly.

Forty-five minutes of quick charging and one load test later reveal what I already suspected, the battery is good.  Time for an alternator.  At least I confirmed they had one on the shelf prior to removing the battery.  I remind myself to breathe.  Not for the last time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Alternatively Exhausted

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 11:36 AM

What follows being Part IV of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

For nearly three hours I have been watching the slow drop in voltage showing on the gauge.  From 13 to 12 to 11 and now to 10 volts, I know there is a problem.  The closed fist to the top of the dashboard did nothing to move the steadily downward creeping needle in the other direction.  A quick sojourn at a trucker's only rest area that reeked of urine revealed nothing amiss with the serpentine belt.  I know that leaves basically the battery, the alternator or the connections between.  My gut tells me alternator.  At this point it doesn't matter, if the battery is losing voltage, in the very near future the ignition will cease to function and I will be truly dead in the water, looking at not only the cost of repairs, but towing my carcass from the highway.  My heart began to quail at the possibilities.

Determined not to become the roadkill victim of a tow jock's exorbitant pricing, I lumber on down the road, knowing I must find an Advance or Autozone before the battery reaches terminal stasis.  These places are generally not visible from the interstate, so I exit somewhere about 50 miles out of Knoxville, TN and begin my Grail search.  The first few miles take me from gas stations and hotels to utter, rural oblivion (cue Dueling Banjos).  It is becoming readily apparent that I might have to commit an act that could potentially get my Man Card revoked, I am going to have to stop for <gasp!> directions....

Without fail I get a woman at the gas station whose first and quite possibly even second language is not English.  The words "auto parts store" bring only a blank look with head cocked in canine confusion.  I say, "Advance.", and "Autozone", hum a few bars of "get in the zone" and finally the light-bulb comes on.  Without a word she points in a direction that is utterly unclear, somewhere between west and straight up.  A few hand gestures later I have a less muddy picture of where to go and hop back in the van which I left running in the parking lot hoping no one would steal it.  No one did.

This is the last ditch attempt to make it anywhere before the vehicle stalls for good.  I say a little prayer to a god I long ago stopped believing in and shortly thereafter I am answered.......

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Exhausting The Options

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 8:45 AM

What follows being Part III of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

The tenuously attached exhaust has me confined to the right lane of the interstate, observing a self-imposed speed limit of 65 mph as I scan the side of the road for an auto parts store, Walmart, anything that might sell baling wire and brackets.  I spot a Tractor Supply too late, having already missed the exit.  Deciding it is still my best option, I get off at the next exit, figuring I can find it.

I begin my search driving through the town of Marion, VA, named for Revolutionary War General Francis Marion and apparently the birthplace of everyone's favorite testicle shrinking sickly sweet beverage "Mountain Dew".  Stumbling upon a NAPA auto parts store first, I stop there.  Amber, a bespectacled young blonde in a camouflage coat drinking Wawa coffee, tries to assist me, but cannot find any baling wire or brackets.  Her manager comes over and tells me they don't usually carry any exhaust brackets.  How the hell can an auto parts store not carry exhaust brackets?  Finally, on some upper shelf in a forgotten back room one is located, covered in thicker dust than Tutankhamun's tomb.  I use this to make a more solid repair to the now custom 'slash cut' tailpipe, narrowly avoiding tetanus as the razor sharp edges tear my shirt.  There's nothing like being the guy crawling around under his vehicle in the parking lot of the NAPA swearing and talking to himself.

Custom exhaust fool!

While this takes care of the problem with the latter 1/3 of the exhaust system, there is now the barely attached middle third that sustained damage as a result of swinging around for 200 miles.  Amber is helpful enough to give me directions to the Tractor Supply I saw from the highway and I am off again.  As I knew they would, TS has baling wire, so I buy 100 feet for ten bucks figuring I can wire the whole fucking van together if I need to.  Once again I am crawling around under the van, but a different parking lot this time, so a whole new bunch of people get to listen to me cursing and mumbling to myself.  I can't call it a repair, "cob job" being a better description, but either way I know that exhaust isn't going anywhere until I get home and hack it off.  I hit the road again, trying not to notice that the voltmeter on the dash is not reading it's usual 14 volts......

Form follows function.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Exhaust Not Your Hope

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 8:00 AM

What follows being Part II of a Racer's Final(s) Diary

My route leads me north first and west, before finally picking up Route 81S near Charlottesville.  The miles click by uneventfully on the odometer, with nearly 250 done before I stop to refuel, (the poor old Chevy small block is not terribly fuel efficient fully loaded at 80 mph).  Slowing to a stop on the on-ramp, I hear a metallic grinding sound.  Rounding the corner into the petrol station I hear it again, louder.  I pull up to the pump and immediately begin inspecting the vehicle for the cause.

It doesn't take me long to discover the source of the hideous sound, broken weld on the tailpipe bracket, allowing it to drag on the ground, while part of the muffler hangs precariously on the rear axle.  This is not entirely surprising, as I knew sections of the exhaust were starting to get a little "soft".  I hoped it would hold on until the off-season.  So much for hope.

I gas up and pull to the side of the station.  Glancing up and down the road I realize just how rural an area off of I-81 this really is.  Other than a gas station and a greasy spoon there is nothing but farmland as far as the eye can see.  Oh for just a little bit of urban sprawl right now.

The gas station has a woefully dusty and inadequate selection of repair items consisting of a congealed bottle of radiator stop-leak,  two quarts of a no-name straight 30W oil and a black rubber bungee cord missing one of the metal hooks.  Oh, and some canned meat.  Yes, canned meat.

I know there are two wire coat hangers in the van left over from the pack I had to buy a year ago when I locked the keys in it.  They will have to work until I can find some sort of auto parts store.  Twisting the coat hangers around the tailpipe and through the frame, managing to only burn myself slightly on the pipe, I declare it a 10 mile repair, meaning this will probably get me ten miles farther down the road before the whole rusty mess comes off on the highway, jumps up and spears a nun driving a busload of orphans to the zoo, resulting in a chain reaction accident involving 100 vehicles that has police searching for the owner of a non-descript white van.......

Canned meat, questionable eating, unquestionably useless for repairing exhausts.

Monday, October 26, 2015

200 Miles By Dawn

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 3:45 AM

What follows being Part 1 of A Racer's Final(s) Diary.

My cell phone alarm sounds shrill in the darkness and soon I am overcome by the standard wave of physical revulsion at being awakened when the world is still so absent of light.  This is accompanied not by the usual contempt bred through familiarity of my workaday life, but instead a new apprehension shrouds itself around my heart.  Today I make the 10 hour solo trek southwest to Leeds, Alabama and Barber Motorsports Park whereupon my labors will come to glorious fruition or ignominy.

My 21 year-old, 1-ton extended "creeper" van lies berthed in the driveway fully laden with two-wheel wares, collecting the heavy pre-morning mist and awaiting my call.  This piece of Detroit Iron, the "Heartbeat of America" as it were, (likely manufactured in Mexico and assembled in Canada) has served me well over the last two years hauling myself and motorcycles nearly 25 thousand miles in search of racing glory.  Today another 700 miles will be added to that total.

Thirty minutes after being jolted from restless slumber, my hair still shower damp, the van and I are rolling down the road, loaded to the gills like Okies escaping the Dust Bowl.  Despite the higher risk of fauna in the thoroughfare at these hours, it's still the best time to drive, due to lack of the human element.  In just a few short hours the highways will be overrun with Starbucks drinking, make-up applying, texting idiots swerving all over the place late for work.  I want to get in 200 miles and be well on my way before then.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fun Time Is Over

"If you don't love your work, you damn well better work at something you love." (I think I said that)

Seven months of competition will culminate in two final races at Barber Motorsports Park, Leeds, Alabama this Friday, October 23.  There will be a day of practice prior to sort the bikes and then the final V5 and V6LW races of the year.  That's it.  For all the marbles.  Not finishing is not an option if I want either championship. Winning the races is optional, at least as far as the overall titles go.

This puts a rider in an interesting conundrum.  There would be nothing quite as satisfying, putting the final stamp on a championship season by winning the last race, even though you did not have to.  Or do you play it safe and do just what needs to be done to walk away with the No. 1 plate?  There are arguments to be made for both.  If a guy falls down while fighting for a win and it costs him the championship, he looks like a chump.  If you purposely back off and skate around in 5th place you run the risk of making mistakes because of being off your usual pace, or possibly being taken out by a slower rider with nothing to lose.

I suppose I will go into this thing like I do with any other race, to ride it as well as possible and be ready to capitalize on any opportunities fate may provide.  Fresh in my mind is last year's failure, crashing out while leading the V5 race (read about it here).  In many ways, I do have something to prove.  The only thing I want more than to redeem myself by winning the V5 race at the GNF and beating Joe Ball is to hold the 2015 championship plates in my hands.  As much as it might pain me, I may have to let Joe go to avoid doing my impersonation of Icarus.  Again.

Racing can be the most rewarding, enjoyable activity, but for now the fun must be put aside.  There is a goal to be met, a mark to be made.  It's time to get serious.

The dogs of war gather at my gate to howl, but I am ready.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Parts and Labor, Preparing For War

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. -Sun Tzu

As the time before the WERA Grand National Finals shortens, preparations reach a near fever pitch.  The FZR and EX have been getting the fine tooth comb treatment.  Valve clearances are checked, oil, coolant and brake fluid changed, calipers scrubbed clean, chains cleaned, lubed and adjusted, any bolt not safety-wired is checked for proper torque.  A small flashlight is used for inspecting dark crevices that might never see the light of day, but could be hiding an oil leak.

Both Fox Twin-Clicker remote reservoir shock absorbers have been sent to Thor's Evolution Suspension (one of our sponsors) for refreshing.

Thor re-built the EX shock previously, but has not worked on the FZR, which the previous owner told me was rebuilt less than ten races ago by a "reputable" suspension shop who will remain nameless.  When Thor got the shock apart he discovered that the shock had been poorly rebuilt, the seal head bearing had been installed incorrectly, damaging the PTFE coating on the bearing.  It kills me a big name shop can turn out that kind of shit work on items racers are trusting with their lives.

This is one of the reasons I prefer to deal with Thor, he is a one man show.  I know the guy I am handing my stuff to is the one who will be doing the work, not pawned off on Corey, the ham-fisted apprentice tweaked out on too many Red Bulls swinging a five pound mallet with one hand, vice grips in the other, and cell phone in the other texting his knocked up girlfriend.

Racing teaches us that a competition machine is the sum not only of its parts, but also the labor that goes into making those parts work together and keep them in harmony.  It's one part routine maintenance, two parts massaging and finessing and the rest intuition guided by years of experience.  A motorcycle cared for thusly becomes a weapon.  A weapon to win the war.

FZR shock after rebuild by Thor (you can just make out the logo of the company that did the crappy rebuild on it on the reservoir, got to remember to take off that sticker)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Ravages of Time, Two

A rich past is constructed of great stories.  Listen to any long time motorcyclist, be they racer, long distance pavement hauler or dirt enthusiast and they've got tales to tell.  It's a lifestyle that is vivid with harrowing moments, triumphant successes, camaraderie, solitude, joy and pain.  As long as the wheels are turning, new narratives are being written.  Motorcycles are exceptional vehicles.  They possess the power to transport not only body and mind, but also spirit.

I ran into someone from my not too ancient past recently.  After exchanging semi-awkward pleasantries and the socially mandated questions, the other person asked me, 'You used to race motorcycles, right?'.

When I answered, "Still do.", my standard reply, I got the standard reaction, which is a moment of disbelief mixed with anger, shock and maybe just a hint of realization.  More brazen people will make a comment about killing myself or needing to grow up, while others just utterly fail to understand.  They assume, that like them, we all settle down, procreate, go into debt and get fat on freedom fries.  They expect, feebly demand even, that we choose a book from the shelf already written, instead of crafting our own story.

As this former acquaintance and I parted ways for probably the last time, I realized I was looking at someone for whom the wheels had stopped turning, whose narrative was finished except for the final punctuation, a person who, by choosing to risk nothing had taken the biggest gamble of all.  It made me sad.  It also scared me.

It made me want to go for a ride.  So I did.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Ravages of Time

Time is a bitch.  You are basically fucked either way.  Live a safe, comfortable life doing everything the way you are supposed to do it, and you wind up dead.  Take risks, do things the way you want to do them, and you still wind up dead.

Barring the belief in an afterlife, (a hazy topic well outside the scope of an obscure motorcycle racing blog half hidden in the murky backwaters of internet Dagobah), this really only leaves now and the next few moments that follow (even those could be in question).  We are given an indeterminate amount of time to do with what we will.  Most of us labor under the lie that we always have more time, but in the end, it inevitably runs out sooner than we expect.

For my part, I am glad that I have chosen to spend much of my time riding motorcycles.  

If the laws of physics hold true, energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only change form. Converting the potential and chemical energy of fuel into the kinetic energy of rapid two-wheeled propulsion and then into what we can call 'mirth energy' is surely a worthwhile endeavour.

Take for example the rusted hulk of a dirt bike pictured above.  Before the clock ran out on it's existence it was an energy converting machine, and though motor forever silenced and skeleton rapidly decaying, the joy it created is still out there in some form, part of something larger than itself.

Yeah, motorcycles are pretty cool, and definitely worth the time.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Symphony of Insanity

The days before the Grand National Finals are dragging by, yet passing too quickly.  The demands of real life encroach upon the dreamworld that is racing.  How can I be expected to punch a clock, turn in purchase authorizations or clean the gutters when races need to be won?  Surely a doctor out there would write a prescription reading: "Patient is to avoid trivial bullshit until after the GNF.  This includes work and any dealings with the general public."?  Too much is left to do.  If the devil is in the details, then Ol' Scratch is riding heavily on my shoulders now, cackling sardonically in my ear.  Hours each evening are spent in the garage, the clinking of wrenches and clicking of ratchets keeping time with my soul.  Sometimes I just sit quietly, looking over the race bikes, hoping to imbue speed and reliability to the machines through telepathy and desire.

I feel like a schizophrenic conductor leading an orchestra of madmen in a concerto of crazy.  The music remains the same: dark, sombre, rhythmic and driving like a harsh rain.  Compelling.  The intensity and tempo rise and fall but it is always played affrettando, as if time is running out.  Even in my sleep I can hear the low, throbbing boom and sometimes I wake with my heart racing.  Once before I threw the baton down in a craven attempt to get it to stop, but it continued, weaving and twisting its own way, free of the womb and out of my control.  If I find enough speed I might be able to keep up with the music, and although part of me knows I will never be able to outrun it, it might be fun to try.

Fun indeed.

Can you hear it?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mind Games

I overheard chatter in the Roebling Road paddock earlier this year regarding Turn One.  Racers are talking about going into it "wide open" and "no brakes" as well as "using the front tire to scrub off speed".  Most of what you hear off track can be taken with a grain of salt, and while I have found that motorcycle racing pits tend to be a little bit friendlier and more good-natured than some of the dirt car short-track racing pits I have been present in, there is still a lot of rumor, hearsay and unadulterated bullshit.  Unless someone is stomping the whole class and winning on a regular basis, everything they have to say is suspect, and if they are winning, then doubly so.

Mind-games start early in the weekend, sometimes well before the first practice, many are birthed in the primordial cesspool of the internet.  Guys will bring up your past mechanical issues, crashes and poor finishes, under the guise of friendly banter.  Surely much is well intended, but it also serves the purpose to get under your skin and into your head.  Ask a competitor in any sport and they will tell you if you can mess with your opponent's mind, he's already half beaten.

Many a racer has lost before lining up on the starting grid or passing under the green flag.  You can hear it in their voices as they talk about all the reasons why they are slow, and there are a million of them.  Very rarely does anyone simply own up to the fact that they just couldn't do it that day.  It works the other way as well, many races are won by sheer confidence.  A guy may not have the best equipment or even be the best rider, but if he knows he can win, he can.  The future may be unwritten, but your attitude towards it is definitely the rough draft.

I've always found the best way to shake an opponent's confidence is to simply ride better than them.  Beat a guy a few times and they learn to expect it.  Pre-race shit talking is the purview of those concerned they can't get it done on track.  If guys spent the time working on riding better or improving their bikes that they do running their mouths, they would probably be a hell of a lot faster. 

No excuses here, that is an orange-shirted novice on a dirt bike with a turkey pan strapped to the bottom in front of me.  He beat me.  Of course it turns out he had been a flat track racer for 30 years and the bike was super trick and he stuffed me and and and.........