Race Report May, 2002

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By Jim Race, AFM #610

You might want to get comfy. Grab a beverage or something. I got really long winded with this... My apologies if it is incredibly boring. I likely write these so I can remember what happened later. It's a stream of consciousness thing....

Practice Day

Whee! Back to the track under competitive conditions. It's been some time, and although I'd done a couple of seemingly good track days, I was wondering if I was up to the task. Unfortunately, the last track day I did temporarily sidelined my bike. Serious bummer, as I'd been feeling very comfortable on it. Those track days told me I could ride fast, but was I healed enough from last year's car crash to ride competitively? I didn't know.

Mike Tsao again came to the rescue. I'd borrowed Mikes bike three times before. Once for a track day at Thunderhill, once for the last 2001 race at Buttonwillow, and once for the last 2001 Sears Point race. At TH I simply loved it. Same for BW, even though I crashed on the last lap in T2 through every fault of my own. Unfortunately, when I borrowed it for the 2001 Sears event I never got it out on track. I got sick, and learned nothing about its SP manners.

I didn't get the bike from Mike until Thursday night, and when I got it home late that night I was a bit scared. It had sat outside (albeit under some plastic) since last October, and it was evident. I did however make sure it at least "ran", even if pretty roughly. I stopped monkeying with getting it smooth when Catherine gave me the evil eye (rightly so) for running the bike in the garage past midnight. Being tired already, though, I opted to tackle it Friday. In retrospect that may have been an unwise decision.

Friday I went to work, and when I dropped home for lunch a more studied twice-over made me realize I needed to see if my boss would be willing to let me sneak out earlier than I asked for. Being a fellow rider he was cool (even came by the track Saturday!) and let me loose. I spent the next several hours polishing the swingarm and easing the spider egg sacs out of the nooks, crannies and airbox. After my comments on the 250 Production list about "the need for fenders" I found myself in a pinch. Mike's bike didn't have one (I put mine on his bike last race) and all I had was one I'd borrowed from Doug Adler to make a mold with. It was crusty with foam, resin and generally very sketchy. Undaunted and a bit oblivious, I installed it anyway.

Saturday morning was bright and clear, even warm. Arriving at the track through the usual Hwy. 37 tule fog, the track was a haven of sunshine. I was feeling very relaxed and was a bit surprised by that. Charles and Sara (sp?) helped me with my extra gear over to tech (first race day) and I breezed (kinda) through.

While in the line for tech though, I noticed a pressurized "pimple" on the sidewall of the front tire. Heading back to my pit I stopped by and Terry at Sporttire recognized a problem and graciously offered a free replacement. Talk about customer service. Amazing. He also told me that was a first for the GT501s and he really wanted to get that tire back to Dunlop for inspection.

When I was at Sears on April 2nd for a Keigwins day on my bike everything seemed great. The front end felt planted like never before and I was making great time and feeling very, very relaxed and confident through my nemesis, the Carousel. Riding Mike's bike was the exact opposite. At that April track day I had briefly ridden Doug Adler's bike, and it was pogoing there like a demon. Mike's bike was worse. At the same track day, Doug rode mine and said it was great through there. Crap. I hate that turn again.

Being cheap, I opted to run the first two sessions on the GT501s that were on the bike, and had been since early 2001. Not very smart on my part, since I only needed to shell out the cash for a new rear. After a serious pucker moment in four, I pulled the wheels off and hustled them over to get replaced. Since lunch was coming I knew I could do it and not miss a session. I was also thinking that maybe a decent set of tires would help lessen the troubles in the Carousel. Why? I dunno. I certainly wasn't right.

After taking it easy for a few laps to scrub in the tires, I brought the speed up. The last lap before the end of the session I was at full steam leaned over in turn 9 when all hell broke loose. Power seemed to die, the front end juddered, the rear started wiggling, and a loud unworldly noise emanated from the bike. My first thought was "Shit, I just blew up a borrowed bike!". This was immediately followed by "Holy Shit, I'm going to crash in turn nine!!!". I'm not sure how I kept it together, but I did. The rapid apparent loss of power was instead caused by severe plastic braking (<-- not a typo) and luckily did not spit me into the bales. I pulled the bike well off track in a safe spot. As I was getting to that spot I realized the bike was still running. WTF?

I stopped, killed the engine and looked around the bike. Peering over the fairing I saw quite an unusual sight. Bike speaks with forked tongue. The third-hand fender had broken its front mounting supports. Combine with the head wind going down the hill into T9 the wind speed was likely 110+ mph. Once they broke, the front of the fender was pushed hard enough against the front tire to instantly melt a 10 inch long "V" shaped hole in it. I'm not sure of the physics involved, but I can tell you it was a very effective brake. All the damage occurred in less than a second or so. I theorize that once the speed declined the wind pressure eased off and the damage stopped. Of course, who knows....

I sat there and watched the last of group 2 run through T9, then limped back to the pits. I was also chuckling to myself at the whole situation with the fender. Earlier in the month I had publicly gotten up-in-arms about 250P racers running without a fender. I intimated that I'd complain about it. Some people had read "protest" into what I said. Walking the pits on Saturday morning I noticed that most all of the racers, some of them top 10, had fenders back on. I felt then that I had made my point, and frankly was now feeling like some sort of fender "karma" was visiting me.

Still amused, I once again removed the front wheel to get the damaged part off. Since practice doesn't care if the bike had a fender, neither did I. I had offers of a spare from both John Anner and Adam F., so I knew I'd be set for raceday.

The last session of the day was the only real fun one. I found myself spending 10 laps or so behind Lisa "Maz". I'd chase her down in the slow bits, only to watch her run away. Over and over. It was a hoot. At one point an unknown red VTR rider got between us and I eventually pulled in, pretty pooped. Back home with Dick and Lisa and to my own bed before midnight. Weather forecasters predicting morning drizzle on the late news.

250 Production race

Sunday morning low clouds. Back through tech, but much simpler without the leathers. Since I had the opportunity to study Lisa for 10 laps, we decided she could do the the same to me in the morning warm up. Study me she did, and came around with two laps left to stay in front. As she was passing me I was yelling (encouraging words) in my helmet at her. Lisa has gotten faster, a worthy target. It seems only fair, since I was one of hers last year.

Time to go. Suit up early during race 6 and relax in a chair with my earplugs in tight. Just visualizing the track. Because I have no points and am no "KFG", I'm gridded right near the back in 45th, outside of row 10. Try and remember how to "start". I've always been good with starts, and have been passing my secret around to a few others this weekend. Now I have to actually do it again.

Out for the warm up lap, and everyone seems to be putting around so I pass some folks until I have a clearish bit of track to go fast on. Back to the grid, and I find my number. Chuck Boatwright is right behind me in row 11, and I turned around to give him the big "thumbs up". Board up, board sideways, rev to 10k and Green! Nail it, mini-wheelies in 2nd and 3rd as I stay on the outside and fly past three or more rows, out in the dirty part of turn 1. Hard on the brakes into 2, slot into the inside and 3rd gear to 4th heading to T3 passing a couple more bikes. Still tightly bunched up, over 3a and a waving yellow in 4. Dust still flying and bikes bunching up I see Val down outside of 4. Back hard on the gas and a long, long race ensues. I was likely up to 25th or so place. Now comes my usual giving back those places I gained on the start. Dang it. After four or so laps there is a large 50+ yd. gap to the racers in front of me and I'm steadily losing ground. Each time I come through T7 I see a fright train behind me in my peripheral vision. Yes, I've been here before...

I'm feeling pretty quick except for in 2, 6 and 11. But 6 is killing me, worse than usual. And it's getting worse the faster I go. On lap 6 the front end is pogoing towards the outside of the corner an inch a bounce. On lap 7, the white flag lap, it's even worse. Praying my way through a corner is not my usual style. Matt Sheffield has been showing me wheels 3 or 4 times, but never quite being in position. I also know there are others there. I can hear them right on my ass. Riding with a stock motor can be a pain, because even mild, small errors are amplified. I make a lot of mild, small mistakes in this race. I miss my bike for both its motor and its handling.

On the last lap, Rick Cramer #778 comes around me somewhere. I know Matt is still there, but I put my head down and just hope I don't screw up anymore. In the end, I make it over. I'm sure he was right behind me.

The race was fun, but I was not confident I could go any faster in the carousel without losing the front end. I kept thinking about Guy, and his trip into the tire barrier the day before. I opted not to crash Mike's bike.

The rest of the afternoon was a flurry of packing. Everyone wanted to get out of Dodge quick-style. I wanted to at least watch the 250SB race, but packing is packing.

Long drive home, shower, relax and sweat out adrenaline.

All in all a good weekend, and a lot of fun to be back. I don't want to race again without my bike. I think with my limited seat time in race circumstances I'm not yet good enough (or smart enough) to overcome the subtle and not so subtle differences between machines.