This being my very first year racing, I started this year with a simple goal- finish in the top 50% in 650 Production. I honestly didn’t know how realistic that would be- how many people would run in the class and how fast would they be? The good news was that after 6 rounds, I had points in 3 races (two DNS’s due to mechanicals and skipping the first round at Buttonwillow) which put me in the top 50% and with a two point lead for top novice in class. The bad news was that my motor was toast and I didn’t have the money/time to fix it before the last round.
But my buddy Eric took a big risk and offered to lend me his bike (I crashed one of his bikes last year at a track day) so I could race the final round at Sears Point. We spent 3 full days prepping his completely stock SV650 to make it AFM legal and ready for me to race. We ended up running out of time the Sunday before the races, so Friday night my other friend Gerald and I finished prepping the bike at the track so I could pass tech inspection in the morning.
Saturday morning, the weather was perfect and after explaining that yes, the bike still had the original drive chain & sprockets (now 10 years old!) I got through tech without any problems. I went out for first morning practice- my first time riding the bike, and immediately discovered that there was something wrong with the motor. The motor didn’t have any power above 5K RPM’s or so (I don’t really know since the bike doesn’t have a tach or speedo) and stuttered at high revs. As I came off track at the end of the session, I got lucky and ran into K.C. who has helped me so many times before this year. K.C. told me to pull the spark plugs and bring them by so he could diagnose the issue.
Long story short, Gerald and I took K.C.’s advice (clean the main jets) and the motor ran great! I had lost one of my practice sessions and got back to trying to find my groove on track with the new bike. While the bike felt great, I was having a lot of problems with the stock gearing which is designed for good fuel mileage at highway speeds and not for racing. The result was I was having a lot of problems with the exits of turns 9 & 11- two very important corners for a good lap time. By the end of practice, my best lap was a 2:02… not great by any means, but decent for practice I guess. My big problem though was consistency- my lap times were all over the place.
I had signed up to race Clubman Lightweight on Saturday, but my race got postponed until Sunday morning. Morning practice was cut short and I was the second race. Due to my points earlier in the season, I was gridded on the front row in 3rd place. I was a bit concerned about the starts- the bike doesn’t have a tach, the gearing is really tall and the clutch has a very short engagement range all of which doesn’t bode well for getting a great launch off the line.
As the 1-board went sideways I brought up the revs and leaned forward over the front end… dragging the clutch and waiting for the green flag… GO!
Some how I got the holeshot and leaped to the front, a whole bike length in front of Frank who was on pole. I couldn’t believe it! I was so happy to have made the perfect start that I completely lost focus of the little things… ya know, like shifting into 3rd gear and turning in at the right time. Stupid novice mistake. As two other riders blew by me on the outside up the hill into turn 2, I realized I had made a big mistake and tried to refocus. I had a good battle for a few laps with Frank Shermon (#825) again, but he made a great pass on me on the outside of turn 4 and left me like a sack of potatoes on the side of the road… I just didn’t have the pace to keep up. I ended up doing a best of 2:00 and finished in 6th place- not great, but a good warm up I guess.
Next race was 650 Twins. Most of the people here are much better riders then I am and on better bikes so my goal was simple: use the track time as practice for 650 Production and don’t finish last. I ended up finishing 26 out of 33 starters (6 who DNF’d) and doing a career best 1:57 trying to chase down faster riders then myself, but I still wasn’t consistent. I had finally figured out T9 & 11 (carry more corner speed and use the higher gear), but now I was carrying more speed between turns 1, 2 & 3 and bouncing off the rev limiter. Unfortunately, the gearing didn’t allow me to upshift because then I’d lug the motor on the exits of turns 2 & 3.
My final race was 650 Production- the one that matters. The good news was that I was the only novice entered this round so I had basically clinched top novice in class by default. Not the most satisfying way to “win” that, so I concentrated on finishing the highest I could in the race. I got an OK start and while the leaders ran off at the front I found myself in a battle mid-pack still having problems running out of motor up the hill into turn 2 and then on the short straight before turn 3.
After a couple of laps I found myself battling a rider I hadn’t seen before on the 650P grid- someone with blue ACT leathers and apparently sponsored by “Catalyst Reaction” since that was what was written on them. It ended up being a good battle between the two of us for most of the race, with the other rider showing me a wheel in various corners and taking advantage of any error I made (like going too deep into turn 7). But I was able to pass him back on the brakes into 9 and later on the exit of 9 when he went wide. At that point there was only 2 laps to go and I put my head down, concentrated on my brake and turn in points and put down my best lap ever- a 1:56.4! As I came around turn 11 to start the final lap I looked behind me to see how close he was and I saw a bike farther back- looked like I gotten a decent lead so I made sure to hit all my marks and not let him close back in.
Another strong lap and I was stoked to take the checker ahead of the other rider after such a long and hard battle. I looked behind me on the cool down lap to give him a thumbs up for such a great ride and fun race and he wasn’t there! The other rider I had seen in turn 11 the previous lap was running a different wave in the race. I had no idea what happened to him as I never saw anyone crash or yellow flags and afterwords I asked Gerald and Wendy if they saw what happened to him, but they say he just disappeared towards the end of the race.
After the race, I looked at the posted race results and looked at the DNF’s and found my mystery rider: Dave Moss- who does all my suspension work. In retrospect I guess I should of known that when I saw Catalyst Reaction on his leathers (duh), but I guess I was too busy trying to figure out how to pass him back then to think who he was! Anyways, I found Dave and found out the bad news- he had run out of gas. :( I was glad it wasn’t serious, but sad that he wasn’t able to battle me until the end- I had the most fun racing in my short career while it lasted! Hopefully next year Dave will have his bike properly setup and we can go again!
Anyways, I finished 6th place in the race and 7th overall out of 19 riders which was good enough for top novice in class and blowing away my goal of making the top 50%! More importantly, I’ve consistently gotten faster all year- dropping 12 seconds at Sears and 6 at Thunderhill. I can’t say I’m fast yet, but I’ve made big strides this year while battling some major adversity.
Now that the season is over, I’m already excited about next year. It’s hard to put into mere words what my first year racing in the AFM has meant to me, but it’s fair to say it’s not an experience I’ll ever forget. Racing has taught me a lot of good life lessons- setting goals, over coming big obstacles and most of all about what great friends I have.
There have been a lot of people who have helped me this year, but a few have stood out above the rest that I’d especially like to thank:
- Dave, Jim & Nickie @ Catalyst Reaction for their advice and help all year getting my suspension dialed in
- K.C. @ BRG Racing for helping me all year with one mechanical problem after another
- My buddy Eric for his advice, support and litterally wrenching on my bike for days on end at home and the track- seriously dude, I couldn’t of done it without you!
- And of course, my wife Wendy for supporting my crazy ambition to start racing. I love you!