Worse to Better: AFM 2010 Round 6

I didn’t do race reports for the last two rounds at Thunderhill because frankly I just wanted to forget them. Even though I put in personal best times at round 4, dropping 4 seconds from last year, I was disappointed with my results where anything but top novice in 650P just isn’t good enough. But then round 5 was just a complete disaster- I never made it out on track due to an engine failure. I thought the noise from my engine was a cam-chain issue (which I thought was fixed Friday night at the track), but the ride to the hot-pits was enough to dissuade me of that notion and so I took it to BRG Racing. KC listened to my description and then the bike and with a long face told me to just push it into his truck.

We ordered the parts to rebuild the bottom end right away, but sometimes distributors and dealers get a bit optimistic on their dates and life just seems to conspire against you. I started to wonder if I put my race fairings on my 748 if anyone would notice the trellis frame, single sided swing arm, under tail exhaust, Showa forks, Brembo four pad calipers, wave rotors, forged aluminum Marchesini wheels, or that distinctive dry clutch sound? My 748 is yellow and a twin- just like my SV… so maybe with some fast talking I could pull it off? What? You haven’t seen the new 2011 Hyosung GT650R?? Maybe I could get someone to fab something to get the SV’s M4 exhaust to mount. Of course, once someone took a close look at the tach where it says “Ducati Course” it would be game over, so I kept that as Plan B. :)

Wednesday afternoon before the races, I talked to KC and he told me the bad news- parts were just too late showing up and there just wasn’t enough time to get it back together again. My heart sank as with it my chances for meeting my goals for this year- top novice/top 10 in class for 650P. But then KC offered up “this motor I got in the corner collecting dust. I don’t know anything about it other then it’s completely stock and if you want, I’ll loan it to you for the races.” I guess it probably took me longer then it should of to say yes, but with a little arm twisting KC got me to agree and Friday at 4pm I left BRG with my bike in the back of the truck.

Saturday morning I was outside the front gate of Sears Point (Infineon) Raceway at 5:50. It was cold, and the fog was hanging like a blanket above the track keeping the sun away until almost lunch. Chris and the guys at CT Racing got me a new Pirelli Diablo rear super quick and I was able to get through tech in time to get a full hour on the warmers before first practice. By 2nd practice I was got down to 2:00 laps which wasn’t great, but even worse my times were really inconsistent. I was consistently blowing turn 7 and missing apexes all over the track by 3 or more feet. Basically, I had lost my way around the track and struggled all day looking for turn-in and break markers. My other big concern was that my first flying lap each session was well over 2:10. I’ve always had a problem quickly getting up to speed during races and I know if I ever want to improve my finishing positions I need to be able to put in a decent lap right from the green flag. Our 3rd session was cut short and so we got an extended 4th session after lunch. My times improved, but not enough. I was trying to put on a brave face, but deep inside I was worried that after all this work to get here this weekend I was going to screw it up by riding well below my ability.

Sunday was just as cold, but the fog was a lot lower and the track was severely lacking grip. I welcomed the fog and used it to focus on being smooth and my lines and forget about lap times. All of a sudden I was apexing 2, 3, 3a, 7 and 9 properly and concentrating on my break markers. It was a start and I hoped it would be enough for the races.

Race #3, 650 Twins. I was gridded on the inside which I always hate and so concentrated on getting a good start and planned my attack to try and move more towards center track. I knew Anderson and Gyger were running really well this weekend and worked hard to keep them at bay, but Chris got past on lap two like I was standing still and then Brad was showing me a wheel in almost every corner trying to make a move. He kept the pressure on and I made a mistake in my downshifts into turn 7 and he got past as well. I was able to close up the gap, but at the top of turn 6 we came up on a lapper. Brad went to the outside and I went to the inside which turned out to be a mistake as the other rider changed lines and I had to back off the throttle. Honestly I think either way, Brad had my number in that race. Then on the last lap Dave Sapsis comes blowing by me in turn 9… where did he come from? I was able to fight back and go up the inside in turn 11, we cross and I’m able to out drag race him to the finish line. Long story short, I finished where I started, 25th. I did two 1:56’s, beating my best previous lap by two-tenths, but a slow start (2:02 first lap) and too many 58’s and 59’s meant I gave up numerous positions I made on a good start. It seemed everyone had gotten quite a bit faster since the last round at Sears and I hadn’t. Btw, Dave: Sorry if I seemed like a dick and didn’t wave or give you a thumbs up after the race. I wanted to congratulate Brad on his riding and right when you passed I accidentally hit the kill switch on my own bike.

Race #6, 650 Production. I had basically one goal in this race: take top novice; and that meant I had to beat Stephen Smith (#769) who was two seconds a lap faster then I was in 650 Twins. I had a slightly better grid position this time and I got another really good start off the line. Honestly, the race is a bit of a blur and I’m always amazed by how some people are able to replay the whole race out in their reports turn by turn. There are a few things I do remember:

What? What do you mean I missed the warm up lap?!??!?! I’ve never missed the warm up lap before and I had to pick now of all times to be late. Honestly, it was really difficult all weekend to hear the announcements from where I was pitted in garage 17 and it couldn’t of come at a worse time to bite me. I did a few passes in the hot pits to keep heat in the tires and thanked my lucky stars I recently bought some tire warmers.

The first time Stephen passed me I was sure he was going to completely blow turn 9 and probably crash, but it turns out Stephen is a *daemon* on the brakes into turn 9. Like how the f$%k did he just do that? He passed me twice there on the inside and even when I tried protecting that line I was still almost certain he’d sneak it in under me.

Stephen also got me into the entrance of turn 6. I’m not sure if I wasn’t on the gas hard enough through 5 or backed off too early, but he blew by me like I was standing still. Lucky for me I was able to get right on his tail through the carousel and draft him down the drag strip into 7 where I got him right back. Turn 7 turned out to be one place where my practicing inside lines really paid off, I was able to get him twice here.

Anyways, on lap 6 on the exit of turn 2, Stephen is leading by about a bike length and has a moment and has to roll off. I see my opening and adjust my line to the inside and give it more gas to get past. At this point we’ve each passed the other 3 times and I figure I better get myself a gap right here and now or Stephen is going take me in 9 again on the last lap and that’ll probably be the end of it. Turns out I put my head down and did my best lap ever at Sears, a 1:54.6! The next two laps are the longest of my life as I’m trying to ride as fast as I can, but still take defensive lines to keep Stephen from passing me. Lapped riders are beginning to appear in some real inopportune times and I can only hope that Stephen is having even less luck then I am. Pushing hard, I end up out braking myself into 4 and being afraid of loosing the front, I miss the apex by at least 10 feet and curse at myself for loosing so much time. I stay on the gas longer then I ever have going up into 6 and go to brake, but I only get the lever with the very tips of my fingers- I can’t brake as much as I intended to for fear of the lever slipping off my fingers and so I carefully lean the bike over and hang off as far as I can. Amazed I’m still moving in the right direction, I’m hard on the gas on the exit heading for 7.

It’s the last lap and I know he’s clawed his way back to me. And I know he’s going to try to line me up for a pass in 9 or 11 and so I concentrate on getting a great drive out of the esses and brake as late as possible for 9 and then as hard on the gas as I dare on the exit, through 10 and down into 11. I decide to take a defensive line into 11, hoping that I’ll still be able to get a good drive out on the exit. As I apply the brakes I have a flashback to the last round at Sears when I blew 11 and let Alan Cunningham through when I’ve clearly bottomed out the forks once again and my rear tire is bouncing up and down off the ground like the round rubber thing it is. I ever so slightly let up on the brakes, tip it in and find I haven’t missed the apex by too much. In the corner of my eye I see Stephen’s bike… it’s gonna be close. I get on the gas as soon as I dare and find myself winning (ok, it was 6th place, but it sure felt like a win) by only half of a second! 6th was also good enough for me to get a brief mention in Road Racing World which is always nice!

At the end of the race, I was completely exhausted, but it didn’t keep me from grinning from ear to ear. All my laps were under 2min (even the first) so I finally go the slow start monkey off my back. That was not only the most fun I’ve ever had racing (or just about any time in my life), but the most complete and satisfying race I’ve ever had. Congrats to Stephen for being such a competitor, pushing me to the very end and running a clean race. It was a lot of fun and I hope we can do it again. :)

I had signed up for Formula 4, but frankly I had no where to go but down after that and I was so physically spent from that battle I decided to skip it. Unfortunately, I’ll be out of the country for round 7 so that’s it for me this year, but I’ll be back next year. :)

I really want to thank:
KC, Chad and all the guys at BRG Racing for all their support this year and going over the top to help me get out and race. They always come up big for me and I wouldn’t of made at least two rounds this year without their support. I still can’t fully express my thanks enough for the loaner… glad I was able to put it to good use.

Jim, Dave and Nickie at CRS who have worked tirelessly on my setup and it’s really improved the handling of my bike making it a lot easier to ride. You guys are great!

Chris and the gang at CT Racing for the sticky goodness and his efforts to make sure even us SV guys on 160 DOT’s have amazing tire options which work great at any track!

Jeff & Craig of Viets Performance for always coming through with the parts I need, when I need them. And when they’re not available making sure I’m covered with loaners. Thanks guys!

My buddy Eric for once again lending me his truck all year so I can get my gear to the track and all the times he’s come out and stayed with me at the track just to support me in the pits spinning wrenches and offering riding advice. And the times he’s come to my house to spin wrenches and give advice. Or invited me over to… you get the idea. It’s like having my own personal pit crew/riding coach and I only pay him in Nutter Butters. Wouldn’t be here without you!

And of course my wife Wendy, who loves and supports me though all the highs and lows of my short racing career, even when I spend my weekends at the track or in the garage doing bike things. I don’t know what to say, but thank you for everything and I love you.

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