Holy shit. My right hand is 50% right now, my left shoulder feels like someone hit me with a 16lb sledge hammer, my hip is bludgeoned bloody and my elbow feels like broken glass. What did I do to deserve this abuse. I am a racer.
Today Dave Stanton, a friend, a champion, a local racing legend, is in surgery fighting for the rest of his life. I know what it’s like staring up from your back at machines beeping, tubes sticking out all over you, grim looking doctors staring down at you talking about your back with your mother in the background. . . Those types of days are like chapter markers in a big book called YOUR LIFE. I wish you the best and then some Dave.
Racing can be terribly rude. Kind of like your English teacher back in grade school – if you do your homework you get a gold star, if you don’t your mother gets called in to the principle’s office. Next thing you know you’re hiding under your bed that night fearfully awaiting the unmistakable sound of your Dad’s car driving up after his hard day at the office – which is about to be taken out on your ass. Just like those zero tolerance days back then, racing days are no different. I had an inkling in round 2 at Sears that our clutch might be in jeopardy. That, or our shifter was making false up-shifts. Either way something was wrong, but we addressed neither of the two during our break between rounds. So, first practice Saturday of round 3 we were right back where we were in round 2 – something is wrong. By mid-way through our second session I confirmed it was our clutch slipping, by shifting up to top gear and holding the throttle wide open as we climbed the big hill leading to turn 9. It slipped and vibrated like crazy. I pulled off next lap and Keith immediately tore into our RC8R. We had ordered new clutch plates just in case, but our problem wasn’t warn clutch plates at all – it was a worn clutch. Like, the entire aluminum clutch basket and assembly was worn to hell and back again. Just then Keith looked up at me almost as if to say, “Is that your English teacher I hear calling your Mom in the background?”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhk. Our entire day of practice was instantly doomed – and that was our best case scenario. Worst case was we had no backup clutch even way back at the shop. And so we drove, and drove, through the mid-day boiling hot desert heat – all the way back to the shop to make our date with destiny. This drive sounds agonizing to you right? Makes you wonder WTF, were we pushing the van from the bumper or something? No, the van drove fine, but my van has no AC. In fact it has NEVER HAD AC, even since the days where little Matthew was kept alive via a shop-vac hose I used to clip to the rear view mirror to keep boiling hot air blowing on him for hours at a time. Oh my God the abuse!
To top that off Keith, who drove the first leg, has some sort of issue about driving with the windows open. Doesn’t happen, not on his watch anyway. So we baked our way back to Livermore. Thankfully a Sutter Slipper clutch was waiting there for us – it had come with this RC8R new. Keith installed it and off we went back to absolutely nowhere in the middle of nothing – Thunderhill Raceway. We got back to the track just in time to have missed everything but Alex’s great cooking. Shyitt, another day of practice shot completely to hell…
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate entering a race without practice, without confidence, without having a solid plan under my belt? Well I do. But on this particular day I had even less confidence. In the morning’s warmup session, which I had dedicated to learning the new clutch, I actually went off track and crashed because of it. We only had a few laps of Sunday warmup, which is normal in the AFM, so while I started slow with the new clutch, I kind of had to rush “taking it easy.” After a few slower laps with it I turned up the heat into turn ten. Under hard braking the rear locked up way more than our Yoyodyne Slipper clutch does – which sent our bike sliding sideways as I turned in. I recovered from the slide fine by pulling the clutch lever in, but there was no way I could make the turn now so I went wide a rode off into the dirt. Normally this would not present a problem but in a recent push to “improve” Thunderhill Raceway, they did away with all the runoff room and installed a pretty concrete wall. I stayed with it long as I could, which got us all the way down to about 20mph, then I ditched it before hitting the wall. Bike barely had a scratch, in fact no one could tell it even hit the ground when I got back to our pit. But my confidence had a blemish on it the size of a watermelon. I didn’t know our new clutch at all.
As we gridded up for the Open Twins race I asked the grid marshal if I could start from the back, instead of our proper grid position. I did not know what to expect with this new clutch. Who knows maybe it would even make me stall the bike on the line and we’d get hit from behind. I didn’t know and I didn’t want to find out the hard way – so I pulled us to the back row and waited for the flag to drop (which caused some confusion up in the commentary box during the first lap of our race, which you will hear when you watch the race below). As it turns out this clutch did the opposite to making our bike stall on the line. Instead it only gently got us going. Very soft in nature, it drags a lot, which is odd considering how much it slows the rear down under braking. Anyway we made it through a few places off the start, then a few more out of turn one and into turn two. That put us just outside of David Raff as we rode around 2. I like David, I trust him, he’s a great rider. I leaned us right around the outside of his nose through turn 2 and headed away with the lead for as long as we could hold it. …Problem with this was that good ole racing ingredient which we’ve all come to know and love – horsepower. We have a little, our competition has a lot. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try your best anyway, which is exactly what would define this race. The front straight at Thunderhill is massive. Very long, very fast, and very difficult to keep in front of a bike that’s faster than yours. I could have weaved us back and forth like they do in Formula 1, but that would have gotten the principle’s office on the line with my mom again. WTF. Tiger shot by on the front straight and suddenly the race turned from running, to chasing. That worked out pretty well though because with such little practice I was riding way out of sync. It wasn’t until Formula Pacific, later in the afternoon, that I even figured out what gear to be in and where considering the sprocket changes we had made the night before. So it was good to follow Tigerboy for a few laps. It actually calmed me down quite a bit and let me find a rhythm. Once I found that rhythm he started getting really big in our windscreen. Not on the straights mind you, more where he typically does – entering turns, and flowing through turns. Tigerboy works with coaches all the time, and apparently with some top shelf mechanics as well. I like the boy and I want to see him reach his goals. But at that moment, on that day, I was very happy that he hadn’t yet. We worked our way into a plan to pass him in a timely place that would give us a gap that he couldn’t close up once back on the front straight again. But dammit it didn’t pan out that way. Tigerboy made a slight mistake going into turn 9 on the 4th lap which put us past him through there and out. Dam I didn’t want that. With such little time between where we were then, and the back straight, I knew he’d just motor by us toward 14, which he did of course. This brought us to the last lap, where I finally did get to execute my plan. I wanted to shake him up going through the Cyclone. Maybe ruffle his tiger stripes, get him off line so we could run away from him in the back section on the last lap. If you watch the video below you will catch on just like the race commentators do. My idea was that one run each, through turn 6, 8, 9, and 14, would give us enough of a gap to hold him off to the finish line. But first we’d have to get passed him through the Cyclone, which is one scary place to make a pass..
We had momentum on our side, plus I know he could hear us back there. We both broke hard entering the Cyclone, our front tire about a wheel off his rear, and he made the slightest mistake going in. Not enough to cause a problem, but just enough to hurt his rhythm. I struck at the opening and put our bike up his outside heading down the epically steep exit down the hill and out. This put us on the outside line at the bottom of the hill – a hard and long right hander, which is a longer and slower way around the turn but it also put us all over the nose of his Ducati – which took up track-space that he desperately wanted. It’s not my style to take the track out from under my competitor, no matter how much I hate him and I don’t even hate Tigerboy, so I left him plenty of track to survive on, but none to flourish on. This put us in the lead through turn 6, heading toward 7, and toward all the rest of the ideal sections of track which I planned to use to our advantage in our desperate flee to the finish line. I can’t say I nailed any of those turns, with all the crap that went on Saturday I was about half ready to race, but we did hit them good enough to carry out the plan. The best test would be the run up the back straight. If Tigerboy’s bike motored by us there, no way had we built enough gap. But if he didn’t, we still have a chance. I broke late for the last two turns – 14 and 15, and never saw a stripe of Tigerboy’s bike. We did it, I thought, but there was still one challenge left to overcome before we’d reach the flag..
Enter… Dannyboy Boyd – the evil lapper from hell. Wait a minute you say, “I thought Dannyboy was our race team manager?” Well he was, you are right, but not anymore. Now he’s taking steroids, along with bottles upon bottles of “make me faster pills” as he chases his dream to race his Ducati 848 Evo in MotoGP next year. …Ok he’s not. But he is a racer now, and he does run Open Twins with us as a novice. And we, quite unfortunately actually, were about to lap him in what is literally the most critical turn at Thunderhill – the last right hander which leads to the front straight. FFFFFuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh! Why, of all the places, and of all the times, does this have to happen HERE!
I faced two choices going into that first right, go under Dannyboy at the crown of our line between the two arcing right handers, or go around his outside. Poor Dannyboy, I didn’t have the heart to stuff it up his inside. He’d still be disinfecting his leathers if I had, plus he would have gone off track. I know this. I chose his outside instead. In order to make this work I had to adjust our speed and our line, twice, rolling out of the throttle before we made a clear shot to the final apex. This was devastating to our drive, it put us too low in the revs, below any real grunt, but too high in the revs to downshift. Still though, if Dannyboy stayed on the racing line, which is almost impossible not to do there, we would be ok because Tigerboy would have to make an adjustment and go off the racing line in order to pass Dannyboy on his inside, which would ruin his drive out on to the front straight as well. I tucked in tight as I could, resisted the temptation to weave across the track to keep us ahead, and waited my way through three of the longest upshifts in recent memory. Somehow Dannyboy exited that last turn so far inside of the racing line that Tigerboy’s drive wasn’t hindered at all. Only ours was, but we were still ahead and the checkered flag was rapidly nearing.
What happens next you ask? Maybe you should watch the video, I hate to spoil it
In case you can’t watch the video, Tigerboy’s Ducati ate us for dinner just before the finish line, but it wasn’t as clear a cut as that. At Thunderhill they throw the checkered flag about fifty yards before the actual finish line. The actual finish line is perilously close, actually beyond, the braking point for turn 1, which at that point in time you are heading towards at the absolute top speed of your motorcycle. Tigerboy shy’d away from the actual finish line. He backed out of the throttle at the flag, not the finish line, which shot us back up to him at full throttle with just millimeters left to go in the race. Oh my hell it was close at the finish. I think just two hundredths of a second separated us, but unfortunately they were the proper hundredths. He did beat us to the line, I could tell from inside the bubble. Shit that was exciting though – one of the true definitions of why we race.
Now, on to the cool-down lap. It used to be customary in roadracing to offer your hand in congratulations to your competitor, after a great battle, whether he beat you or you beat him. It was an act of acknowledging an epic fight, the respect, and the accomplishment of another racer. I say it “was” because I just banned myself from ever offering this gesture to any type of feline again. Call me mean and heartless if you need to judge me, but more than just my ass is killing me right now.
As we traveled through turn 2, after the checkered flag and on the cool-down lap, I extended my left hand out toward Tigerboy who was on our inside. He struggled to reach my hand, likely because he would have had to use his throttle hand to reach my left hand (hold the clutch in when you hi-five), so after repeated attempts I aborted the congratulatory efforts with an idea to try again on the following straight. Once out of turn 2 and on the straight between 2 and 3 I slightly stood on my pegs and extended my left hand again even farther outward. With my right hand still on the throttle I maintained pace, rode straight, and waited with my left hand extended outward. Finally, I am sure unintentionally, came not actually Tigerboy’s hand but instead a large freight train disguised as Tigerboy’s bike. That train hit our bike’s left side so hard that it broke our left bar off, turned our front wheel violently to the right, and slammed me and our RC8R violently to the ground in a painful display of unfortunate misjudgement. Thank God my left hand was not on the bar at the time of impact, for sure it would be broken now too. Also thank God Tigerboy hit our bike while going fast enough to be out of the way as I fell to the ground. Could have been ugly landing on his bike. Instead he was long gone, and I was left to smash the pavement all by myself like I’d just been thrown out of an airplane.
My right hand got smashed on the knuckles my left shoulder hit the deck hard my right elbow couldn’t extend straight for days my helmet got crashed and my left hip is still sorely abused and bludgeoned. Our bike was tore up too. Could have been the end of the day right there. Arguably, should have been the end of our day right there. But Keith got the bike back in order pretty quick, and four Tylenol calmed the inflammation of my body. When they called Formula Pacific I saw little reason to stay parked. After all Formula Pacific is a great place to learn to go faster. And we’d come a very long way to end our weekend with just a few practice laps and one Open Twins race. Having said all that we did collect some great data out there in FP, I am glad we ran it. I worked on better places to shift, different gears to carry through different sections, and paid close attention to how our bike was behaving. Still being off-speed we were in no battles to speak of so it was time to do some homework. Our bike is turning in well, changing direction freely, but once leaned over it wants to turn too much. It “over”steers. It wants to turn a lot while I only want to turn a little. This is dangerous when pushing hard. When you lose the front tire with a bike behaving like this you get less warning before it falls. My mistake here was not paying attention to my experience. I pushed hard anyway, because I saw Martin up ahead – getting closer and closer as the race went on. Truth be told I don’t even know Martin. But there he was and I wanted to beat him, so I pushed. I went into turn six hardest of the weekend, turned the bike past the apex and cracked the throttle to start my drive – the front tire went away and put us on the ground. We ended up way out on the dirt, deep past the exit area of turn 6 – where typically you end up when you lose the rear tire. Strange. Not that I am complaining, trust me I’d rather low-side than hi-side, but it’s strange to lose the front after an apex. I think it’s the over-steering trait that our bike has in it’s current setup. Anyway, that was the weekend. The radiator leaked at that point and my body was shot.
Where do we go from here? Same place we were aimed going into this weekend. We are not even close to this bike’s potential as far as chassis setup, and I am not riding close to my potential as far as what is possible for me. Yes it is annoying as hell racing a motorcycle with such a horsepower deficit, but it is also quite rewarding being able to fight with bikes that are leaps and bounds faster than our own. If I were anyone near us as far as lap times, I would despise seeing our bike at the track. So here’s to seeing our bike at the track again in round 4.