MONEY ON THE TABLE
AFM round 2, 2013
What’s the worst hand in poker? …The best hand in poker, left un-played.
If you could measure the spirit of a man, like with a scale or some special digital gauge, comparing Friday night’s GoGo to Sunday afternoon’s GoGo would baffle you. Nothing was similar. Round 2 came too slow for me, two months is too long between rounds. Too much time to shift my focus elsewhere – which is what I had done. While I dove back into the ever-changing world of my work after Round 1, the boys tore our bike to pieces. Dannyboy Boyd set himself on a mission to port our RC8R’s heads, Mike set himself on a quest to gather as many RC8R Superbike motor parts as KTM would sell him, and Keith methodically groomed our new steed into a proper race bike. Our plan was to finish this bike build during month-1, then dial it all in by logging track time during month-2. We have different goals this year. Not simply to survive, not simply to play our best with the hand we are dealt. This year we want to play the hand that we create. This year we want to play our best hand…
Oh the best laid plans… Apparently KTM isn’t as “Ready to (road)Race” as their marketing claims they are – they could supply Mike with exactly zero of the superbike parts that he ordered from their list. That’s less than stellar news for our year – finally after two full seasons on KTM’s RC8R we are ready to step up into the world of real horsepower, and we cannot. Our hands are tied. By KTM themselves..! But never surrender right? With our focus still aimed at creating a better hand to play this year, now even more importance lies on Dannyboy’s porting job – which took a few weeks longer than planned, and then Dannyboy ended up leaving CalMoto all together. Holy shit with all the drama between rounds. Maybe two months is not long enough!
Ultimately we went into round-2 with a new bike, yes, but it was a huge unknown. Not even mapped. Other than Keith ripping up a nearby farm road we didn’t even know how it would run. Add in my decision mid-month to change our forks from the White Powers we used at Buttonwillow, to the Ohlins we used last year, and we now know even less about this bike. The last unknown, which remarkably is the biggest one of all, was me – I had logged less than 50 laps on a motorcycle since September 2012. …Still. And due to the ever-changing face of my work, my two moth layover had me hugely distracted from racing. While our opposition was changing tires, making adjustments, and building momentum for round-2 on Friday afternoon, I was at what was effectively my first short film premier.
Wait a minute.. “A what? I thought you were a carpenter” you might ask? Yes this confuses me as well. You could call me lost, or not yet fully evolved. Either way the net result is I was distracted as hell going into this round 2. And that’s exactly why my measure of a man Friday night would resemble nothing of my measure come Sunday.
With remarkably little sleep Friday night I was in a beautifully subdued state for Saturday practice. Typically I’m a bucket of nervous energy at the track but on this day I had no energy for nerves or despair. Keith’s quiet, methodical nature commanded our team focus. Mike’s grounding texts kept the bigger picture in mind. In just one practice we pegged our biggest challenges to the board: Rear tire lifting under braking, front oscillating through the Carousel (turn-6), no confidence entering turns, front felt too high and hard, KLS shifter not working. We adjusted best we could through practice sessions then bowed out of the last session in order to take the forks off. Barry Wressel (KFG Racing) went through our Ohlins forks and found a few things out of spec. That was the good news. The bad news was we’d have just one practice session on Sunday to dial the bike in again before it was time to race!
It’s hard getting used to worse things – like earning less money, becoming less popular, living alone, or growing older. But it’s easy getting used to better things – like your rear tire NOT lifting under braking, your front end NOT oscillating through the Carousel, and finally finding new confidence entering turns again. These new discoveries lifted my spirits. Saturday morning I expected to finish maybe 7th in Sunday’s Open Twins race. Sunday morning I could see a win in the distance. Night, and, day.
OPEN TWINS: We started the race from second on the grid. Looking over at Tiger Boy and offering him thumbs up, like I always do, was actually the first time I had seen him all weekend. Then I looked right and found David Raff. What a cool feeling it is being on the grid of an Open Twins race. We run with the in-lines in the open classes, like GSXR1000s, Yamaha R1s, Hondas and the like – which are markedly stronger, lighter bikes than our twins. But I have to say they have a fraction of the character, and no where near the sound. There is something about feeling the beat of a pulsing twin cylinder motorcycle beside you, who’s sole purpose in life is to eat you. This defines racing for me. These bikes are beasts to ride fast. They’re definitely alive. And they all have mean streaks laced deep in their genetics.
Thanks to our new pre-launch clutch prep practices we came out of the hole strong. Both Tiger Boy and Raff disappeared from my sites half way through first gear. We led I think until the entrance to turn 9 on the second lap. That was no surprise since I had been watching our pit signals. What WAS a surprise was who came past. It was Dave Raff, not Tiger Boy. Although I had zero time at this pace I did not panic. Raff did gap us a few bike lengths straight away but I was confident we wouldn’t lose this race in one lap alone. We fought our way back to his rear tire within a lap or two. I felt comfortable at first, but I did not have much in reserve. Although I have been training on the bicycle quite a lot, there is no substitute for actually racing. As the laps ran up I could feel my arms getting into trouble. My body was great, minus that ever-important bit from my elbows to my finger tips. I could feel the bars fine under hard braking and drastic changes of direction. But for the very subtle fine adjustments, the gentle bar inputs needed mid-turn, I was lost. I could feel nothing. This freaked me out. It took all of my focus, all of my concentration to ride this compromised. On just one run from the Carousel (turn 6) to the exit of turn 7, Raff and I swapped positions three times in a manner more suitable to ice hockey than roadracing. I love racing with Raff. He is a great addition to the Open Twins class. Hugely talented guy on track and big smiles in the pits. Down deep though it’s all a ploy – Raff is a cage fighter disguised as a motorcycle racer.
Our fight went all the way to the last turn of the last lap. Thankfully my confidence was now growing in the front again. Raff made a mistake going into the second-to-last turn (10), which spoiled the pass I was setting up for the exit of that turn. Dam, now we drove out of turn ten with neither of us at an advantage. I put our bike just to his inside as we both flew toward turn – 11. Turn eleven at Sears is a very tight right hander. Very hard braking, bike on it’s side throughout, very hard accelerating coming out. Like a bull in a china shop I pulled our KTM to his inside and made a promise that our bike could now keep – we wouldn’t brake until he did. …And so we didn’t. We won the fight to the apex of turn 11, and we powered out to take the checkered flag and win. What an awesome re-entry to racing. Tracy tells me she nearly fell off the pit wall as she screamed and jumped with last lap excitement!
FORMULA PACIFIC: Although we’d come up to speed a lot quicker than I expected, I now faced two separate challenges. One – in saying we “came up to speed” I refer to Open Twins speed, not Formula Pacific speed. FP is a different planet. Two – my forearms promised me one thing after the Open Twins race – I wouldn’t feel a thing for the rest of Sunday. This destroyed my confidence to go faster still, but oddly it did not unsettle me. Keith was calm, I was calm, Alex was calm. We were gridded pretty far back in the pack, I think maybe 14 or 15th. Being on the grid surrounded by the entire FP field is a lot like sitting center stage among a swarming pack of snarling dogs about to brawl. No one is your friend, especially the guys who offer you a friendly nod. Trust me they want to see you ride off into the weeds as much as anyone else in that pack. The flag dropped and we nailed another start. Tiger Boy flew out of our view, Harley Barnes, and others with them. I think we made it to seventh by turn 2. From there it was a race to survive. The fastest of the fast pretty much left us in a lap. They were the first group. Then there was us, with one bike in front of us – like a dangling carrot for us to chase. I had no idea who this bike was at the time but as it turns out it was our measure from last year – Martin Szwarc. At our best last year we could match Martin’s pace, but we rarely beat him. In Sunday’s race he was the bike almost out of sight, but not going away anymore. I kept at it. I rode best I could and made no mistakes. It was a ten lap race and by lap 8 he was drawing closer to us. Then Joey Pascarella came by us going into the Carousel. I fought back a bit but he was faster. Good company to keep though. Later I learned he was the long haired freak who won the Daytona 200 in 2012. We will get faster, the next fight will be intense. Joey made minced meat out of Szwarc just ahead of us, and on the last lap we had made it all the way up to Martin’s rear tire. Very good signs of things to come..
OPEN GP: It’s not my idea running three races this year. It’s Alex’s. Truth be told after two races I am pretty well spent. That’s how I felt going into this weekend – I’d rather not do it. Surprisingly though, that’s not how I felt coming out of it. There’s no substitute for track time, and better than that there’s no substitute for race time. Open GP isn’t as populated as FP, but it’s still intense. We nailed our third start of the weekend, making it all the way to 5th by turn 2. Jason Lauritzen was just ahead of us in the pack on his Honda. Slowly the leaders left the two of us but it took a few laps. Jason would gap us, I would work us back to him. Our lap times were similar. Our riding was not. Jason drove out of turns better than us. He got the power down earlier. On top of that his bike had more legs. But lap after lap we’d make our way back to him. On the brakes, through transitions, corner entry – that’s how we stayed with him. I didn’t learn this until later but all this time Szwarc was behind us, by a few positions. Maybe it’s better I didn’t know. My arms gave out again but by now I’d figured my way around it. We turned our fastest lap near the end of the race. Again my confidence was building. The better I feel about the front, the readier I am to fight. Without a good nose you have no confidence out there. Without confidence you back down from fights. On this day I was not backing down from fights. I chased Jason throughout the last lap – we got closer and closer still. Heading through turn ten on the last lap Jason glanced back over his shoulder. Right then I knew we had him. Heading toward turn 11, the last turn of the race, he dove to the inside – blocking my line to pass him. Jason didn’t know this but I wasn’t actually close enough to out-brake him into that turn. We didn’t have a chance to pass him – until he blocked that line going in. I adjusted our line way to the outside and broke late as I could. Jason worked real hard to stop by the apex but he shot past it. This was perfect for us. From far outside I stopped our bike, turned in late and drove up hard on his inside. We had him beat, our bike was a nose in front of his. With Jason to our outside now, between us and the NASCAR barrier wall, we both powered toward the finish line – side by side. I made sure to leave him room to clear the wall as I timed our up-shifts early enough to keep our bike’s nose from lifting too high. But our shifts weren’t clean enough. Without that dam KLS shifter working right all our shifts had to be manual, which likely cost us the edge we needed to make it to the line first. Jason’s bike powered it’s nose just equal to ours in our drag race to the finish. Then his Honda edged us out just before the line. Dam. Beaten again. …but not by much this time.
Later in the afternoon I was told that we would be docked a lap for a mistake I apparently made in the Open Twins race. I have no memory of this happening but a corner worker made the call to race control that I passed someone during a yellow flag situation. Obviously no bikes or corner workers were on track, but something must have been going on somewhere that I was not aware of. I have the utmost respect for corner workers – they are all my friends. If a call was put in about me passing someone under a yellow flag situation, then that’s what happened. We were stripped of the win and listed as finishing 7th. I asked for details about the incident but race control couldn’t give me much at the time I asked. Whatever, if I did it I did it, I will not file an appeal. And now there will be more emphasis put on winning everything we can..
I feel rejuvenated. More confident. Ready to fight. We will be faster this year than last. Than the one before as well. Dannyboy’s porting job creates a difference in our bike. I am calmer, more calculated. We are making our own suspension/chassis decisions now and this is working better for us. Mike got us a modified airbox this year which makes a difference high in the revs. I am really starting to gel with these Michelins. I am adjusting my riding style to get up on the fat part of the tire on drives – which seems to suit these Michelins better. These are exciting times. I can’t wait to ride again.
We will leave no money on the table this year.