Saturday, November 16, 2013

Masters of the Mountains Round 6: 2013 Season Finale

So this was it.  The last race of the season.  At the previous round, I locked up the Middleweight Superstock championship (which was awesome), but today, given I had a mechanical DNF in Round 2 and a crash in Round 3, I didn’t really have a chance at winning the King of the Mountain-GTU championship.  I was 13 points behind Scott Decker, so mathematically I had a chance, but it would mean that he would either have to  1)not show up or 2)have a problem and finish last—oh, and option 2 would only work if we had a record number of racers show up for the race.  So, really, he’d have to not show up.  But, he did.  So, with any sort of championship hopes flattened my focus shifted entirely to finishing the season on a high and winning the race.  

Also, Chad was back for this round; so, after I blew it in Round 5 with a bad call on a suspension setup, I was looking forward to racing him.  I’m usually pretty chill during the last round of the season and just want to get through it uninjured so I can be ready for snowboard season, but yeah, this time, I was totally fired up and wanted to race.  And race hard.   

I also had the addition of my dad to the crew this weekend.  Each year, he usually makes an autumn trip out from his home in Chicago to visit, so he’s attended a few of my races—and, thankfully, he seems to actually like it!  Over the years, Carrie and I have dialed in our racing program, so it runs pretty smoothly, which allowed my dad to experience the weekend without a ton of stress. 
Friday was supposed to be a trackday, but we had a bit of a cold snap and I didn’t feel like going out to ride around and destroy a set of tires.  So, practice for the weekend was once again going to be done exclusively during the Endurance Race on Saturday.  Which was good—as much as my dad enjoys watching me ride my bike, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the track might be asking a bit much of his attention span—and I needed him focused for Sunday!

Saturday Practice/Endurance Race.

As is becoming customary, our Saturday started off pretty relaxed with a late start and a stop at the bakery.  Once at the race track, we set up the garage, the bike, etc., and killed some time by taking a walk around the paddock to say hi to friends and give my dad a chance to check out the scene. 
This round’s Endurance Race was extended to 2.5 hours, and since I was only planning on testing a couple things and didn’t need to ride a million laps, I brought on some teammates to share the track time.  I asked Aaron Nourbakhsh and Jarvis Hoffhines if they’d like to join me and they gladly accepted.  We’d basically run a three person team and switch every 5 laps or so—kind of like a mini-trackday that was compressed into 2.5 hours.  My dad had the job of air traffic controller and communicating with us via pit board while we were on the race track, and Carrie kept tire warmers and fuel managed for each bike while it was in the pit.  This was definitely going to be more effort to keep things organized than when I did this thing solo, so I was especially thankful they were there to help.  

Since I love race starts, I was going to take the first stint out on track.  As per the usual, I hit my warmup lap pretty hard to get the tires warm and my brain up to speed.  At the end of the warmup lap, all of us racers gathered and took our spots on the starting grid.  When the flag dropped, I got a good launch and got the holeshot with a nice move on the brakes into turn one.  From that moment, I put my head down and put in some solid laps to get a gap out front.  My dad was counting laps on the pit board and once he showed “5”, I pulled in to let Aaron head out.  After five laps, he came in to let Jarvis go out.  We went on like this for about 40 or so minutes.

Then, unthinkably, Aaron has an accident!  It was a one in a million kind of thing: Aaron was in a battle with our friend Danny, when coming into Turn 1, Danny lost his front brake and smashed into Aaron who happened to be on the outside of him in the turn; basically, inadvertently using Aaron as a berm.  Aaron fell down, but was uninjured and his bike wasn’t badly damaged, so he was able to pick it up and finish the lap and come in to the pits for repairs.  Amazingly, Danny was able to keep his bike upright and not fall down.  It sucks that Aaron had to fall, but I do think the incident could have been quite terrible for Danny if Aaron wasn’t there to slow him down.  

Aaron was able to repair his bike and ride a couple more stints before the end of the race, so all was not lost.  After the race, I rolled the bike back to the garage, got it set up for Sunday and we all went home to have a chill evening.

Sunday.  Race day.

This morning was cold.  Really cold.  But, we had to go out in the morning for the King of the Mountain-GTU qualifying session.  I really didn’t want to ride, because I was afraid there would be zero grip on the racetrack and I’d never be able to get my tires up to temperature.  I skipped all of the practice sessions that precede the qualifying session, because I was afraid I’d either, a)crash or b)cold-tear my only rear tire that was still in good shape.  Once we were called out for the qualifying session, my plan was to go out with the tires super hot off the warmers and try to get in a few good laps before they cooled down and destroyed themselves.  I managed to qualify 2nd, behind Chad, and in front of Scott.  After qualifying, I took the bike back to the garage and we got it ready for the afternoon’s races.  

First race of the day: King of the Mountain GTU.  This was the one that I really just wanted to win.  There weren’t enough people gridded up, so even if Scott Decker had a problem and DNF’ed, I wouldn’t be able to win the championship.  My strategy was to ride as hard as possible and be as aggressive as possible, make an absolute scrap of it the whole race distance if necessary.  Plus, I wanted to put on a good show for my dad, and my friends that had come out to watch.     

After the warmup lap, we lined up in on the starting grid to await the green flag.  Scott, Chad, and I looked at each other, gave a quick thumbs-up, put our visors down, then turned our attention the starting marshal.  When the green flag dropped, I got an excellent start, getting the holeshot to Turn 1.  All I thought about was opening the throttle as fast and as much as I could.  Get the power down and propel the bike around the track.  Chad came with me, and we gapped the rest of the field, including Scott Decker.  This race was going to be between the two of us.  For about 4 laps, Chad followed very closely; within striking distance the whole time and I could feel it.  

At the end of the 5th lap, Chad made a classic move in a left-right sequence of turns where he ran wide exiting the first so he was positioned on the inside of the next turn and took the lead from me.  I almost attacked immediately, reversing the move on the next left turn, but reconsidered and changed my line to get maximum drive down the front straight that followed.  Which I did.  I got on the gas hard, ran wide on to the rumble curbing, but kept the throttle open.  I was able to close up on Chad down the straight and line him up for a move on the brakes into Turn 1.  Normally, I have reference points on the race track (cones, cracks, signs, etc.) that dictate where I brake, where I turn in, where I apex the corner, etc.  But as I planned my move on Chad, I didn’t even look for my normal brake reference, I had an easier plan—I just had to wait for Chad to brake, then brake after that.  So, as we were approaching Turn 1 at somewhere around 120mph, I pulled slightly to his inside and waited until he braked.  When he did, I took a half breath, and grabbed the brakes super hard, and slid the bike right in front of him to reclaim the lead.  From that point on, I just pushed as hard as I could and rode ridiculously defensive lines to make sure that if Chad wanted to pass me, he was going to have to work really hard for it.  

I was able to hold him off for the rest of the race and take one of the best wins of my career.  We were never more than .4 second apart the whole race, and finished within a tenth of each other.  I was so psyched!  I really enjoyed that cool-down lap, hooting and hollering in my helmet and yelling to the corner workers (even though there was no way they could hear me).  When I finished the lap and rolled down pit-lane, Carrie, my dad, Megan, Alex, Kevin, Tarik, and a bunch of other people were there to welcome me with applause, thumbs up, high-fives, and hugs.  It really was an awesome feeling and I was proud I could win a race in front of them.  Especially a race like that.  I still had one more race to go, though.

Since I already had the Middleweight Superstock championship locked up, I was going to skip that and race my 600cc bike against the 1000cc bikes in the King of the Mountain GTO class.  I’d never raced against the big bikes, but I’d ridden around them during trackdays and knew they were super hard to pass because they had so much more horsepower than I did.  Regardless, I was psyched to be out on track with some friends that I’ve never had a chance to race against.

I was gridded on the third row, because of my KOM-U qualifying time.  I rolled a little before the start, so when the green flag dropped I paused a second to make sure the marshals knew I didn’t gain an advantage and black flag me.  But, that meant I got a terrible start and had to pick off all these dudes on bikes with 50% more horsepower.  For the first two laps, it was a bit frustrating because it was so hard to pass these guys.  At one point, I made a super hard move on a dude and sort of punted him off line so I could get through and get away.  But, once I made that move, I had quite a bit of clear track in front of me, so I put my head down to reel in the rider up the road, Ryan Brand.  

After a few laps, I was able to get on his back wheel and take a breath.  The rider in front of him was completely out of sight, so I figured Ryan was the last guy I was going to have a chance at passing, so I could take my time.  So I did.  I waited, pressured him in the corners by pulling up alongside and falling back when he opened the throttle of his BMW on exit.  It was particularly impressive watching him wheelie up the hill into a complex of turns called “The Attitudes”.  Impressive or not, I was still going to pass him.  So, with three laps left, I made my move in a place where he wouldn’t be able to come right back by me on the gas and pulled away to a 5th place finish.  

This weekend was an awesome way to wrap up the 2013 season.  These past 4 years racing with the UtahSBA have been an absolute dream and words cannot describe how fortunate I feel to be able to race motorcycles with this club.  A huge thanks to Tarik, Roger, and the rest of the crew at Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake,  Scott Larsen at Fastline Race Tire, Jason Eldridge at Corporate Suspension, Andrea Onida at Dainese and AGV, Kory and Rick at Moto Station, my parents, my friends, the UtahSBA board, my fellow racers, and most of all, Carrie.  It’s been an amazing experience and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you all next season!   

Monday, October 28, 2013

Masters of the Mountains Round 5: The art of racing in the rain?

So, after last month's round that was shared with the WERA National series, we were going to be back to the UtahSBA MOM regular schedule for this weekend.  I was psyched to be racing with the local guys again and looking forward to having a more chill atmosphere in the paddock.

Actually, there was one slight change to the schedule in that the normal Friday trackday was only going to be an evening session from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.  I figured riding that late into the night before a race weekend wouldn't be ideal, so I bagged the trackday and decided I'd get my practice on Saturday during the Endurance race.

Saturday Practice and Endurance Race.
Saturday morning was a pretty relaxed, with a slow start that included a visit to the bakery for some coffee and pastries--which, really, is the way every day should start in a civilized world.  After getting the appropriate dose of sugar, butter, and caffeine, Carrie and I started the 40 minute drive to the racetrack to get set up and ready for the afternoon's Endurance race. 

Once we entered the track, a nice, familiar feeling was immediately apparent--these were our peeps, an extended family of sorts, sharing the same passion for racing motorcycles.  As we drove through the paddock to our garage, we stopped to say hi to a few people and check out who showed up for the weekend.  Eventually finding our garage, we parked, unloaded the van, set up the tools and garage area, took the bike through technical inspection, and got everything ready for the warm-up and Endurance Race later in the afternoon.  Then we chilled out and watched some of the practice sessions and the Deseret Dash races.

For those of you that aren't super familiar with the LDS (Mormon) thing; here in Utah, Sundays are for church and family. So, those LDS racers we have whose religious traditions don't consider a racetrack a place of worship and a "family" of fellow speed junkies as suitable company on Sunday, they can only race on Saturday.  So, our club put together a couple races on Saturday called the "Deseret Dash" (Deseret is a Mormon word that has various meanings).  These races are kind of nuts to watch, because they're a mixed class, where pretty much any rider on any bike can run.  Meaning, Expert licensed riders, Novice licensed riders, 250cc bikes, 600cc bikes, and 1000cc bikes.  I've never raced a Deseret Dash, but I can say that just watching from the sidelines is quite a thrill.  It's quite dangerous on paper and looks as about what you'd assume.  Even when I'm just spectating, my heart rate rises and my palms get sweaty when the huge grid, comprised of all those different bikes with all those riders of different abilities, pour into Turn 1 at the start.  For the most part, it usually all works out and most people survive unscathed.  Even though I'm only using the Endurance Race for "practice", it's still a race and I need to be psyched up, so watching the Deseret Dash and all it's contained debauchery is a good way to get my blood pumping.

After surviving my spectating duties, I headed back to the garage to get ready for my warmup session.  Gas in the bike, tire warmers on, pressures checked, leathers on, bike warmed up, etc, we waited for the officials to make the calls announcing the beginning of the session over the PA.  This was just going to be a shakedown to make sure there were no problems with the bike and to get my brain going for the proper start of the Endurance Race in about 30 minutes.  It's always weird to head out for the first session of the weekend and try to adjust from life at normal speed to life at 140mph within the span of a minute.  After a handful of laps, I pull back in and head back to the garage to gather fuel and a few tools to take out to the hot-pit.  Then we wait in the garage for the officials to make the PA calls for the start of the race.

First, second, and third call are made, so we get the warmers off the tires, lower the bike off the stands and I head out to the pre-grid area to wait to be let out on the racetrack.  After less than a minute, we're let out for our warm-up lap.  This is where the racer in me comes out; even though I start the warmup lap knowing I'm just using this race as "practice", by the time I finish the warmup lap, I'm in full race mode, thinking about nothing more than getting the holeshot into Turn One.  I didn't get the best launch off the line, so a couple people got away better than I did, but I was absolutely determined to get through those riders in the braking zone and get the line first into Turn One.  Which I did in a pretty aggressive and authoritative way.  Even though this was "practice", it was a race, right?

I put my head down for the first few laps and got a decent gap on everyone--keep in mind, they are all actually racing the Endurance Race, so they needed to conserve their tires and motorcycle so their team could make it to the end.  Tortoise and hare kind of thing.  Anyway, over the course of the race, I pulled in a few times to make adjustments to the front end preload settings and see if I could improve the bike's handling during corner entry and mid-corner.  After all was said and done, I completed a pretty good chunk of laps (enough to earn me third in the race, against teams of up to three riders), figured out what worked and what didn't on the front end, and set a very respectable lap time on shagged tires.  I was feeling good for Sunday's races.  

Ahh, Sunday.  Race day. 

The morning was coldish and definitely had more than a hint of rain in the air.  I was a little sore from so many laps on Saturday, so I took it pretty easy in the morning practice sessions and just tried to loosen up and be smooth.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, the rain did hold off, but, of course, right before it was time for me to go out for my first race of the day, the King of the Mountain-GTU race, the sky let loose.  It started with a few sprinkles and built quickly to a crescendo of quite hard rain.  After about 5 minutes, it backed off to a constant drizzle.  Race control delayed the start of the race, hoping to get a feel for whether the conditions would dry up or stay wet.  If it's full wet conditions, no problem.  If it's full dry conditions, no problem. But when it's kind of dry, but still kind of wet, with a chance conditions could change; that's when things get hairy.  Choosing incorrectly between rain tires or slick tires can mean disaster if you've misread track conditions or they change drastically during a race and you're racing on the wrong tires.  So, after a bit of a holding pattern, we were going to be let out on a wet track.  Full rain tires it would be.

Riding in the rain is actually really cool and proper rain tires offer an amazing amount of grip in the wet, so I was psyched.  However, the rain motivated almost everyone else that was signed up for the race to sit it out and stay in their garages.  So, this race would be pretty much be just me and my main competitor, Scott Decker.  Truth be told, it was kind of lame lining up with just the two of us, especially since Scott said he didn't even want to race and was going to pull off early and collect his championship points.

After being released from the hot pit and taking to our out lap, I tested conditions a little.  Grip seemed good enough and there was only one place on the track with significant standing water that I would need to avoid during the race.

We came around, gridded up, and waited for the starter to show the green.  As soon as he did, I was off, out in front of Scott and immediately started to find my rhythm.  On the other hand, Scott was immediately uncomfortable and had to tip-toe around the track.  Lap after lap, I pushed just a little harder, trying to explore the limits, but knowing I had the win locked up and crashing would be stupid.  I was feeling great and was quite amazed at the performance of the tires.  I was able to brake pretty hard on corner entry and open the throttle and pick up shifts quite early on exit.  It was really cool--although a few of my friends admitted after the race they were a little nervous watching me into and out of Turn 10 from their spot on pit wall.

Clearly very uncomfortable with the conditions and his tires, after about 5 laps Scott Decker pulled in.  A lap after that, the checkered flag was shown and I go my second win the class of the year.  It was good to get 1st place points for the championship, but I wouldn't say it was my favorite win ever--beating one other guy that was clearly having problems wasn't totally rad.  But, I'll take it!

The next race was the Middleweight Superstock race.  It was scheduled to start about an hour and a half from the end of the KOM-GTU race and the weather was improving, suggesting it would be a dry race.  So, I switched wheels back to the ones I had mounted up with proper dry-weather slicks and waited.

This race was going to be a little more difficult, because my friend and constant sparring partner, Chad Swain was racing with us this weekend and would be gridded up with us.  I was really looking forward to a good battle with him after running solo in the KOM-GTU race.

On my warmup lap, the bike felt weird.  I thought maybe because I was used to the rain tires on the wet surface from the previous race or something, hopefully I was just being hyper sensitive. When the green flag dropped, I bobbled the start a little and Chad got the holeshot to the first turn.  As soon as I tipped it in, I felt that something was indeed wrong with the setup of the bike.  I was having a terrible time trying to get it to turn and when I tried to push, the front would chatter and push wide.  I tried to change my line, turn the bike harder, open the throttle quicker--all kinds of things, but no matter what, all I could do was watch Chad ride off in front of me, gapping me by a second and a half per lap.

I was still fast enough to finish second place, but I was super frustrated.  As soon as the race was over, I came into the garage, looked at my laptimes (which were 2 seconds slower than my normal times), and wondered what the hell went wrong.  Was the track really that bad from the rain?  If so, why was Chad so much faster than me?  Then I got to thinking about the setup work I was doing during Saturday's endurance race.  I grabbed my 19mm socket, stuck it on a t-handle and checked the preload on the springs in the front fork.  Preload is measured in "turns" on the preload adjuster, which is meant to put a little bit of load on the spring, slightly compressing it even while the suspension is fully extended. When I backed the preload adjuster all the way out, I confirmed my suspicion: I had 4 turns too many on my front springs.  I felt like an idiot; I left a bad setting in the front end from Saturday's testing, basically raking out the front end too far and causing the handling issues I was experiencing.  Lesson learned: when finished making adjustments and testing different setups, f$#king pay attention and make sure to put the best setting back in the bike before racing.

I was definitely disappointed to have blown an opportunity to battle with Chad.  Since he's been racing the AMA Pro series, he doesn't come down to all of our races anymore.  I just hope he'll be back for the final round in October, so I can have a rematch...

As always, huge thanks to Tarik and the crew at Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake, the Utah Sportbike Association, Scott Larsen at Fastline Race Tire, Andrea Onida at Dainese and AGV, Kory Cowan and the crew at Moto Station, and especially my girlfriend Carrie.

See you in October!

Photo credit: Steve Midgely 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Masters of the Mountains Round 4 (also a WERA National)

This was a pretty cool weekend.  Because it was as shared weekend with a WERA National event, there were not just a bumch more racers, but some were quite high-level.  There were national level amateurs, as well as some AMA pros on the grid. 

Also, the schedule was going to be much different than a normal weekend:  First, it was going to be a double header for WERA, so they'd have a full race schedule on Saturday and do the whole thing all over again on Sunday--but, our club was only sharing the Sunday event and only awarding points for that day's races.  Second, they were combining our classes with theirs, so in some cases, the class structure was a little different than what we were used to.  Most notable, the Middleweight Superstock class was their premier 600cc race (as opposed to our King of the Mountain GTU).  So, this weekend, the long race with all the top riders was going to be the Superstock race and KOM was going to be a normal number of laps and kind of a side-show.

The weekend started out with a Friday track day that was pretty uneventful.  I had a good setup from the last time we ran the Perimeter course configuration, so I really just went out and worked on trying some new racing lines, perfecting old ones, and refining some specific riding techniques I've been working on.  All went well and I was initially planning on racing the next day (Saturday).  However, the weather turned bad, so I decided to skip it and race only on Sunday.  It was weird to have a full day off during a race weekend, but nice, nonetheless.

Sunday.  Race day. 
We got to the track early so we could get set up and ready for practice.  Again, it went well and there was no drama.  I really just wanted to get the brain up to speed, so I'd be ready for my first race of the day, Middleweight Superstock.

Since this was their premier 600cc race, I was really psyched to get out and race with some national level amateurs and pros.  Because of the full racing schedule, we didn't have qualifying, so WERA was using current championship points instead to assign starting grid positions--I was leading the MOM championship, so I got to line up in the 2nd spot (since it was combined, WERA gridded their championship leader in pole position, MOM leader in 2nd, their number 2 in the third position, our number 2 in 4th, so on and so forth).

I got a good start, but the dudes that invest time and money to travel the country to race usually invest time and money in some serious weaponry (read: horsepower), so by the time we got down the long straight and to Turn One, a few people had passed me.  No matter, I picked quite a few people off in the braking zone and settled in behind a small group.  For the first lap, we all started to find out place in the pecking order.  The race leader was going quite well and began to check out.  I passed a couple more people over the next couple laps and worked my way into a small group of three trying to chase down the leader.  The Canadian, Royce Mclean, that's been racing with us over the past few rounds was in the group, so it was good to see someone I recognized and had experience racing with.  As it became apparent that we weren't going to reel in the guy out front, we started to have some battles amongst ourselves.  It was definitely cool and I had a lot of fun, but part of me was holding back, because I knew these guys had their own championship going on and I was the only full-time racer from my club in the group.  I was in a good spot to extend my lead in my own championship, so I didn't want to get greedy and potentially mess up the WERA guys' race.  For sure, when a opportunity for a pass presented itself, I took it, but I definitely was very "polite" in that race.  I ended up 4th overall, second place of the MOM racers behind Royce Mclean.  Which, I thought was pretty awesome result for a WERA National.

The next race was the 600 Superbike race, which was our King of the Mountain GTU race.  This one was a little anti-climactic.  Scott Decker, Royce, and myself got out front and created a bit of a gap behind us.  It was kind of processional, with no rider really having an advantage to show a wheel and try to make a move.  In the end, Scott won that one, Royce got second, and I got third.  We all finished a couple tenths of a second away from each other.

All in all, it was a really fun weekend.  The racing wasn't entirely special, but it was really cool to have so many racers out there.  And to see some of their race programs was quite impressive--some people show up in huge semi-trucks, extra bikes, banners, mechanics, etc.  It definitely wasn't quite the level of when I did the AMA Pro Supersport race last year, but most of these WERA dudes we're rolling up in rigs about a thousand times more baller than my $700 E350 van.  It definitely put things in perspective for me.  I'm glad I can go out and do OK with my small and simple race program--when we're at the track, we really are just a van, a bike, Carrie, Tarik, and me.  I like it that way and wouldn't change a thing.     

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Masters of the Mountains Round 3: Time to redeem myself. Sort of.

So, last time we left off, it was Saturday night before Round 3.  I had just spent Friday's trackday and Saturday's practice working through the still present problems I was having that caused my motorcycle to randomly shut off (despite lots of work and replacement parts during the weeks between rounds).  I felt confident the problem was isolated to the race fuel and it getting too hot and vaporizing, so I was going to have to race this round on pump (regular) fuel and have to skip the race fuel.

There's not much to talk about in the lead up to Sunday, because I literally spent every minute testing various combinations of fuel and components on my bike to isolate the issues.  We had fuel pumps changed, wiring harnesses in, wiring harnesses out, fuel modules in, fuel modules out, quick shifters... Anyway, you get the idea.  It was super stressful and caused me to miss out on really being engaged and able to enjoy riding with my best friend on his first legit trackday.  For that, I was most pissed.

Anyway, on to the races.  Royce McLean was making a guest appearance again with us this round to get ready for his upcoming AMA race at Miller, so I was psyched to race him.  At the last round, I thought he was taking crazy lines, but I definitely came to appreciate them as I started to understand what was going on and actually learned a lot about how to let off the brakes early and carry more corner speed.  It was literally a physical manifestation of a personal philosophy that I'm now trying to live up to in all aspects of life: Let off the brakes and tip it in.  

Also, Scott Decker decided to put his retirement on hold for yet another round and was in attendance this weekend, as was my friend Chad Swain--all recovered from my flying knee slider that took him out at the previous round.  The best thing was that he had some Pirelli slicks (instead of the AMA Dunlop spec tires that he never got along with) on his bike and would be back to his old self and should be a threat in the races.

Sunday.  Race day. 
We went through the normal gig this morning: a bit of practice, qualifying, prep the bike for racing, and wait.  For the King of the Mountain race, I was gridded second and knew I had to get a good start in order to have a chance at the win.  I did my pre-race rituals, and rolled the bike out for the warmup lap.  Although my crew and I were pretty confident we had the bike problems solved, there was still a little bit of a apprehension as I left the garage; we were all just hoping my bike would make it until the end of the race...

We were released for the warmup lap as a small group and circulated back to the start area.  Everything felt fine with the bike and any potential issues, I put out of my mind and focused on the task at hand, which was getting a good start.  The grid marshal lowered the red flag, walked off, and at that point, all eyes were on the starter.  Revs up, watching for the slightest movement from the starter.  As soon as the green flag was thrown, we were all off.  Scott Decker beat us to Turn one, with me in second and Royce behind.  Chad was swallowed up in the pack.  Our small group of three quickly began distancing the rest of the field.  I was right on Scott's rear wheel and Royce on mine.  We circulated like that for a few laps, when Royce passed me on the inside of Turn 2.  No problem, we were still with Scott and I was comfortable to lap at that pace, with plenty in the bag to make a move later in the race.

But, just as quickly as Royce passed me, he then passed Scott for the lead.  His intent to try to get away was immediately apparent, so I made a move on Scott in the next turn and got right back on Royce's wheel.  He and I put in a solid lap and put some space between us and Scott, who was starting to come back to Chad, now that he had gotten away from the group and was making up ground toward the front.  I was feeling good riding behind Royce and knew we were getting enough space that the race would come down to a straight up fight between the two of us on that last lap.  I had my moved planned for the final turn.  I just had to wait about 4 laps.  But, suddenly, at the entrance to Turn 5, I was on the ground and sliding.

I completely lost the front in an instant.  Race over.  I was fine, as was the bike, so I wheeled it out of the impact zone and was a spectator for the remainder of the race.  Royce went on to win, and Chad passed Scott for 2nd.  It was frustrating to fall down, but I had passed and gapped Scott, so I wasn't completely pissed.  Besides, I could pretty confidently point the issue to a mistake I made in setting my pressures to compensate for the extreme heat that day.  Lesson learned.

When the race was over, I was able to ride my bike back to the garage and Tarik got to work cleaning it off and getting a new rear tire in to get ready for the next race.  Thankfully, beyond a footpeg that was ground down, there was zero damage to the bike.

The next race was Middleweight Superstock.  We rolled out for the warmup lap and gridded up.  When the flag dropped, I got a decent start, but Royce got a better one and somehow passed me into Turn 1.  Again, with me in tow, we put a gap on the rest of the field.  I felt comfortable, but I'd lost a little confidence from the crash in the KOM race, and having gone three races now without a finish, I was riding pretty conservatively, just to make it to the finish line. I wasn't ever able to show him a wheel or make any kind of moves.  I pretty much just rode around behind him and collected a second place finish.  Which was OK.  I'll take it.

So, while not entirely redeeming, this weekend was slightly more fulfilling than the last round, but I didn't leave the track completely satisfied.

Huge thanks to Carrie, Tarik and the Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake crew, Jason Eldridge at Corporate Suspension, Scott Larsen at Fastline Race Tire, Andrea Onida at Dainese and AGV, Doug and Chesleigh, and everyone else that was out there helping out.

The next round is a WERA National, so stay tuned for that....

photo credit: Steve Midgley 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Utah Sportbike Association M.o.M race Round 2... a little late.

So, it's actually the night before Round 3, but I never got around to my recap of Round 2.  Mainly, because it was a pretty disappointing and frustrating weekend.

The lead-up to the weekend was actually quite mellow--none of the late nights in the garage or last minute engine work as there was before Round 1.  Carrie and I went out for the Apex Trackdays trackday on Friday; she was doing her first trackday of the year, and I was going to work on some suspension stuff and get in the groove for the race weekend.  We had a fun day, with perfect temps and got some quality tracktime in before the race weekend started in earnest the following day.

Saturday Practice.
Once again, I decided to use the endurance race for practice, so I could sleep in a little bit and take advantage of the warmer temps in the afternoon.  Not being a morning person, I really like being able to get to the track around noon instead of 7am!  

My bike was still at the track from the trackday before, so I didn't have much to do before the endurance warmup.  I hung out, talked with some friends and wandered around the paddock for awhile and to my kind-of-but-not-really surprise, Scott Decker was back.  I didn't totally believe him when he said he was going to quit at the last round, so it was good to see him back.  After saying hi and talking with him a little bit, I made my way back to the garage and got the bike ready for the endurance warmup session to get the bike up to temp and my mind up to speed.  I rode for about 15 minutes and came in to the pit, checked tire pressure, added some fuel and got ready for the start of the endurance race.  

When the track marshals let us out for the warmup lap, as usual, I went out pretty hard.  Given that we were racing on the Perimeter configuration, I had plenty of time to get the suspension, brakes, and tires warmed up.  I came around, found my grid position and waited for the start.  We were using starting lights this time (instead of our usual flagger), which I wasn't used to, so I fumbled the start a tiny bit.  I still got away OK and, after the super long run to Turn 1, I drafted and out-braked a few people to exit the turn in second, behind a visiting Canadian Royce McLean (who was also using the race as practice).  I followed him very close for the first lap and waited for my chance to make a move.  It came on the last turn before the long straight when he took a super wide entry.  Since this was called an Endurance Race, I put my bike up the inside and made the pass.  As I'm opening the throttle on exit and headed toward my exit point, I feel a bike on the outside of me.  We touched a little and he was forced to roll off.  We rode together for a few more laps and then he pulled in.  From then on, it was really just a long practice session for me.  

Sunday.  Race Day.
I did have to get to the track early for practice and the qualifying session for the King of the Mountain race.  Since my qualifying time would matter this weekend, I wanted to save my tire to put in some fast laps and only did one practice session to get the bike and brain up to speed before the qualifying session.  My plan for qualifying was pretty simple: since (despite my one session that morning) I was still half asleep, I just wanted to put gas in the bike and rip off as many laps as I could, knowing I'd get faster as the session went on.  I did that, and managed to qualify 2nd, behind Scott Decker.  I was on really used tires, so I was happy with the result and felt confident for the race.  I took the bike back to the garage and got fresh tires mounted and race fuel in the tank.  Then I waited a few hours until race time.  

Race time came and I was psyched.  Carrie, Tarik, Mark, Scott, and the crew wished me luck and sent me off.  I came around after the warmup lap and gridded up.  The grid marshal lowered the red flag and walked off the track, the red lights came on, and we picked up the revs on our bikes.  As soon as the lights went out, I fed the clutch out and, again, bobbled a tiny bit.  This time, I got to Turn 1 in third; Scott Decker was leading, Royce McLean was in second, and I was right behind them.  We continued on the first lap like that, and at the beginning of the second lap, I noticed my right knee slider was gone.  I think it got ripped a little halfway through the first lap, and when we went down the full straight, the wind from the 150mph speeds pulled it off completely.  Unbeknownst to me until after the race, my knee slider bounced up and smashed through my friend Chad Swain's windscreen and hit him in the arm--which hurt tremendously and he had to pull out of the race.  Luckily, none of his bones were broken, but damn, the bruising was the worst I'd ever seen.  

Back to me.  So, I'm now riding without a kneeslider, which is hard--it's like a motocrosser not being able to put his/her foot down.  I was still in third, very close to Royce, while Scott was starting to open up a bit of a gap ahead of us.  I was riding super hard to stay with those guys and it took a lot of concentration to do so without being able to put my knee down.  With a lap or so to go, I really couldn't keep up the effort and backed off, considering third place would be good enough for the day.  Then, just as I was approaching the penultimate turn on the last lap, by bike faltered, surged, and died.  I was left to coast and push my bike the 1/4 mile across the finish line as other riders caught and passed me.  I ultimately finished not-last and picked up some points.  

At this point, I was pretty frustrated and really had no idea what happened.  Was it electrical, was it fuel?  There is so much complicated shit on these bikes these days, it would be nearly impossible for me to diagnose what the issue was before my next race.  So, I took the bike back to the garage and stripped it down to inspect the wiring.  I didn't find any obvious problems, so I put it back together, and started it up.  It started and ran.  Problem solved.  

As I was getting ready for the Middleweight SuperStock race, I wasn't feeling as confident as before.  What if I had another problem.  I hate intermittent problems...  Anyway, I went out for the warmup lap and pushed hard to try to replicate the issue.  I made it around the lap and all was good.  I gridded up and waited for the starting procedure.  When the lights went out, I got a good start and got the holeshot into Turn 1.  Royce was right behind me and made a move for the lead.  I was content to follow at that point, because he was still using his wide line through the last turn and I knew I'd be able to pass him there on the last lap and hopefully win.  We ticked off a couple laps, nose to tail, with me behind.  As we started the last lap, I made sure to be as close as possible.  Then, about halfway through the lap my bike stumbled and died.  I limped it through the lap by starting it and getting a few hundred feet, then coasting when it died, then repeating the process.  I finished last, but a few people crashed, so I collected some points.  

I left the racetrack that evening pretty frustrated and completely confused about how to solve my problem.  I didn't even take my bike out of the van for a week after the race.  But, I finally got enough motivation to pull it out and start trouble shooting.  I still had no idea if the problem was electrical or fueling, so I dived into both.  Over the next few weeks I replaced a few parts, inspected everything and covered all the components I could think of, short of a full wiring harness and fuel system replacement.  

Which brings us to today.  Saturday evening before the race.  Actually, let's go back to yesterday.  It was the Friday trackday that Apex Trackdays puts on before race weekends.  I was using it to test some suspension settings and make sure my bike worked.  But most importantly, I was there with Carrie and my friend Doug for his first trackday.  I rode the first couple morning sessions and everything was fine.  But on the third session, the stalling problem showed its ugly face again.  That sucked, because now my bike was broken and instead of enjoying Doug's experience, I had to fiddle with and stress about my bike.  Plus, Carrie made a bit of a breakthrough and I couldn't ride a session with her.  The good thing is, Carrie and Doug did have a good time and we're psyched with their riding. 

Throughout the day, I would try something to fix the problem, only to have the bike die during the session.  I ended up removing huge chunks of the wiring harness, reinstalling the wiring, changing switches, different fuel and all sorts of stuff.  By the end of the day, I had something that I thought would work, but wasn't ideal because I had to remove my aftermarket quick-shifter module (this device allows for clutchless upshifts by electronically killing the engine for 60 milliseconds, which momentarily unloads the transmission and allows the bike to shift into a higher gear).  I wasn't psyched to try to race without the quickshifter, so last night, I put the module back in and decided I'd try something else during this morning's practices.  After some more pensive testing and ruling out all variables, we finally figured out my problem was the race fuel I was using!  Basically, it was boiling because it was getting too hot in the fuel tank.  I should be able to remedy this by insulating the fuel tank and keeping the fuel on ice before the races.   

So, tomorrow, I'll be racing on regular fuel.  It's not ideal and I'll be a bit under powered compared to my competitors, but hopefully my bike will stay running the full race distance.

We'll see tomorrow....  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

UtahSBA Masters of the Mountains Race Season Opener Race Report

Oh hell yeah!  We made it through Round 1 of racing in 2013 and--get this--I won both of my races!  There was quite a bit of stress during the lead up to the weekend and, to be honest, I very nearly pulled the plug on Friday night.  But, thanks to Kory Cowan's calmer head, we managed to get the bike together and give it a go.  Warning, this is a super long post!

The Weekend Was Almost Over Before it Began: 

So the saga starts in the off season, over the winter.  I have long been a proponent of very limited modifications to the bikes we race at the club level, but I felt the sting of being out-gunned by Scott Decker in 2012 and I decided to do some basic engine work to close the horsepower gap to him for 2013.  For sure, motorcycle riding is mostly about the rider and less about the machine, but if you have equal riders and one is on a faster bike, the dude on the faster bike most likely has the advantage.  After some counsel with Aaron Clark, it became apparent there were a few relatively inexpensive things to be done to get a little more power out of my CBR.  The important thing to me was that whatever I was doing could be performed by someone locally and/or by a decent home mechanic.  Kory Cowan was game to give it a go, so we decided to do some machine work on the cylinder head to improve the valve seats and boost compression; then maximize power with cam timing and fuel mapping.

The start of the project was put off for awhile partly due to my indecision to actually do any engine mods.  Then, once we committed, a miscommunication with the machinist had us literally receiving the cylinder head just days before the race weekend.  This put a lot of pressure on Kory to get the thing reassembled with the correct cam numbers, especially since he was relatively new to this type of engine building.  But, despite his massive workload in the lead up to Round 1, he managed to have the head and engine reassembled within a day.

I brought my bike down to the shop straight away and got the engine in the bike.  By the time I finished the install and hooked everything up, Kory had already left for a meeting.  I was staring at the bike on the lift, I really wanted to fire it up, but I was terrified to do it without Kory there.  Rick, another mechanic at the shop, said to just go for it.  So I did.  And it ran!  I waited for Kory to get back from his meeting so he could hear it run, then packed it up in my van and brought it home.

The next day I took it to Preston at Proformance Dyno Tuning to get the fueling sorted out.  After getting the bike tied down and warmed up, Preston throttled the bike up for a first pull to get a baseline horsepower reading.  As the engine revs built, so did my anticipation--until 7,000 RPM...  when the rev limiter kicked in.  For those that don't know what a rev limiter is, it's basically a function of the motorcycle's electronics to keep the engine from revving too high and destroying itself.  In the case of my CBR, the rev limit is 15,000 RPM, not 7,000.  I knew instantly what it was:  the cam position sensor.  It would prove to be an easy fix, but by now, it was Thursday night and I wanted to be at the track for practice on Friday.  I took the bike back to Kory and he adjusted the rotor on the rotor that triggers the sensor and the bike revved up to redline.

So, I wrote off Friday practice and took the bike down to the dyno again.  However, we noticed it never hit a rev limit at the top end. This wasn't a huge deal; Preston just had to be careful when doing his pulls.  However, after a couple pulls and some tuning, the bike was down on horsepower compared to before we did any engine work--not good.  We were down about 12 horsepower from where we should be.  Thinking the cam position rotor may actually have had something to do with what's going on, I decided to adjust it.  So, in the parking lot, under drizzly skies, I tore the bike down to get under the valve cover and make a slight adjustment.  This is a typical pain in the ass.  An hour and half later, I had the bike reassembled and on the dyno.  No improvement.  Initiate stage one of freaking out.

I called Kory and told him what was up.  He made some calls to some trusted mechanics (thanks again, Aaron!) and came up with the plan to put all the stock cam gears in to get through the race weekend and start over with cam timing the next week.  It was 7pm on Friday--I had already missed practice that day, and had to be at the track by 7am the next morning for Saturday practice.  This was basically where I almost melted down, and would have completely, had Kory not told me to leave the shop and go chill while he took care of the bike (note that this was the night of Kory's birthday!).  I kept myself busy by putting my race numbers and sponsor decals on my bodywork.  Kory worked quick and by 9pm I called Preston to get the bike back on the dyno for a tune.

I drove across town to the dyno and immediately began unloading my bike.  Not wanting to scratch my recently finished bodywork, I was careful to get it out of the way and set it on some garbage cans next to the building.  I rolled the bike out of the van and over to the dyno and Preston got to work.  I walked back over to my van and noticed my upper fairing was on the ground, with the top of the windscreen smashed...  I was so far beyond frustrated, that I could only laugh.

Anyway, after about an hour, Preston had the bike's horsepower back up to where we were last year.  We called it good at that and I went home to get a few hours of sleep before heading out to the track the next morning.

Saturday Practice:

Saturday dawned drizzly and super cold.  The forecast called for the rain to clear and the temps to warm up in the afternoon, so my new plan was to skip the morning practice sessions and to use the afternoon Endurance race for practice (our club's Endurance races are races where a team or individual tries to get as many laps as possible in 1.5 hours).  Having the morning off from riding, I got to hang out in the garage all day and helped my fellow racers with their practice sessions.  This also gave me some time to calm my frazzled nerves from the stressful week before.  Tarik from Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake is making his return to racing after many years, so it was cool to be able to chill out and watch him as he got back up to speed and into the groove.

Throughout the morning, the rain wasn't really an issue, only drizzling intermittently.  But, about an hour and a half before the Endurance Race (remember, this was going to be my practice) it started pouring...  I was thinking, "great, I'm going to have to race tomorrow without having ridden my bike since October."  Up until that point, it was like every decision I was making was the wrong one and the whole thing was starting to get to me.  Staring at a cloudy sky, I sulked back to the garage and thought about my next move.  A few of my friends that were on the same endurance-race-as-practice plan as I was, decided to bail on that plan.  But, since I paid the fees, I was going to stick it out, even if I had to put rain tires on.  My steadfastness paid off and, about 30 minutes before the start of the endurance race, it cleared up! Finally, I might actually get to ride!

I went out on the warmup lap to get a look at where the track was still wet--surprisingly, it was pretty dry, with only a couple areas requiring different lines or special attention.  To be honest, I was a little nervous that my first ride on a bike was about to be during a race, not to mention I was on tires from October.  But, as soon as we completed the warmup lap and came around to grid up at the starting line and were under the flagger's direction, instinct took over and it was like I was never off the bike.  The green flag dropped and I took off, and got the holeshot from the back of the grid.  From there it was just like, uh, riding a bike.  I was quite a bit off my pace last year, but everything felt familiar and natural.  It felt great.  Then at the end of my third lap, my bike shut off...

Luckily, I was near the pit lane entrance, so I coasted in to where my crew was and explained the bike had shut off.  We pushed the bike back to the garage, pulled it apart and unplugged and replugged all the electrical connections.  We put the bike back together and it fired right up.  This exact same thing happened last year at the first round, so I'm thinking there will be some dielectric grease in my future.  Anyway, I was able to go out and ride the last 35 minutes of the endurance race and get some info about suspension settings and tire pressures.  At the end of the day, I was psyched to have ridden the bike and seemingly worked out all the kinks.  I was feeling like Sunday's races were going to be a survival affair and that since Chad Swain, and Austin Carpenter weren't racing this weekend, I would just try to get through the weekend and collect some points for the championship.  I wasn't too bothered that Scott Decker was probably going to beat me, I could launch the full attack at Round 2.

Sunday, Race day:  

The morning was clear but cool, so again, I decided to skip the early morning sessions and ride just in the King of the Mountain qualifying/practice session mid-morning.  I went out in the session with my garage mate and recent 600cc convert (down from 1000cc bikes), Mark Harper.  For the first couple laps, he was right on me, then made a pass on the straight.  I followed him for another few laps until he pulled off.  Mark was on fresh tires, so I felt pretty good that I was able to hang with him since I was still riding my last season's tires that also had about 20 additional laps from the Endurance race on Saturday.  I knew I'd be way faster on new tires.  Maybe I wasn't going to beat Scott Decker, but if I got a good start, I could at least give him a hard time for a little while.  Now I just had to wait a few hours until race time.

I had some friends come out to watch (Brad and Katie, plus Mark and his whole family), so I wanted to put on a good show and do the sport justice.  It was great having them there--Brad races dirt bikes in the desert, so it was cool to watch him take in the roadracing scene and appear to be genuinely impressed.  As the announcer started the calls for the King of the Mountain GTU race, I began my pre-race rituals: putting in my earplugs, getting my chest protector in and zipping up the leathers, putting my helmet and gloves on, and a little meditation.  On third-call from the announcer, it was go time.  Tarik, Brad, and Carrie were pulling the tire warmers off and getting the bike off the stands; one more final ritual and I swung my leg over the bike, Carrie lowered the bike off the rear stand, I put the bike into gear, let the clutch out and I was on my way to the grid for the first race of the season.  I felt good.  I felt powerful.

As usual, I hit the warmup lap pretty hard to get my brain up to speed.  I was gridded in pole position, because of my points position in the class from 2012, Scott Decker joined me on the front row in 2nd or 3rd.  Once the grid workers walked off to the edge of the track, I was completely focused on the flagger, waiting for the green flag to drop.  Then it did--revs up, I fed the clutch out and opened the throttle more as I gained speed down the straight on the way to Turn 1.  I nailed it and got the holeshot, with Scott right behind me.  I led the first lap; Scott with me the whole time.  Halfway through the second lap, Scott tried a move on the brakes going into Blackrock Hairpin.  He came up the inside, but couldn't make it past. I left him a little room, but definitely didn't back off and shut the door on him as I came around the outside at beat him to the apex.  He continued to follow closely.  On the next lap I took a very defensive line into Blackrock, so Scott wouldn't be able to make the move on the brakes again, knowing that's a place where a powerful bike (which he has) puts you close enough to try.  However, two laps later, he tried the move again!  This time, he came flying up the inside--I knew there was no way he was slowing down enough and was headed way wide, so I stood my bike up a little, slowed down some more and let him go through.  As soon as he was clear of my line, I turned the bike in.  At that moment, I noticed he came in so hot that he was headed for the runoff area.  This was was my chance to break free, so I hit the next lap and a half really hard.  Scott made another mistake trying to make up ground and took himself out of contention to challenge for the win.  By that time, he and I had built up a sizable lead over the rest of the pack, so all I had to do was concentrate for the next 7 laps and bring the bike home for my first win.  I have to say, those were the longest 7 laps of my life.

The win was awesome.  After the stress of the previous week, I was grateful just to ride--the win was completely unexpected and hugely appreciated.  To have Tarik, Carrie, Jason, Kim, Brad, Katie, Jeff, and everyone else there to celebrate was really a gift.  But I still had the Middleweight SuperStock race to go!

I went back to the garage to get the bike ready for the next race, but honestly, I wasn't even that psyched to race again.  I was on such a high that I didn't think I could match it in the next race.  One reason being (due to an operational mistake) I was assigned to start from the last row and Scott was going to start from the front.  If Scott got away while I was fighting in traffic, I wouldn't have a chance at racing with him.  But then, there was a strange rumor going around the paddock:  Scott Decker had quit racing.  Right then and there, after the KOM race, he declared he was done.  Scott's been racing for  about 9 years, and I heard that even last year he was on the fence about retiring.  But, honestly, I was shocked it would come mid-weekend.  I didn't seek out confirmation, rather, I just stayed focused on the race and prepared to race Scott.

Confirmation came that he did, indeed quit when we lined up on the grid for the Middleweight SuperStock race and Scott wasn't there.  All of a sudden, my last row starting position wasn't so dire.  Again, I hit the warmup lap hard and took my position at 14th on the grid.  Knowing I still needed a perfect start to get through traffic, I watched the flagger intently.  There was a little breeze that blew the green flag out from behind the starting box prematurely, which kind of messed us up, but we all got away more or less at the same time.  I got a good start and was in 4th position exiting Turn 1.  At mid-turn on Turn 2, the leader crashed and slid off track.  The rider in 2nd place got spooked and ran wide, as well.  So, exiting Turn 2, I was in 2nd.  I got good drive through the kink at Turn 4, and made a move on the brakes into Blackrock Hairpin.  From there, I pulled away and won my second race of the day.  It was awesome!

I spoke with Scott at the end of the day and he just said he was over it.  His heart wasn't in racing anymore.  That's something that we all will struggle with at some point.  The sport is very expensive, dangerous, and time consuming--it's also one of the most exhilarating things we mere mortals can do, but ultimately that excitement loses out to other factors.  I respect Scott's decision and know that when The Voice speaks, you gotta listen.  He was a benchmark of sorts; someone that a few of us were very motivated to try to match and hopefully beat, so his absence from the grids will be a bummer.  Hopefully he'll be back.

All in all, the weekend turned out pretty good.  I have to thank: Carrie for being team manager and number one fan. Tarik and the Honda Suzuki of Salt Lake crew for huge support with my CBR.  Scott Larsen (Fastline Race Tire) and Jason Eldridge (Corporate Suspension) for helping me out tremendously over the years.  Kory and Rick at Moto Station and Preston at Proformance Dyno Tuning for putting in some late hours to get my bike working.  Bwhip for taking great photos and capturing me slamming the door on Scott in Blackrock (that may never happen again!).  PK for all his creative ninja skills.  Aaron Clark for all of his advice and counsel on everything from bike performance to brain performance.  Andrea Onida at Dainese and AGV.  The UtahSBA board and volunteers for all they do to make racing possible.  And every single racer that came out this weekend to pursue your passion--I admire all of you.



Saturday, October 13, 2012

UtahSBA Masters of the Mountains Season Finale

The last race report of the year... It was an amazing weekend (as seems to be the case lately), but bittersweet. I'll start off by saying I could have (and maybe should have) won both of my races; which, because Scott Decker (one of the fastest guys in the club) got hurt on Saturday and wasn't racing, would have given me the win in both my championships (KOM-U and MWSS). Don't take that the wrong way, I don't want to seem cocky or anything, so let me explain. I qualified 3rd for the King of the Mountain race; Chad (my friend and closest competitor) qualified on pole and a visiting Canadian Geoff Gerbrandt split the two of us on the front row. I felt good, because I was on used tires during the qualifying session and was able to set a good laptime. I made a very small rebound change on the front and added two teeth to the rear sprocket--that was the setup I went with all weekend and it proved to sweeten an already awesome motorcycle.

So the KOM race starts and I get off the line great and was looking to have a race on the brakes with Chad for the holeshot, but then the Canadian dude (Geoff) comes powering by just before we get on the brakes. He gets to Turn 1 first, and I relent to Chad. We ride in formation for about a lap and we're definitely not running my rhythm and I almost hit them mid-corner a few times. Eventually, Chad gets around Geoff and starts to pull a little gap, meanwhile, I'm trying to pass Geoff. I was much faster than him going through the ultra fast Turn 2, so I closed up and made the pass on the brakes going into Turn 3 (that's one section where home-track experience helps for sure). I set off to reel in Chad. It took about a lap, but I was soon right on his wheel. Again, my rhythm wasn't quite matching up, so I almost ran into the back of him in a couple corners. I started to get a little desperate, so I started making attacks at every turn in hopes of forcing him into a mistake--even to the point where we entered Agony and Ecstasy side by side, inches apart; I was on the outside and had no hope of making a pass, but I wanted to make my presence felt. He never faltered, so I took a breath, chilled out and decided to go for it into the Attitudes on the next lap. I lined up a good drive out of Agony and Ecstasy and pulled out of his slipstream near the top of hill, braked a little later and slotted my bike in front of him. 

Then the gods intervened. When I tried to grab a taller gear on the straight before Tooele Turn, nothing happened. Then, on the short straight to Club House, I couldn't shift again. Luckily, Chad didn't get back passed me and I was able to hold him off for the rest of the lap. As soon as we got on the straight, I reached down to pull up and down on the shifter to see if I could get it to work--as soon as I hit the limiter, it slid into gear. Ahhh, I get it. I figured out my quick shifter stopped working and there was nothing else wrong. Had I been more calm under pressure, I would have realized sooner, but in the initial moment I couldn't shift, I panicked a little and instantly assumed the worst. Anyway, by this point we were starting the white-flag lap (that's the last lap of the race) and, since I haven't used the old-school method of shifting in years, I was off my rhythm and didn't really have a chance at breaking away from Chad and Geoff. Knowing Chad was behind me and very good on the brakes and didn't really have much more engine than me, I just kept braking as late as possible and taking defensive lines. I made the mistake of assuming Chad didn't get passed, though and going into Tooele Turn on the last lap, I took a defensive line. But it was actually Geoff behind me and he definitely had an engine on both Chad and I.  He powered passed halfway down the short straight, we touched in the brake zone and he ran me a wide a little--block pass style--and, though I tried, I couldn't get underneath fast enough to be positioned on the outside of Wind-Up corner to line up a block pass of my own on Release corner. So, I ended up finishing second in the race and second in the championship. 

The MWSS race was much less eventful, albeit had its own cosmic intervention. As it was, all the races later in the afternoon were shortened because there were a lot of crashes and subsequent red flags throughout the day. So we were lining up for a 6 lap sprint. I got the holeshot, with Chad stalking behind. We instantly gapped the field, only to see the red flag at Turn 2 of our second lap. On the in lap, I saw Brad Moore laying motionless in the dirt at Club House (it was scary, but he was ultimately totally fine later in the day).  So, banking on an ambulance ride for him I headed straight for the garage to get the bike on warmers. After about 10 minutes, they let us back out for the restart of a 5 lap race. The restart went the same as the first start, with me getting holeshot and Chad behind. He passed me on the brakes going into Agony corner and I tucked in right behind him. I stuck in behind him and waited to make my move on the last lap. We came around and saw the crossed flags, so I narrowed my focus and pulled in as tight as I could to apply pressure and be in position for a pass on the next lap. On the next lap, the flagger is flying the checkers... And that was the end of my MWSS championship bid. 2nd place in the race and 2nd in the championship. Even Chad was bummed, because he kept waiting for a move from me to make a race of it. 

I did manage to get into the 1:36s laptimes and have good battles, but like I said, the weekend was bittersweet. I have to be proud to have been able to run with (and sometimes beat) the "fast guys" this season. I wanted to prove a simple race program and a basic machine can be competitive at a high level in our club. I mean, a stock engine, stock wheels, stock brakes, and re-valved forks is all that bike has and it's sweet! It is tough to come so close to winning two championships, but have something like a quickshifter and flagger issue keep me from really going for it, but I do need to be honest with myself--if Scott hadn't crashed on Saturday, there's no way I would have taken 2nd in the KOM-U championship. So, I guess there was something out of my control that actually helped me along a bit. Although, I would have rather raced him this weekend, than have him on the sidelines.   

Thanks again to everyone that helped out during season, I could not have done this without you.  It has really been an amazing experience.