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 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.