We really are here for you at MO. We review bikes and dispense advice, not just because it's fun and allows us to bask in the radiance of our own presence, but also to repay, in a small way, our karmic debt for just being able to do it in the first place. Even though we say it often and loudly, "There is simply no substitute for track time, when learning how to ride a high-performance sport motorcycle." On a race track, all of the traffic is going the same way, there isn't any gravel, diesel fuel, or dirt at the apex, and there is generally an ambulance within 1 minute of you, should something go wrong. Not only is there is a wealth of talent around to help you improve your riding ability, you'll also meet plenty of like-minded people, which is the best part of it for most of us.
One thing that has always struck me about high performance motorcycles is exactly how difficult it is to skillfully push them to their limits. Having piloted nearly every type of wheeled, tracked or winged vehicle known to man, I am firmly of the opinion that riding a motorcycle near the edge of its performance envelope requires concentration and skill akin to that commonly found in the cockpit of an aircraft. In addition to MO's own Sean Alexander, there are an amazing number of our fellow racers who are licensed pilots. It makes sense, that a thoughtful motorcyclist seeking to increase his or her riding skills, would be willing to seek out instruction from skilled riders in a structured learning environment (If not for reasons of self-preservation, then simply to avoid having to reinvent the wheel.) A great deal of personal experience leads me to confidently assure everyone out there that even though you may be the local hero at racer road, you will very likely get your doors blown off by little old ladies on GS550s at the racetrack. The high stakes, low odds, small payoff Canyon GP world is full of temporary fast guys. Not to worry, salvation is just a road trip away.
"There is simply no substitute for track time, when learning how to ride a high-performance sport motorcycle."
In our latest attempt to reinforce the fact that it's a good idea to get out of the canyons and onto a race track, MO recently embarked on a journalistic foray to examine a disparate set of track programs in order to bring to you, the MO faithful, a taste of the entire spectrum of track day options available to sport riders. To make your decision to take it to the track seem less intimidating, we decided to give you the perspective of first time track riders culled from the ranks of the MO's own readership. As this series continues, we'll continue this modus operandi. If you are interested in attending a track program in your area for the first time, are articulate (being sorta funny is also a bonus) and willing to write about your experiences for us, drop me a line at: email@example.com and we'll talk.
For the first installment in this series, MO recruited two long time subscribers and message board participants, Steven Verschoor and Pete Brissette. We sent Steven to attend a Friday track day at Willow Springs International Raceway (WSIR), near Rosamond CA. We also arranged to for Pete to join Steven on Saturday and stay through the entire weekend, while attending the Willow Springs Motorcycle Club (WSMC) "New Racer's School." Pete and Steven are both extremely responsible and experienced street riders and were known to us not only through the MO message boards, but also from having lent a hand with various shootouts over the past year. They are both good hands and we think you'll enjoy their stories. Interestingly, both Pete and Steven rely on motorcycles as their sole means of motorized transportation. Neither of them even owns a car! Steven rides his BMW to work daily in LA, and Pete works as a courier on his Suzuki Bandit-S 1200. Both are hard corps, highly skilled street riders. Between them, Pete and Steven have logged well over a hundred thousand motorcycle miles, and were just the type of folks we're looking for to explain to you why it's a good idea to get yourself to a track, no matter what your street experience is.
We chose the WSMC experience for the first installment in this series, primarily because several MO staffers have a connection with the organization. The WSMC new racer's weekend program is different in both scope and direction from the learning environment of many track organizations in that it is entirely devoted to racing on the "fastest road in the west," the big track at Willow Springs. General riding instruction is minimal and the degree of commitment required is much higher than for most track day programs. Each participant must have a race-grade helmet with leathers, gloves, boots and a back protector. Motorcycles must be fully race prepped (including safety wire, belly pans, and draining all antifreeze from liquid cooled bikes) and both bike and rider must undergo a thorough tech inspection before going out onto the track.
What follows are the WSMC stories of Steven and Pete, which we wove together into a single narrative.
Perhaps the most important of the WSMC's graduation criteria, is that students must be able to post a sub-2 minute lap time during Saturday practice, before being allowed to earn their WSMC novice race license and race on Sunday. Not everyone meets this lap time requirement, which is indicative of the anti hype, no-BS, safety-first approach that WSMC takes to the sport. No amount of money, fame, prestige, or entourage gets you on the grid to race at WSMC without a sub 2:00 lap time. We are big fans of this approach. For a cost of $350 for three days, it's indisputably one of the greatest bargains in motorcycling.
What follows are the WSMC stories of Steven and Pete, which we wove together into a single narrative. Sean, Fonzie and I were there for most of this story, so we'll chime-in with our own observations from time to time like: (I'm not really that big of a WSMC fan. -Sean), and we have a couple of sidebar stories on people around the track whom we think you ought to know. Both Steven and Pete will readily admit that the intimidation they felt before entering the program was mitigated by the people around the track who are there specifically to support (and make money from) the riders. Pete and Steven are very different personalities and took two completely different approaches to chronicling their big weekend. We think you'll enjoy their individual perspectives. -Martin
Steven Verschoor: I've been riding for about two and a half years, and I have about 45,000 miles under my belt: mostly canyon and commuting miles, plus a handful of long-weekend tours. I ride a BMW R1150R "standard". It's my only vehicle, and I'm very happy with it.
I was a little nervous, yet was also thrilled with anticipation. I'd never been to Willow Springs, but I'd read about it - almost twice as many right-hand turns as lefts. That made me uneasy - I'm better at lefts. I'd also read that Willow Springs is demanding. You have to lap less than two minutes if you want to be able to race. There was a sale at Cycle Gear, and I got a nice Frank Thomas two-piece suit for a fair price, because I wanted to look sharp for this auspicious occasion.
Pete Brissette: "Motorcycle" and "Racing" are two words I didn't think I'd ever put together in the same breath, when associated with my own name, let alone as a way to describe an activity that would become my new favorite pastime. However, thanks to MO, I'm now a card-carrying member of one of the most respected race clubs in the country. Pete Brissette-WSMC Novice #618. Hard evidence of a fantasy realized.
In spite of my long-standing desire to test myself on a racetrack, I had great trepidation about this whole deal. Perhaps, it was the morphing of a vague dream into reality. Or maybe it was when I decided to use my sole means of daily transportation as my race bike. The thought of my only bike tumbling across the Mojave Desert at warp-speed, made me desirous of much safer things. Nevertheless, my bike it was, and hopefully you will be the beneficiary of my experience.
At first using my bike wasn't even a consideration, for the simple fact that it is my everyday unit. Then I researched racing bike rentals. That research ended rather quickly, as I calculated that renting a very modest little bike for two to three days with the crash deposit included, would amount to the lion's share of my racing budget. This would truly be an exercise in frugality, or was that futility? With some very practical encouragement from Martin and another friend who has a few seasons under his belt, I opted to take my chances. Martin made the best point when he said: "Using your own bike would be best because it's what you know. You're familiar with every aspect of your bike."
My personal bike is a 1998 Suzuki Bandit-S 1200, with approximately 56K on the clock. For many of those miles, I've used it as a messenger bike in Los Angeles -my primary means of putting rice and beans on the table for the past eight years- It's a little tricked-out, but nothing compared to most of the modified Bandits on the prowl. Most of my mods are to make the bike more livable for everyday riding. However, in addition to work, I do enjoy a sporting weekend or two in the canyons of Southern California.
Steven: I decided to use my trusty BMW for Friday's track day. It's not the fastest bike by any means, but with its neutral handling and torquey motor, it gives a good accounting of itself. I removed the mirrors and the license plate, and then I covered all the lenses and reflectors with gaffer's tape. My bike is black, and I kind of like the way it looked, without mirrors and with black tape covering all the red and yellow plastic.
I want to stress how easy it was to prep my bike for Friday's track day. The whole job took 20 minutes, and that's counting BS-ing with the guys the whole time. I walked the bike through tech inspection, and was all set to go to the WSMC track intro school.
If you're going to venture onto the safety of racetrack, whether for actual competition or a simple track day, you're going to have to make a few temporary modifications to your scoot. For casual track days; you'll just have to track prep your bike. Generally, this involves taping glass, removing mirrors and side stands. For racing however, you will have to do a much more thorough "race" prep. While "track" prepping requires few tools and may be accomplished in as little as an hour, "race" prepping is a much more difficult and involved undertaking, requires more serious tools and permanent modifications to your motorcycle. It will probably take a full day, the first time you do it.
In addition to taping glass and removing mirrors and side stands, race prepping involves finding a way to contain leaked fuel, oil or water and safety wiring anything else that twists, spins or can vibrate loose. Some race organizations will allow the use of epoxy or sealant, in place of safety wiring on difficult to drill fasteners. To "race-prep", you are going to need a drill press and a small bit (or a hand drill and several small bits -Sean), safety wire, safety wire pliers, and good deal of patience.
The following list is what is required to pass tech at WSMC. However, the requirements are similar to what is required race organizations nationwide:
Headlight lenses, brake light lenses, tail light lenses and speedometer lens must be either removed or completely taped. Lights should be disabled so that they do not work. All plugs or fittings with oil or water behind them must be securely fastened and safety wired. RTV silicone sealant or yellow 3M weather-strip may be used when it's impractical to wire or drill fasteners. All oil, fuel and water lines require positive clamping, i.e., no wire clamps or slip fitting. Clamps on pressure oil, fuel and water lines must be safety wired. A catch tank must be provided for all breather hoses venting the cam box, top end, crankcase, primary drive case, transmission, carburetor(s) and oil tank(s) Liquid cooled engines must use either plain water or water with a water wetter type compounds added, and vent into a catch tank. No antifreeze. Drum brake anchor arms and disk brake caliper mounting fasteners must be safety wired or secured with mechanical locking devices Footrests (and kick starters) may fold but must not fold accidentally. Footrests, if covered by rubber, must have rubber securely safety wired. Passenger footrests should be removed.
Drive chain master links of the clip type must have the clip pointing in the direction of chain travel and safety wired or silicone sealant applied. Most racers mark their master links with a spot of red paint to make it easily visible during tech inspection. All axle nuts must be safety wired, C-clip devices on the axle it must be safety wired, and all axle pinch bolts must be safety wired. All motorcycles must be equipped with a working engine kill switch accessible without removing hands from the handgrips Frames must be free of cracks and kinks and all frame welds must be sound. Some race organizations will require an oil catch pan. Racing bodies generally incorporate this feature but Martin made one from a paint roller tray, that he bought at Home Depot for his naked 600 cc thumper.Page2The WSMC track school was conducted by Danny Farnsworth (Note: Thad Wolfe will be very capably running the WSMC new racer school in 2005. -Martin). He's quite a (salty) character. On the one hand, he's highly energetic, and he loves racing. On the other, he's deadly serious about safety and he peppers his lecture with four-letter words. The message is clear: Be Safe!
Steven: For Saturday and Sunday, I was renting a Yamaha FZR 400 from Kelly Baker's Performance Unlimited. Kelly is located right at the track and he runs a busy shop. I give him full credit for a truly excellent arrangement. Kelly takes care of everything: tires, fuel, race stand, etc. All I did was pick up the bike and ride it directly to tech inspection. The bike passed, of course, and I was set to go.
"If it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, then don't."
The FZR felt tiny but very comfortable. I was a little worried about transitioning from a big twin to an inline four. After the first track session, my impression was that the little FZR made me work harder than my Beemer did. The day before on the Beemer, I only used 5th and 6th gears. The engine speed and the bike's response is second nature to me, so I didn't even have to think about shifting, really. Everything just worked. On the FZR, I wasn't used to the engine's relatively high revving power. I was constantly fretting over gear selection. It took me a while to get it right. I seemed to be either lugging the engine or hitting the rev limiter.
I came back to our pit and said something like, "This bike is faster, but it makes me work harder." Martin remained silent. He could've told me I was crazy, but he let me figure it out for myself (Note: Sometimes it's what isn't said that's most important -Martin). As I rode the FZR and got used to the engine and gearing, I realized I could run the entire track in three gears. Once I didn't have to concentrate so hard on shifting, I realized the bike was in fact much easier to ride than the Beemer. I didn't have to hang off or wrestle the bars. I just had to think it through the turns.
Back in the classroom, someone asked about hanging off. Danny's response was "If it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, then don't." Very typical of the no-nonsense practical approach that Danny takes to racing. What I like about WSMC's approach is their emphasis on safety. They take it so seriously; it makes me, as a rider, aware that I have to do my part, too. All the riders have to do their part to keep things safe. Like Danny says, "Do it right every time."
Another thing Danny said was, "I hate it when race announcers say, 'Look at him throw his bike into the curve.' He's not throwing his bike anywhere. He's trying to be just as smooth as he can be." That's what I tried to do. I tried to be smooth. You learn to concentrate on smoothness and let the speed come. At the end of the day, Martin followed us around the track to shoot some video footage. It was kind of cool to ride and know we were being filmed. Martin said that I did look smooth. I was pleased to hear this. I felt like Willow Springs and I were getting along reasonably well.
After examining the video later that evening at the Essex House's bar, Martin also said that Pete was the more aggressive rider. I didn't really think of it at the time. I mean, I didn't really think much more than, "Alright, Pete!" But that night as I was trying to sleep, the thought came to me. Should I be more aggressive on race day? Should I be able to pull off a big move at some crucial moment in order to hold off a charge, or perhaps to make one of my own? I kept thinking about it, while wishing I could just sleep.
Pete: I wake plenty early Saturday morning to get a quick bite to eat, tug on my leathers (Try wearing your leathers to bed the night before, to save time at the track. -Sean :-) ), load up the car with toolbox, cooler, etc... and head off to the gas station to fill up before the short trip to the track. With plenty of time before the new racer school begins at 8:00 a.m., I sauntered off to the main office to check in. Having sent all my forms and applications in earlier in the week via registered mail, all that I'd need to do was a quick check-in, then back to the pits to finish final prep of the Bandit. Surprise! Somehow the U.S. Postal system couldn't seem to deliver registered mail a mere 95 miles in the span of four days.
Tick tock. Tick tock. The sound of time ticking away before new racer school begins and I have no time left to make final prep on my bike. It was also the sound of my patience ticking away. Once again thanks to Martin's diligent footwork, Ashley in the club office was familiar with the words "Motorcycle.Com." She had me quickly fill out only what she absolutely needed in order to get me off to new racers school on time.
Motorcycle racing on the professional level really is a team sport. The rider is just one part of the equation. In my opinion, club level racing even on the smallest scale should equally be considered a team sport. This is the time when you'll remember those significant others that we take for granted three weekends out of the month. With my bike stripped of its ability to carry anything but my pale, skinny ass (Pete took this line directly from his Yahoo Personals Ad -Martin), I'd forgotten about all the stuff I'd need to get up to the hotel and track. Since I was riding from LA on my race bike, there was no way to carry the large cooler, weekend bag of clothes, leathers, toolbox and any manner of other odd little items. In other words, I needed a chase vehicle. Enter my devoted and generous girlfriend. Down the list: remove the mirrors, check! tape up headlight and taillight, check! remove side stand... Crap! How'd this turn out to be so difficult? I workout for cryin' out loud! Could it be those double Kryptonian springs that make the side stand stay in place? MO photographer and all around good guy Fonzie to the rescue. "Go ahead and go to class dude. I'll finish that."
Slightly tensed from the karmic speed bumps I'd encountered early in the morning, I grumbled something about racing being pedestrian, while I headed off to the classroom for our first session. For the next 90 minutes, myself and about a dozen other novice racers are pummeled with what, at the time, seemed a trivial brow beating about drinking enough water and not drinking too much of anything else. As it happened, this would be some of the most important information we would receive. Racing in the high desert of California is no small feat in the intense mid-summer heat. Water is your best friend. Especially since road racing is way more physically demanding than you'd expect.
Head instructor and race director Danny Farnsworth continued his unique style of teaching throughout the remainder of the day, by covering all possible aspects of safety. Safety is really what Willow Springs Motorcycle Club is all about. They have a simple philosophy---if they can make riding/racing on the track as safe as possible by instituting policies, procedures, rules and regulations that extend beyond the racetrack itself, then the experience of racing will be by and large fun and enjoyable for all. However, not all of the classroom time was entirely devoted to safety. A good deal of the program was aimed at preparing us to ride the track. One thing I learned which surprised me, was that the exact choice if line often depends on the type of bike. Kelly was the picture of philanthropy to me at the moment when he graciously donated three number plates to my pathetic cause.Upon leaving the classroom for our first track session, I learned that in fact number plates would be necessary to pass tech inspection. Very well - off to put on the number plates. Yeah, number plates, just like the ones I left in the hotel room. Crap! Crap! Time to strategize with my pit crew (Fonz, Steven and Martin). Who will fill the shoes of another generous soul to add to my ever-extending race "family?" This time that person would be Kelly Baker of Kelly Baker's Performance Unlimited. Kelly was the picture of philanthropy to me at the moment when he graciously donated three number plates to my pathetic cause. At this point, I had spent so much time dealing with the number plate issue that I'd missed the entire first track session, and the number plates still weren't attached by the time they called us back to the classroom!
I was bummed. This time I'd be wondering how to relate to what everyone else had just experienced and how to tie in everything we learned in the previous class time. Nevertheless, I subdued the inordinate amount of stress swelling up inside, to just listen and be prepared for the next session. Eventually the classroom session was done and we had about 20 minutes before the next track session was to begin. I sprinted back to my bike to finish what little was left to do and found that some friendly gnome had finished attaching number plates, while I was still in class (Note: That's "Mr. Gnome" to you -Martin). My bike is ready! Suit-up, head over to tech inspection and after a short wait, onto the racetrack for my first lap around Willow Springs.
Page 3The People Who Make Things Work
Kelly Baker: The proprietor of Kelly Baker's Performance Unlimited, is a larger than life kind of guy. He's big, laughs easily, quick with a quip, honest, and generally the kind of guy you'd want with you in a foxhole. He is also the type of person you need to become acquainted with, if you are going to be spending much time around a track and lack a portable, well-equipped shop of your own, staffed by knowledgeable mechanics. Kelly is a person who lives, breathes and dreams motorcycle speed and performance. Because he is an aficionado who puts bikes and customers ahead of business concerns, he spends his days dwelling in a cramped shop full of project bikes, rather than a glossy spotless garage of the type found at upscale boutique dealerships.
The dirt under Kelly's fingernails is real, as are his frank opinions about bikes and his extensive knowledge about what keeps them going down the road.
Step into Kelly's busy shop and you will find not only race bikes but custom cruisers
Sunday - Race Day!Pete: Race day held little other than two early practice sessions, several hours of pacing back and forth and then relaxing again, then the race. Truth be told; I didn't have nearly as much stress as the day before. A full day of practice told me exactly what I could expect from the track, the bike and myself. Since my race was late in the day, I had some time to wait.
The first call for the Novice 651cc to Open race came and went. On second call, I inched my way over to the pre-grid area and waited for the third and final call before we were released for a warm up lap. Upon completing the warm up lap and entering the starting grid, I was seized with the thought that I might have lined up on the wrong race. Apparently I was mixed in with a World Superbike event, as I was now surrounded by all manner of tricked out 999s, 998s, TLRs, R1s, GSXR1000s and CBR1000RRs. This is novice? Oy!!
The green flag fell and we were off.
I actually had a good start and had I been more aggressive, I could've held off a few bikes coming into turn one. Nevertheless, I have nothing to prove to anyone except myself. So I relented in the name of all that is good for peace of mind. By turn five, I was securely in last place and talking myself through each turn lap after lap. I'll spare you the full recount of the race as not much differed from my description of the track above with the exception that one fellow novice tipped over in turn nine. Eventually I had the track to myself. That was until the two racers battling for first passed me so fast on their last lap that I felt the paint on my bike's bodywork ripple. Checkered flag!
One of the coolest and yet simplest moments was on my cool down lap while exiting turn two. The corner worker in turn two gave me a hearty and enthusiastic thumbs up. Were I anything less than the spitting image of a manly man, I could've shed a tear of joy.
Steven: Race day was finally here. This was the big day. You always get unexpected hurdles on a big day. I was behind right off the bat, because I was slow to get out of bed. Too much contemplating the night before, I guess. Then I was slow to pick up the FZR400 from Kelly Baker. He was great. He got me out of there quickly, but I was still behind. By the time I had passed tech inspection, I had missed the first of the morning practice sessions. That meant I only had one left.
I rode to our pit and tried to concentrate. Martin was there and his quiet preparations were the eye of the storm. Every day Martin was the first one to the track. He had the EZ-up ready, the fire extinguisher, tools and stands out, and he kept a well-stocked cooler. Basically all I had to do was ride up, grab a nice cold bottle of water, and try to collect my racing thoughts.
Yes, my thoughts were now on racing. Last night, I determined that during practice, I should try to hang off. I should get a little more aggressive in the turns because I'd probably need it during the race. At last, my practice session came up. Here was my last chance to practice with Willow, before facing the ultimate test of an actual race. Disaster... I just couldn't get anything right. I tried to carry more speed through turn one, but I was running a little wide. Fortunately I made it through trying to shake off the fear and concentrate on turn two. Turn two is a long right-hander. I'd been doing consistently well through two but this morning I was rattled. I held the throttle, increased my speed and stayed in tight on the inside line. I was forcing my breath through pursed lips, like a pregnant lady going into labor. Two turned out better than one. At one desperate moment I took my eyes of the road and looked into the gravel pit. It wasn't as near as I thought it would be.Now, I need to carry more speed through turn three. I entered three a little faster and tried to compensate by hanging off. I thought I was going to die. My hanging-off upset the bike's chassis and the front end was chattering. I'd heard the term "front end chatter" before, and I had been curious as to what it really meant. Now I was wishing I could return to blissful ignorance. "Chatter" is when the front end seems to bounce about 1000 times per second. It's like dribbling a basketball in tiny little bounces at blinding speed. There was nothing I could do; I didn't dare give more throttle, because the front end was already light. I couldn't turn the handlebar, because I was barely able to hang on, much less move it. The front end kept bouncing, and I kept running out of track. I thought I was going to dribble off the pavement and into oblivion. At one desperate moment I took my eyes of the road and looked into the gravel pit. It wasn't as near as I thought it would be. I immediately turned my eyes back through the turn and hung on. By some miracle, I made it.
Having almost killed myself in turn three, I took it real easy in turn four. It helps that you enter turn four going uphill. I took some more of those pregnant-lady deep breaths and tried to concentrate. I had to get back on it in turn five. You enter going downhill, and then you have to really get on the gas for turn six, unless you want to get run over. No good, the front end was dribbling me into oblivion again.
After a couple of laps, I finally started to calm down, but now there was another issue. The corner workers in turn five were waiving the black flag. I was pretty sure they were waiving it at the guy in front of me, but what if it was me they were after? I decided to wait and see what the flag at the start-finish line would tell me. At the start finish line, they were waiving the black flag again, but this time I was sure it was the guy in front of me they wanted. However, this left me with another concern. A black flag means there's something wrong with your bike and you must leave the track. So what was wrong with the guy's bike? Was he leaking something? Would I ride through whatever he was leaking and lose control? I backed off and hoped I wouldn't crash.
One of the track instructors came flying by me on the inside of turn six. He caught up to the guy in front of me and signaled for him to get off the track. I tried to relax, but it was all over for me. My concentration was shot. I was afraid to try and go fast. I limped around the track for the remainder of the practice session and back to the pits. Damn, things were going so well, too. What's a man to do, except of course... dwell on it.
I had a good long time to brood over my pending race, because they do all the novice races at the end of the day. I drank a lot of water and tried to think. I talked with the other guys, and we enjoyed an uneasy calm before our turns came up. Then it hit me... the track hadn't changed. All weekend long, we had been getting along great, and then I had to go and be overly aggressive. I was relieved to have reasoned through what went wrong, and angry with myself for being such a dummy. Oh well, there was still the race. I could still make things right. I would concentrate on being smooth again. I wouldn't worry about big moves or being aggressive.
At last, my race was announced and we took our warm up lap. Now we were on the grid. The starter waved the green flag and... A crummy start! I wrench the throttle open and the engine wails like a doomsday machine about to explode. Reach for second gear and hammer the throttle again... the engine screams instantly, but I'm losing speed. I missed the shift. I try for second gear again, and again. No good. I let the revs drop and try yet again. Finally I'm in second gear, but I am in last place. One lap into the race somebody crashes and the red flag comes out. We all stop (WSMC has you stop on the track during a red flag... I think that's crazy. -Sean) and return to the starting grid. The starter informs us that we will run four laps after the restart. I'm so nervous that I just don't care. In fact, I'm just grateful that I get a chance to make a better start and I'm determined to do better this time.
My second chance: The starter waives the green flag and we all tear off. This time I don't worry about winding-out first gear. I short shift, and it works. I get second gear on the first try. Shit, I'm still in last place! But this time I have more speed, and I pass two opponents by the time we exit the second turn. I've got the next rider in my sights, but I don't get him until turn eight. Ah-ha, the light bulb goes off... They had said it all day long in track school: turns three, four, five, and six all work together. If you mess up any one of them, you're screwed until you reach the back straight. I had understood the words, but I hadn't grasped their full meaning until now: If you can string together turns three, four, five and six, you can really fly down the back straight. And if you fly down the straight, you can pass people in turn eight! I think I passed someone in turn eight on every lap. Smoothness was paying off: Willow liked me again. I concentrated on being smooth in three through six and I passed people in eight. WSMC has you stop on the track during a red flag... I think that's crazy. -Sean
Of course, I had a lot of people to pass. There were originally ten bikes entered into the race. After the crash, we restarted with nine. I was dead last out of the blocks, now I needed to make up ground. As I concentrated on being smoother, I was able to open the throttle earlier and earlier exiting the turns. At some point, I don't remember whether it was lap two or lap three, I had flown through turn eight, and I planned to do the same in turn nine.
I don't know exactly what I did wrong. I was exiting the turn and I was running out of track. The bike felt fine. I stayed on the throttle. The next thing I knew, I was right on the edge of the pavement. For a split second, I took my eyes of the track and looked into the dirt. Yikes, this time I really was right on the edge. I turned my eyes back to the front straight and continued to hold the throttle. I felt the rear wheel leaving the track! "I'm going down. Get ready to be thrown from the bike." But it never happened. For some reason, I was expecting to highside. Maybe it was my worst fear. Instead as the rear wheel hit the dirt, it merely lost traction. It was like the rear end of the bike had become autonomous and had decided to ride next to me instead of behind me. The funny thing is the bike felt smooth on the dirt. I kept my eyes on the starter's tower. I could see dust being kicked up in my peripheral vision, but I kept my eyes straight ahead and stayed on the throttle. I don't know exactly how I did it, I just stayed focused on the road ahead and on the gas. The rear wheel came back in line! When it got back on the pavement, I got a little headshake, but the bike straightened itself out.
I was laughing inside my helmet. I took deep breaths and relaxed. I raced past the start-finish line and came around to do it again.
I lost track of how many people I'd passed, but the starter was waiving the white flag, and I could see one rider ahead of me, so I put my head down and stayed on the gas.
I recognized the rider up ahead. I remembered his bike from the practice sessions. I remembered that I was a little smoother through the turns, but he seemed to be able to pull away from me on the straights. I hatched up a plan. I knew that I could be faster through the first half of the track, but not fast enough to pass. I concentrated on being smooth. My plan was to really nail the early turns, so that I could hit the back straight with a lot of speed. I had to do two things. First I had to be close entering turn five. Then I had to get on the gas earlier in turn six. This would give me more speed down the back straight. I should be able to pass in turn eight.
Unless you are fortunate enough to live within commuting distance from the nearest racetrack, you are going to have to find a place to rest your weary head at night after your heroic exertions at the track. Having tried everything from camping at the track, reposing ourselves at the local no tell motel, and luxuriating in splendor at the Essex House, we are prepared to enthusiastically recommend the latter as our option of choice. (Speak for yourself Martin! There is nothing better than having a motorhome in the pits. Of course, motorhomes are quite expensive, and if you can't finagle your way into a free loaner, then a hotel room is a good alternative. -Sean) The Essex House Hotel is a major sponsor of WSMC events and offers significant discounts to racers and journalists if they are nice, or at the very least, amusing.
The Essex House is a full service hotel with large, comfortable rooms, a nice restaurant, a modern business center (where more than one MO story has been crafted) and most importantly, a well-stocked bar. It has achieved landmark status in the Antelope Valley and the walls of the lobby and bar are adorned with monuments to both the aerospace industry (Edwards AFB is nearby) and various WSMC luminaries. It's an interesting and colorful place to stay and we recommend it very highly if you are in the area. Parking is plentiful and it's only about 20 easy minutes from WSIR.It worked! I was still behind him coming out of turn six, but I was hard on the gas. I gained on him all down the back straight. I kept my chin right down on the tank going into turn eight. I had him. I flew past him on the outside. Now all I had to do was nail turn nine. I waited on the outside of the turn, just like Danny had instructed us to do during New Racer School. I downshifted and hovered outside a little longer. When I saw the candy-striped apex, I dove for it and rolled the throttle.
I was happy with turn nine. Now I just hoped that I had enough drive to hold off my opponent down the final straight. I had my whole torso plastered against the gas tank. I briefly thought of putting one hand along my side, flat-track style. Then I laughed at myself. I stayed low against the tank and waited to see whether I'd get there first.
Well, the guy did pass me, but it wasn't until after the start-finish line! He gave me a big thumbs-up, and I could see him shaking his head. I guess he was kind of laughing and telling me, "Nice move." I felt great. I wanted to tell him, "Naw, I was just lucky."
I had intended to talk to him after the race, but I was so giddy that I forgot. I asked everyone, and I mean everyone, if they had seen me hit the dirt coming out of turn nine. Nobody saw it! My mouth was jabbering at 100 mph. I was trying to tell people what it was like. I couldn't make them understand. They were listening to me but only paying half attention, the way you listen to a drunken friend who won't shut up. At last I gave up. I was sorry that no one had seen my close call.
Then I noticed my boots. One was clean and one was dirty. Yes! Here was some tangible confirmation of my near-death experience... of how brave and lucky I'd been to hold the throttle and keep on going. When the rear wheel hit the dirt, the bike slid out to my left. The right side of my bike was turned toward the dirt as I counter steered down the track. That's why my right boot was dirty, but my left boot was clean.
And now that my mind was slowing down, I got around to asking, "Say, what place did I get?" The answer was fourth place. Not bad out of a field of ten. After the restart, I was in ninth place. That means I passed five bikes in four laps to finish where I did.
To be honest, I finished better than I thought I would. Okay, I didn't win the race. I didn't even get on the podium. But I did better than I expected. Most importantly, I had fun, and I got to know Willow Springs. Am I glad that I did this? Damn straight!
It all comes down to.....
Pete: I had absolutely no delusions about my performance in that race. The race was a huge victory to me because it was a dream realized. And I can't think of a better place to realize such a potentially dangerous dream.
I've slammed up and down some of the most famous canyon roads in the country, possibly even the world, while any combination of the above occurred. Yes, it's a deadly game we play with ourselves when we saddle up and think we've got it all figured out. I won't presuppose that I and only I have seen it all. Surely many of you have encountered the asphalt tragedies I listed above, maybe even more. What I would like to pass on to anyone whose spent time honing their high speed antics while on public roads is this: you'll never know what you are truly capable or not capable of, until you take it out of the canyons and onto the track. If actual competition is something you're sure you'll never subject yourself to, at the very least ride a couple of track days. Just inquire at your local racetrack. Much of what's required by the small but fun and personable companies running track days, is far less than what's required by many racing organizations. Remember, it's just you, your bike, and an unobstructed ribbon of pavement.
Steven: I would like to thank Kelly Baker for supplying an awesome bike for me to ride. I bet a lot of people must thank him after a race weekend. His shop, "Performance Unlimited," is buzzing with people who need last-minute fixes and improvements. Somehow Kelly attends them all. If you want to try an excellent race-prepped bike, talk to Kelly... but you'll have to fight me for the FZR400.