Out of the Canyons & Onto the Track
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.