After writing Part One a couple weeks ago, I left MO and drove to LAX to pick up my brother Dale, and my friends, Ian and Chris. We then jumped in my borrowed motorhome and headed out to CA Speedway, arriving just in time to spend the night in a satellite lot.
Everything was going smoothly until I attempted to actually fall asleep, when I remembered my brother--a bush pilot in Alaska--is capable of defoliating entire national forrests with his basso profundo snoring. I layed awake from midnight to 4:00am, wedged firmly between the excitement and nervousness of my first AMA Pro race and my brother's nocturnal serenade. I finally gave up and went forward to sleep in a reclining chair.
At 6:30am I fired up the motorhome and snuck slowly through the tunnel and into the CA Speedway pits. Not long after entering the pit complex, I was chased down by a Honda scooter mounted AMA official, who politely informed me that since my motorhome wasn't a "tow vehicle" I would have to park it across the infield, inside of Nascar turn-4.
This is about a 1/2-mile walk from the pits and would have been mildly inconvenient. After a little smooth talking (lying) with my forked journalist tongue, I convinced him to allow us to stay in the pits, under the guise of reserving a spot for my crew and support trailer which had yet to arrive.
Two hours later, my very own Kawasaki Factory Technician Scott Buckley arrived with the bike, a Kawasaki support trailer and a kick-ass little Kawasaki KLX 110 pit-bike.
Scott is friends with former Kawasaki Crew Chief Gary Medley, and Medley now works with Doug Chandler on the No Limits Honda team. Gary was gracious enough to allow us to park next to Chandler's motorhome, in one of their reserved spots.
Pay attention, this will come in handy later: The parking order was: Team MO motorhome, Chandler motorhome, Medley motorhome, Mat Mladin motorhome.
Safely parked and unpacked, the next item on the agenda was to pay for the FastTrack Riders "Licensed Racer Thursday Practice", then get the bike into the tech inspection line. After registration and tech, I took my crew over to meet the guys at the Pirelli truck, so that they wouldn't get any flack when they showed up asking for free tires. The Pirelli guys were already busy, but took time out to give us a welcoming smile and say hello.
We discussed tire strategy, tire scrubbing schedule, super-soft SC-1 qualifying rear, etc. then made our way back to our pit to get ready for my first practice session.
Organizational chores completed, I went out in the Superstock group, to see how my ZX-6R racebike was behaving. The engine was running a little cleaner than it had been the previous weekend, but it didn't really feel any faster. Scott said that after dyno tuning, the bike was only making 119hp on the F&L SP-5 fuel donated by my friend Dave.
The problem was, it made 120hp on 93 octane pump gas and 125hp on VP MR-1 race gas. MR-1 is upwards of $15 per gallon and we didn't have an arrangement with a VP supplier, so as it sat, we were dealing with a 120hp motorcycle. What did feel different, was a general reluctance to change direction at speed. I also noticed some fairly serious brake fade, leading into the tight right, at the end of the back straight.
We bled the brakes and changed the pads, but I was still cooking the brakes after about five laps. When I returned to the pits after the second session, my arms were very tired and my elbows felt sore and swollen, from wrestling the bike through the faster chicanes. Scott suggested that we add a 3mm shim to the rear shock, to increase ride height and make the bike easier to steer.
He also told me that he had arranged to get a set of new Lyndall Racing Brakes ("gold" part # 7163) brake pads. These pads are used in open wheel car racing and are one of the few pads that can go the distance on the rear of a Baja 1000 racebike. (where you drag the rear brake for 12 hours) After debriefing with Scott, I checked my laptimes and found that I was running in the high 1:36 range. Based on that time, I set a mid 1:35s goal for Friday's qualifying session.
For the next session, I was able to drop to a 1:36.2 The new pads were awesome, with a soft initial bite, but a very powerfull and progressive feel, that seemed to be immune to heat. However, I was still struggling with heavy steering issues. The Lockhart Phillips supplied Daytona steering damper was definitely doing its job keeping any sign of headshake out of the picture, so we decided to raise the forks 5mm in the triple clamps for another boost in steering response and easier right-left transitions. This helped the steering, with no apparent loss of stability, and my times dropped to the high 1:35 range by the last session of the day, placing me near the top of Thursday's Superstock timesheets. (Note factory riders, past champions, and riders in the top-10 of the point standings are not allowed to practice on Thursday) Feeling confident in my speed, I raised my qualifying target to a 1:35 flat, for Friday.
Mini Sidebar: 2003 Kawasaki KLX 110
This little bike kicks major boo tay. Equipped with a 3-speed semi automatic transmission, the little KLX is easy to ride and docile enough for the smallest riders.
With its clutchless but traditionally shifted gearbox it is a good learning tool for Jr and a fun playbike for Sr. I spent a good portion of my time at CA Speedway, bombing around on this thing. I even took a few 40mph trips out through the tunnel and around the perimeter road, to meet people at the front gate and guide them back to our spot in the paddock.
Weighing in at a paltry 141 lbs, and with a stubby 25.6" seat height the 110 is even easier to manage than Honda's (in)famous XR-100. Though not intended for two-up operation, I was able to shuttle full grown adults around on the thing, as long as they were OK with getting REALLY close to me. For $1,699 you can get your KLX 110 in any color you want, so long as it's Kawasaki Lime Green (racing numbers not included)
For photos, specifications and features, visit the Official Kawasaki KLX 110 Website. If you want to dragrace ZX-12Rs with your KLX 110 or perform other acts of mini moto sickness, check out Pit Boss Racing (949) 709-7530.
After locking everything up, Scott joined my brother, my friends and I in the motorhome for a trip into San Bernadino to get numbers for the bike, LP gas, motorhome supplies, groceries, and dinner.
This was an obvious lapse in judgment on Scott's part, because the quick trip turned into a three-hour tour through the seedier side of the Inland Empire. We finally found a U-Haul and got the LP, but we had a hell of a time finding a grocery store.
After another 20 minutes of driving in circles, we stumbled upon the "Ranch Market" a large grocery store, featuring tripe, whole cow hooves, whole cow tongue, fried pig ears, boiled pig ears, saute'd pig ears, and anything else you would expect to find in the less privileged section of Tijuana.
Among Scott's grocery needs, were a box of cereal and a gallon of milk. After a quick stop at Popeye's Fried Chicken, we wearily made our way back to the speedway and retired for the night. Scratch that, Scott, my brother and my friends retired for the night. I on the other hand, quickly bailed out of the back bedroom and returned to my sleeping chair at the front of the motorhome, waking Chris and Ian in the process and allowing them to experience the sublime pleasure of my brother's snoring. Friday morning Scott and the bike were ready. He wasn't in a good mood however, as the milk he'd purchased at the Ranch Market turned out to have come from a goat. Evidently, Scott's morning isn't complete without a heaping bowl of Cinamon Toast Crunch. Morning pleasantries exchanged, we mounted fresh tires, checked pressures and I made my way out for my first ever official AMA practice session.
"I was supposed to lightly scrub this set of tires for use in Saturday's race, but on my second lap, the front tire tucked in the chicane leading into the infield, and I nearly crashed."
The bike felt terrible and I never really got the confidence to push. After the session ended I retreived the timesheet from the AMA and found out my best lap was only a 1:37.13, putting me 40th out of 63 bikes. The tires looked ok, and everything on the bike seemed fine, but my arms were aching and my confidence was suffering. Once I had calmed down and relaxed, I figured the only explanation for the bike feeling so different was that I was too nervous and tense. I decided to keep the same set of tires on for the afternoon practice and just concentrate on relaxing and being smooth. The 11:30am rider's meeting went a long way towards helping me to relax. I was standing near the back of the room, next to Kurtis Roberts, Tommy Hayden, and several other big name riders, when the AMA offiicial brought up the topic of the new 50-mph Pit Lane Speed Limit.
The AMA had set-up two radar guns with speed displays at either end of pit lane, so riders could judge their speed. However, he added, the one near the entrance to pit lane wouldn't pick-up bikes with carbon fibre fairings and well, heck, it doesn't really pick-up bikes with fiberglass fairings either, so you all will just have to be sure to go extra slow out there. This was all it took to set Roberts off and for the rest of the meeting he had us rolling with smart-assed comments about stealth bikes and outdated AMA technology.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to fully leverage my new factory rider/motojournalist status, between the Rider's Meeting and the Friday PM practice, I took Scott's advice and called Mark Hall, the West Coast Sales Rep for VP Racing Fuels, to try and get a few gallons of MR-1 or if possible, some of the new ultra trick, 87 octane oxygenated MR-9 race gas. Mark had us drive out to see him and after a short meeting, we were able to convince him to let us have ten gallons of MR-9 for use in qualifying and the race, in exchange for a mention in this article and running the usual sponsor's stickers. Here it comes: VP "MR-9" Racing Fuel.
We returned with the fuel to much hubub in the MO pit; fifty feet away, the Graves Yamaha crew was doing a photo shoot with some scantily clad bikini beauties. Because I love you all, I've included the photos that Eric Bass snapped, with the MO cam.
Thus fortified with an extra five horsepower or so they tell me, I went out for the Friday PM practice session. The VP fuel helped my straightline speed, and being more relaxed helped my corner speed. My times dropped to a 1:35.26--33rd out of 64 bikes in Superstock. An aftermarket rear shock would've been good, and my arms were aching, but things were looking good for Qualifying. Before the start of the 30-minute qualifying session, we raised the forks another 3mm in the triple clamps and mounted fresh Pirelli Dragon SuperCorsa SC-1(super-soft) front and SC-2 (soft) rear tires so I could use the first few laps to get warmed up and scrub in a set of race tires. When the session starts, I ride an easy three laps and everything feels good, and on the fourth lap I dash into the pits, where Scott and the rest of my helpful pit crew swap the SC-2 rear tire for a super-soft SC-1 hot from the tire warmer. Two minutes later and I'm rolling back out, ready to hammer for a fast lap.
Page2I'm on the gas. Everything feels good through the 130mph left/right/left turn 1-2-3 chicane at the end of the front straight, and I scream around the apron inside Nascar turn 1, on the ragged edge of traction yeah baby. I get through the left/right second chicane leading into the infield, with no trouble, and lean left through the 120mph infield sweeper, the rear shock is still wallowing, but the extra grip from the SC-1 tire allows the bike to maintain tracion.
"The engine is absoloutely screaming, wailing a beautiful 15,000 rpm howl."
I'm feeling good now and brake late and hard for the double apex 180degree left. The tire grips tenaciously through the corner and allows me to get hard on the throttle exiting onto the short straight before flinging the bike in a nearly straight line through the next left/right chicane. As I bend to the right to set up for the tight turn-11 hairpin, I catch a GSX-R750 and am unable to get by him cleanly.
On the straights, his bike is just fast enough to prevent me from drafting and passing on the brakes. For three laps, I'm held-up by this rider, losing a second or so per lap. In hindsight, I should have backed off and got a gap, but in the heat of the moment, all I could think was GO! GO! GO! The Speedway's closed-circuit TV and big screen system got some funny shots of me shaking my head in frustration.
Eventually, I made a Banzai! late braking move and got by, but the tire was already going off and the shock pogo effect was starting to cause wheelspin through the faster lefts. The Pirelli guys had told me that the SC-1 rear was good for about three laps at CA Speedway, so it was a little late, but I spent the last five laps milking the tire for all it was worth.
It took the AMA a while to post the final times, but I could tell by the scoring tower that I was 18th fastest in the odd numbered group, with a best lap of 1:34.813. Once the even numbered group had qualified, my final qualifying position was 39th out of 64 bikes. Sounded pretty good to me, until I found out the AMA was cutting off the grid at 44 riders. WHEW! that was a close one.
The talent pool in Superstock is deeper than we suspected. If I'd had time to extort another eight set of tires from somebody, gas and entry fees, and entered Formula Extreme, my 34.8 would've been good for 30th on the Formula Extreme grid.
Aside from reservations about the rear shock and the resulting arm strain, I was feeling good about Saturday's race as we packed up and walked over to the motorhome for dinner, satellite news and "rest." I quickly fell asleep on the couch, in my cycling shorts and cool-shirt. While I was sleeping, Dale, Ian, and Chris decided to get rip roaring drunk over in Scott's camper (Scott must be a patient man).
At around 2:00am, I decided to get up and take a walk around the paddock with my camera. As soon as I stepped out of my motorhome, gee, I just happened to noticed a white fluttering streamer from Mladin's motorhome: wouldn't you know it, some hoodlums had TP'd Mat Mladin's rolling palace. I took a photo for posterity and went back to bed.
The next morning, I heard a truck pull up and when I looked out the window it was Mr. Mladin himself, looking somewhat peeved as he removed the tissue decorating his motorhome. What a shameful waste of perfectly good toilet paper.
Saturday's weather was beautiful, much warmer and brighter than Thursday or Friday. We put on an old set of tires and I went out for an uneventful morning practice session. I turned a very relaxed 1:36.7 on the old tires and aside from the rear shock, the bike felt fine. After practice, we mounted a new SC-1 front for the race and the SC-2 rear I'd scrubbed in on Friday. We then topped off the tank with VP MR-9 and began the long wait for our evening race.
"I started to feel light-headed and nauseous from the fumes."
My mother and girlfriend showed up around noon and I spent an hour shuttling pit passes back and fourth to them on the sweet little KLX. We watched a little SuperTT in the infield parking lot, then wandered back to my pit to eat, hydrate and relax in preperation for the Superstock race.
As race time approached, my pits quickly filled up with well-wishers and it took some effort to say hi to them all, while trying to stay relaxed and calm. At second call, we pulled the tire warmers off and fired the bike up. I hugged my girlfriend and my mom, shook hands all around and nervously set off for the grid. Once there, I was forced to cool my heels and tires for about 10 minutes while the rest of the riders showed up and the AMA got the show on the road. While sitting there waiting, I started to feel light-headed and nauseous from the fumes. It seems like every other bike in Superstock was on the Neutec or VP bandwagon, because the race gas fumes were enough to knock out an elephant. Listen, brain damage is a small price to pay for five horsepower. After a slow lap behind the pace car, we took our assigned grid positions and waited another 5 minutes, until the start of the warm-up lap.
When we were flagged off for the warm-up, I went as fast as I safely could, and concentrated on getting heat into the tires. We returned to the grid, there was a very short pause and then it got exciting. At the green light, I left the line carrying about 3,500 rpm and carefully slipped the clutch to avoid standing the bike straight up. I was pleasantly suprised by the launch I got and found myself up around 25th position as we made our way off of pit road and through the turn 1-2-3 chicane. Approaching the left-right chicane into the infield, in a large pack of bikes at 125mph, all hell broke loose about five bikes up and two bikes to the left, as first one rider, then another three or four went down in a crazy mess. Bikes were spinning accross my path from left to right as I braked early and slowly threaded my way through the carnage.
Others around me were not as cautious as I was and though some made it past and improved their position, another two or three of them charged right into fallen bikes and crashed. After clearing the chicane and the mess, I gathered my wits about me and got back on the gas through the long left sweeper. On lap two, the shock started the pogo thing again, through that same sweeper and I started losing a little time due to wheelspin and wallow through the long lefts. With an Ohlins back there, I imagine I would've won the thing, see?
On lap 3, I was passed by a couple of the faster bikes that had run off in that first-lap melee, but all was clean and my race was fairly uneventful as I worked to maintain my position relative to the bikes in front of me. On lap 12, Tommy Hayden came by on his ZX-6R like I was tied to a fence post. His pass was super clean and his bike looked like it was on rails. On lap 13, 2nd place Adam Ferguson came by on the banking, his GSX-R 750 going at least 15 miles per hour faster than my ZX-6R. Then, on lap 14, the race was red-flagged and just that quick, my first ever AMA Pro race was over. I wanted to do a few wheelies and burnouts on the cool-down lap, just because I think the crowd expects it of the guy who finishes 33rd , but the red flag put a damper on the festivities. I was a little disapointed with 33rd, but I was in one piece with an un-scratched bike and nobody was mad at me as far as I knew.
When I returned to my pit, I was greeted by a visibly relieved Scott Buckley. My brother was beaming, my mommy looked relieved and glad to see me in one piece, my girlfriend was aloof as usual, and my buddies Ian and Chris were patting my back and high-fiving me. After getting off the bike and packing up, I reflected on the adventure, and decided that with an aftermarket shock and some time for my arms and elbows to recover, I'd be happy to do it all again. Anybody have a bike I can borrow? And about eight sets of tires? Can I get about 50 gallons of that gas and another two weeks off work? Hello, Ohlins? Do you have any idea who you have the pleasure of speaking to?
Sidebar: Bolt-on Racebike
Though the 03 ZX-6R and ZX-6RR are totally new bikes, Kawasaki has already stepped up to support the racer crowd, with a plethora of go faster parts. The majority of parts used to create my one-off "Factory Ride" came directly from the Authentic Kawasaki Accessories department at Kawasaki (see list below). Exerything listed here is available to the public and can be easily bolted on to your stock 2003 ZX-6. Big thanks to Kawasaki's Mel Moore, Scott Buckley, and Jeff Hoeppner as well as the following suppliers:
Race tires were provided by Pirelli
The race bodywork was sourced directly from AirTech Streamlining (760) 598-3366
The Daytona steering damper and Goodridge braided stainless steel brake lines are from Lockhart Phillips (800) 221-7291
The part# 7163 "gold" racing brake pads came from Lyndall Racing Brakes
VP MR-1 and MR-9 race gas was supplied by Mark Hall at VP Racing Fuels (909) 674-9167
The dyno tuning and ECU mapping were done by Hayward Kawasaki (510) 537-2257
|Sidebar: Bolt-on Racebike|
Authentic Kawasaki Accessories for the 2003 Ninja ZX-6R / ZX-6RR:*Parts used for this story are listed in BOLD
Part Number Description Retail Price