Getting That Factory Ride - Part Two "The Storm"
In case you've been in a bunker with Saddam the last few weeks, you're already aware that our most excellent friends at Kawasaki, upon being asked only once, fixed me up with what can only be described as a Factory-Supported! ZX-6R to ride in the 750 Superstock class at the recent AMA round at California Speedway--MO's home track. What began as an innocent-enough proposal just to see how a pretty good club racer would fare on a stock 636 soon took on a life of it's own...
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.