Getting That Factory Ride - Part 1

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander
The Calm Before The Storm.

April 2nd, 2003 (T-minus 1 day and counting) It's Wednesday, less than 12 hours before I return to CA Speedway, to start my career as an AMA Pro. This Sunday, I will turn 34 years old. I've been riding for over 27 years and I've been a rabid two and four wheeled race fan for at least that long. However, it wasn't until 1998 that I raced in my first motorsports event. Lucky me, I won that first one, a WKA 125cc shifter kart race at 103rd street Raceway in Jacksonville, FL. Before you praise my skill, let me add that there were only four karts in the race.

After two fairly successful seasons racing amateur shifter karts, I moved to CA, bought a dirt bike and started riding in the Mojave Desert, with the local Honda dealer and his son. That was loads of fun, but didn't scratch the competition itch enough. Seeking something a little faster and more challenging, I entered Don Canet's SuperTT (super motard) series. Supermoto racing is NUTS! It's also a supreme skill builder and so much fun, it feels immoral.

In February of 2001, I bought a new Honda CBR 600 F4i and decided to go roadracing with it. As a brand new CCS amateur roadracer, I entered several of the middleweight classes on my first race weekend. During the practice sessions, I was one of the faster amateurs, but being fastest in practice is useless, if you can't make it through the warm-up lap of your first race. Yes, I promptly crashed and totalled my new bike on cold tires, on the warmup lap of my first race. Kaput! Uninjured, I decided to finish the weekend riding my Honda CR-500R Supermotard in the light and middleweight races that I'd already entered. As it turns out, I left that weekend with one DNF (CBR), two 4th places, a 5th and a 6th, riding my CR-500 supermoto. Encouraged by the competitiveness of my dirtbike against the roadracers, I decided to finish the 2001 season on my trusty CR, winning 18 individual races, 6 class championships, and the CCS Pacific Region Overall Amateur Championship along the way.

For the 2002 season, I moved up to the Expert class and bought a new Suzuki SV-650S (see my October 2002, How to Get Started in Roadracing article) 2002 was going like gang busters, with 10 Expert wins in the lightweight classes, on my CR-500 and nothing but podiums on the SV-650 thru mid-season. However, at the Buttonwillow Raceway round in June of 2002, I crashed after pushing too hard and digging in a solid mount footpeg. The crash was a gentle lowside, but the resulting tumble through the runoff area at 100mph wasn't. I fractured a total of 6 bones in my right foot and left hand.

In September of 2002, after recovering from my injuries, repairing the bike, and losing my day job, I applied for the recently vacated "Intern" position at MO. After a thorough snow job on the MO staff, I was able to make it an official position, as the "Testing Editor". This has been fantastic, but doesn’t afford me the excess cash needed to return to racing. The only substitute I've had is the ability to attend racetrack press intros, and bike shootouts. I've tried to go fast and keep my nose clean at these events. Luckily, I've been able to make a few new fends (more on them later) along the way. 3 weeks ago, when MO conducted its 2003 600 shootout, I was the fastest tester there. Evidently this impressed Johnny B and the staff, because they discussed getting a bike and entry me, for the upcoming AMA National at Fontana. After weighing the fun of telling me, against the well founded risk that I’d go into full-on racer mode and be completely useless for 3 weeks, they decided to approach me with the idea. Noting my obvious enthusiasm, Johnny B made a call to Mel Moore at Kawasaki and quickly had a new 636cc ZX-6R racebike lined up for me, as well as Scott Buckley (new friend #1), a Kawasaki Product Support Technician and part time race mechanic. Scott brings along his Kawasaki Support trailer, as well as a load of experience and spare parts. The plan is to race the nimble 385Lb 120hp rocket in the Genuine Suzuki Accessories (750) Superstock race, at California Speedway, against a bunch of slightly less nimble 385lb, 145hp rockets, on April 3rd and 4th.

That was about 10 days ago. In the mean time, I've been scrambling to line up the necessary resources, and work out the required details for an AMA Pro race effort. The biggest challenge was getting an AMA Pro Expert license in 10 days (the AMA requests 30) After calling the ever so helpful Patty in AMA Pro Racing licensing, I scrambled to get the necessary expert endorsements and proof of expert points from CCS. Two passport photos, one birth certificate, two signatures, a couple of faxes, a notary and $35 in Fed Ex fees later, I've just received my 2003 AMA Pro Expert license. Hurdle #2 was a lack of tire funds. To properly run the 4 pre-race track days + 2 days of AMA events at California Speedway, I was going to need a minimum of 8 sets of race tires @ $300+ per set. Kawasaki again came to my rescue, this time offering full support from Michelin Tires, via The Racer's Edge. Being ungrateful and picky, I decided to give Rick and Peggy Menapace (new friends #2 and #3) a call at the Plummer Menapace Group (They're the U.S. media relations and advertising agency for Arai Helmets and Pirelli Tires) Peggy had previously arranged for me to replace my Shoei with a new Arai RX-7 Corsair, and I figured it was worth a shot to see if they could hook me up with Pirelli Tires for the event. I find the Pirellis to have better feedback than the Michelins, with similar levels of grip. Two phone calls later, and I've got all the Pirelli Dragon Supercorsa DOT race tires I need. The boss understandably wanted me to wear leathers that said "Motorcycle.Com" on them but our usual suppliers couldn't get anything done on such short notice, so I ended up taking my $300 eBay leathers to Dana at Bates Custom Leathers, in Signal Hill, who graciously offered to letter-up my cheap and inferior suit free of charge, because she is that kind of woman. She wanted to outfit me with a new custom suit, but unfortunately there just wasn't time.

Last weekend, I attended the 3-day FastTrack Riders track day at CA Speedway, in preparation for this weekend's big race. I was able to get about 30 minutes of seat time on my actual race bike, before it left for a tuning date in Northern CA. That was enough time to note that the aftermarket steering damper makes a big difference, as well as the Akropovic race exhaust. The racebike is much easier to get through the chicanes than the stock ZX-6R which I rode for the remainder of the weekend. It also accelerates off of the corners harder and sounds great on the banking. Not so good however, is the fact that the suspension is bone stock and there is neither time nor money to get it properly tuned and set up by race day. I will have to wait until tomorrow, for FastTrack's Thursday racers only track day, to find out what lap times the racebike is ultimately capable of, but riding the stock ZX-6R with Pirelli race tires on it last weekend, I was able to get inside 112% of last year's pole position, so it looks like I’ll probably be in the show.

While flogging that stock ZX-6R last weekend, I was drafted by Doug Chandler on the Fontana banking. His pass caused me to slightly miss my turn in point for the high-speed chicane after the start/finish line. By the time I had recovered my line and looked up through turn 1, he was 100 yards ahead of me. I don’t think he twitched a muscle the entire time. The man is scary smooth.

In summary, the resources are now in place, three of the four track days are done and I've crash dieted my way down from 212Lbs to 195Lbs. I'm still going to be one of the heaviest riders in the field on one of the weakest bikes and the suspension is still bone stock, but it looks like I've found enough speed to make it inside the 112% qualifying cut-off. Now it's time for me to step up to the plate and take my swing.

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Sean Alexander
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