Back when I got into autocrossing and motorsports in general I though the guys who raced motorcycles were nuts. Little did I know that a few years later I would be one of those wack-jobs on two wheels. After getting my motorcycle license (I can blame an ex girlfriend for that) I almost deliberately avoided track days on the bike for fear of getting addicted. At the time I was still tracking my 944 and couldn’t afford to race a bike as well. After moving to California I started to meet local clubs and groups. One thing led to another and after an attractive girl prodded me to go to a track day (she needed a truck to haul her bike there) I hopped over the edge of a much larger and steeper slope than I could have imagined.
To start with I only had my one and only motorcycle, a Triumph Street Triple R. It had been my daily means of commuting for three years and needed to stay that way so I had to try to not blow the motor or wad the bike into a little ball. At a track day that is fairly easy and since I was not new to the track, but new to motorcycles I could simply focus on the mechanics of riding. My progress was quick and I began to gain confidence and speed. After one year I was again prodded to come out and check out this organization called the “AFM” as a turn-worker. I agreed and found a new hobby of standing in the hot sun watching motorcycles roar by. After spending more and more time around lots of really cool people I realized that actually competing was not as far-fetched as it seemed. Laura (the trouble maker holding the stick I was being poked with) said that she wanted to get her race license by the end of 2013. I was less sure but of course agreed to pursue this with her. The problem is that getting a naked motorcycle track prepared was not so trivial. Instead of safety wiring and prepping my street bike I went out and purchased a used 2007 GSX-R600 that was already prepped and legal for racing. A slippery slope indeed.
Four years after learning to ride a motorcycle, two years after rolling onto a race track and only months after trying race tires I was about to take the next step. The universe being what it is, I lost a wheel off my truck on my way to Thunderhill; however that is a different story for another day. Friday morning I unload the bike and saddle an unfamiliar bike. I had never ridden an inline-4 let alone a 600 sportbike before. This was a big change from my torquey triple. The riding position, reverse shifting and need to spin the bejeezus out of the motor had me in unfamiliar territory. The bike wouldn’t turn worth a damn, I kept lugging the motor and tiptoeing around the track. I was feeling more confident by the end of the day but at the same time increasingly nervous and anxious.
Saturday was all about learning how things ran and the procedures. There was no stopwatch for the practice laps. The whole goal was to stay on the bike and be smooth and predicable. The rushed back and forth schedule made for a very chaotic day. I was confident with my lines and being around other bikes to a point. So with that I was paired with Jason Lauritzen and within a few sessions he signed me off as not being a danger to others. Phew, step one. After more hours of classroom discussion covering flags and starting procedures the next step was practice starts. Crap! I was barely even comfortable on the bike while moving and now I have to drag race it to turn one in a pack of other new riders? Needless to say that first launch was horrible. But I survived!
Now to do it again. The last event of the day is the clubman races. I was in Middleweight. This is the race that novices run in order to prove they are fast enough to qualify for the appropriate Sunday race. Also these races have their own championship points. So now not only do I have to start with a pack of fresh riders like myself but also with a larger pack of novices who presumably have done this more than once. I of course wanted to quality for my Sunday races however goal one was to not crash. That was the only thing standing in the way of me not getting my license at this point. I grid up and nervously with 22 riders in front of me I wait for the green flag to drop. Phil does his thing and we’re off!
But not for long. I came around turn 12-13 and saw flags and debris all over the track. From my corner-working experience I guessed that it was going to be red flagged. The race was stopped and after it was cleaned up we restarted. This however again was not to be a full race. One of the clubman heavyweight riders lost it in the same section where you power onto the back strait. So once again I roll into the pits and wait for the call to grid. We had yet to manage half distance so there was a full restart scheduled. Third time is the charm. We finally get a clean start and a full race completed. I roll back into the pits drenched in sweat and exhausted. I had run 2:10’s all through practice and needed to be a little faster in order to qualify for 600sb on Sunday. I anxiously await my official times and I am ecstatic when I see that my last three laps were not only the fastest but I managed to drop all the way to 2:05! I also worked my way up to 17th! Not setting the world on fire by any means but gaining 6 positions in my first race where my goal was solely not to crash, thats not too bad. Now I was not only an official AFM racer, but I could run in the novice 600 superbike race tomorrow.
Sunday comes early. It was a little more relaxed than the day before because there were no more classroom lessons and so I just had to worry about practice and one race. The practices are brief and early in the morning. Then I have a long wait until my one race. I still feel good and go over what I had learned the day before. Also a new addition is lots of scribbles on my tank of things to remember, not the least of which is to have fun. The day goes by fast soon I find myself on the grid for 600superbike. I sat 6th on the novice grid. However unlike before in front of me was a row of experts. This included some very fast AMA level riders. It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time. The race goes smoothly and I manage to get 5th, so basically not exactly last.
I had a blast and excited to see where this chapter takes me. I realize that my trip down the ‘slippery slope’ is far from over and I am only gaining speed down it.